Two Hudson Valley nonprofits have partnered to help give job opportunities to persons with disabilities.
Yes, She Can of White Plains and BRIDGES of West Nyack launched the business collaboration at the Palisades Center Mall. BRIDGES, which advocates for people with disabilities and provides independent living services, allowed Yes, She Can a nonprofit that helps teens and young women on the autistic spectrum, to sell products from its job skills program at BRIDGES' Independence Café inside the mall.
“This was a chance to highlight autism and mental disabilities,” said Carlos Martinez, CEO of BRIDGES. “When we saw what they do, we said ‘how about expanding your operation to our boutique? We’ll share your story.’”
The two nonprofits crossed paths by chance during an event with Volunteer NY. Robin Davies-Small, Yes She Can’s executive director, was introduced to a representative from BRIDGES. From there, a collaboration between the two organizations was born.
“Since our store is operated by people with learning differences, it was a perfect set,” Davies-Small told New York Nonprofit Media. “We thought the collaboration would be perfect, that BRIDGES has a consignment shop, that they're helping people who have needs and that could be someone with a disability, that could be someone who was previously incarcerated, that could be a senior.”
BRIDGES uses business ventures to help with its funding. It has four cafes run by people with disabilities and veterans. It intended to open another cafe at the Palisades Center Mall, but when a 7-Eleven convenience store opened nearby, the idea of a boutique also came up, thus providing the inspiration for opening Independence Cafe, billed as a “unique boutique,” selling products made by people with disabilities.
“Our slogan is ‘products with a story, boutique with a mission.’” said Martinez. “We want to dispel people with disabilities.”
Yes She Can’s business model is to forward its mission to train teens and young women on the autism spectrum workplace social skills and job business skills. Its White Plains store, Girl AGain, sells donated American Girl dolls and merchandise, all refurbished by the program’s trainees. The idea was conceived about 10 years ago by Marjorie Madfis, whose daughter is on the spectrum and adored the doll brand growing up. Seeing a demand for refurbished American Girl products, Madfis created a job skills training program to help young women find employment when many on the spectrum struggle to gain employment. In 2021, Autism Speaks determined nearly half of autistic 25-year-olds had never been employed.
“When the women are in the training program, they're learning all aspects of working in a business,” Davies-Small told New York Nonprofit Media. “We're not necessarily training people to work in a doll store. But we're training about marketing, interacting with customers, and everything that goes along with running a business.”
A late August ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new store was attended by leaders from both Rockland and Westchester counties, including Assembly Member Chris Burdick, who is on the Assembly's Committee on People with Disabilities. Some shoppers were particularly drawn to the American Girl products. The BRIDGES and Yes She Can collaboration at the mall began Aug. 29.