By Amy Simpson Swiss
Photos: Courtesy of Yes She Can Inc.
This merchandise has all been donated, from places as far away as Hawaii. Each item has been gently and lovingly cleaned and refurbished by the store’s trainees, who are young women on the autism spectrum. The boutique is providing these women the opportunity to learn all aspects of retail work, while receiving job coaching from professionals to support them in their skill development. The wider community, in turn, enjoys the opportunity to buy these gently-used dolls and accessories for a reduced price.
This entire concept was the brainchild of Marjorie Madfis. Marjorie happens to be the kind of determined and committed person who sees a difficult challenge and tackles it head on. In 2013, she faced just such a challenge when her daughter, Isabelle, who is on the autism spectrum, was in high school.
Isabelle wanted to find employment in a supportive and accepting workplace that would assist her in learning the job skills necessary to succeed. People on the autism spectrum often need extra coaching in areas like interpersonal skills, self-advocacy and social/emotional regulation. Typical workplaces assume these skills are already in place, and this can be a huge barrier to employment for people with spectrum disorders.
When Marjorie realized there were no appropriate programs available to help Isabelle, she found a solution—to create a job-skills training program from the ground up. Isabelle’s love of American Girl Dolls was the spark that lit the fire.
Yes She Can Inc. and the Girl AGain resale boutique were born.
The nonprofit organization has a mission of assisting young women with autism and related disabilities develop transferable job skills, which will help them ultimately find employment in the competitive workplace. The organization also hopes to encourage the business community and the community at large to be more inclusive and accepting of people on the autistic spectrum.
Marjorie developed the idea for the resale boutique, which mimics a typical retail shop in every way, as the direct means for accomplishing that mission. The trainees handle all aspects of running the shop, including customer interactions, inventory preparation and data entry. The young women love the American Girl merchandise they work with, and they become experts on the inventory, which gives them confidence and motivation.
The concept has proved to be very successful. Since first opening their doors in 2014, Girl AGain has evolved from an all-volunteer organization to one that employs several part-time professional staff who handle critical roles such as job coaching, training and recruiting. Marjorie is now sought after to provide guidance on replicating her model, and she recently was asked to present her outcomes to a subcommittee at the National Institutes of Health.
Marjorie speaks passionately about her mission. As she shows me around the shop, she shares success stories of girls who have blossomed while working at Girl AGain. Girls like Kathy, who gained confidence and practical skills at Girl AGain and went on to obtain regular employment at her local public library. Success stories like these are what keep Marjorie passionate about her mission.
Marjorie has a vision for the future: she would love to expand her programming by hiring more job coaches, which would allow her to accept additional trainees. Someday, she might also like to take her vision a step further and work on job development out in the community for her “graduates.” If anyone can make this vision a reality, it’s Marjorie Madfis.
In order to continue to succeed and grow, Yes She Can is counting on the support of the community. New customers, donations and volunteers are always welcome.
Visit the Girl AGain shop at 4 Martine Avenue in White Plains. To learn more, or to make a donation to this worthy cause, find them on the web at www.YesSheCanInc.org.
Note: Some names have been changed for privacy reasons. █