On August 20th, the ribbon was cut on the new and improved Youth Empowerment Project (YEP) Thrift Works location at 1626 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd., in partnership with Junior League of New Orleans (JLNO).
The theme of the Grand Re-Opening was Thrift Works in Full Bloom as a tribute to the Bloomin’ Deals legacy project. It featured colorful floral dresses in the display windows, and the shopping space was full of handmade flowers assembled by the youth staff. Between the 50% off sale and attendance by an estimated 40 members of JLNO, the store remained packed until the doors closed. Those in attendance heard speeches from several notable honorees. Maria Huete, former JLNO President, spoke about the history of Bloomin’ Deals and the importance of its continuation through the Legacy project, for which YEP is one of three partners. YEP’s Co-Founder & Executive Director/CEO, Melissa Sawyer expanded on that message by looking to the future, highlighting the perfect blend of mission and values between the two organizations. Just prior to the ceremonial cutting of the ribbon, which was a chain of flowers hand-crafted by the Thrift Works youth, Councilman Jay H. Banks gave a speech that spoke to the value that programs like YEP bring to the community.
The bond between the League and YEP was formed as part of the continuation of the Bloomin’ Deals legacy following the sale of JLNO’s brick-and-mortar location on Freret Street in 2018. The pairing of the two organizations began when Melissa Sawyer replied to a request for proposal created by the League and its Bloomin’ Deals Legacy Project (BDLP). As Melissa says, “It was the perfect blend of mission and values.”
Sarah Nieuwenhuizen, one of the BDLP chairs, offers some insights as to the Junior League selection of YEP as one of the three partners that form our Bloomin’ Deals legacy. Like JLNO, YEP and the services it offers are largely community-based. Partnering with YEP Thrift Works ensures the League will retain its direct link to the community via donations, volunteer shifts and mentorship.
YEP was founded to empower local young people through counseling, education and mentorship — including a focus on employment readiness. It was in the spirit of that focus that Thrift Works was created. The thrift store provides YEP mentees the opportunity to gain critical job skills by working in the store, including responsibilities like sorting inventory, helping customers and handling payments and other transactions.
YEP was instrumental in streamlining the donation process for League members. This effort was no small task, given Melissa and her team’s busy summer at YEP. Beyond the Thrift Works Grand Reopening in August, YEP also hosted former Vice President Joe Biden for a visit in July. As YEP continues to grow, Melissa hopes JLNO’s established reputation will drive traffic to the new Thrift Works space and League members will provide a steady inventory of high-quality clothing, as well as mentorship and supplemental volunteer labor.
The BDLP Committee worked with their project partners to layout logistics and build the infrastructure behind each of the three new partnerships. Sarah adds that BDLP’s goal is “to streamline the process for donations and ensure each League member can participate in this new chapter of the Bloomin’ Deals Legacy.”
Along with YEP, JLNO formed partnerships with both Swap Boutique, a carefully-curated consignment boutique, and Dress for Success, the nonprofit dedicated to empowering women in the workplace through mentorship and the donation of gently-used, business-oriented women’s clothing. Future issues of Lagniappe will feature each of these partners in depth, highlighting how each organization offers unique and specific ways to bridge the gaps left since the closing of the thrift store last year. In return, the League is dedicated to amplifying and supplementing the continuing good work each group is doing for the community towards its unique mission.
To find out more about the new developments in the Bloomin’ Deals Legacy Project and how you can participate in the partnership with YEP, please reach out to BDLP Co-Chairs Mary Lorenz and Sarah Nieuwenhuizen.