Ennis School’s Thrify Eagle story instills life skills

Indian River School District administration join students and staff at Howard T. Ennis School for the Jan. 4 ribbon cutting, marking the official opening of the Thrifty Eagle thrift store based at the G.W. Carver Education Center in Frankford. (Submitted photo)

FRANKFORD — Young adults who are students at Howard T. Ennis School in Georgetown are taking an important “STEP” toward independent living that encompasses the real world and retail.

Earlier this year, Ennis School celebrated the grand opening of its retail store base — Thrifty Eagle thrift store — at Indian River School District’s G.W. Carver Education Center in Frankford.

“We’re really happy that it is open, and I think the community is very interested in it,” said Kris Perfetti, principal of Howard T. Ennis School that serves students preschool through age 21 with significant disabilities within the Indian River School District and sending districts that demonstrate a need for highly specialized educational support.

The Ennis School’s STEP (Student-Centered Transition Education and Pre-Vocational Program) offers services for students 18 to 21 years of age. The program emphasizes development of solid employment and independent living skills, with focused training.

“This is very valuable. It is a unique experience for the kids to see the start-up of a business and what actually goes into running that business on an everyday basis,” said Ennis School teacher Buddy Snyder, who is in charge of the program.

“This is something unique for us. It definitely teaches the kids a lot of valuable vocational skills, independent living skills and social skills as well.”

The ultimate goal is to prepare students and arm them with experience and skills to step into the real world upon graduation.

“Our end goal for them is to be able to transfer the skills that they learn there into a retail, paid employment job,” said Ms. Perfetti.

Eight Ennis students are on the staffing schedule at the Thrifty Eagle, which is open three days a week — Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Students are transported to and from Ennis School and help run the store under supervision.

“The staff supervises it,” said Ms. Perfetti. “It is staffed by our work crew paras, which are paraprofessionals. Mr. Snyder was involved in the start-up of the program, but we slowly faded him out, so that way it can be paraprofessionals and students. But Mr. Snyder oversees the work crews.”

Kimmy Thorton, among the Howard T. Ennis students who is assigned to the Ennis School’s Thrifty Eagle, straightens a rack of purses as Ennis staff member Nicole Holston looks on. (Delaware State News/Glenn Rolfe)

One of those students is Kimmy Thorton. Typically, she works two days a week. Some of her duties include greeting customers with a welcoming “Hi” or “Hello” and thanking customers with an invitation to “come back” again. She also is involved in purchase transactions and merchandise stocking.

“I put things on the shelves,” said Kimmy, who also sorts items and straightens up the store after customers leave.

Thus far, the thrift store has been well received.

“Business is good. Fridays are our busier days because the food pantry is open next door,” said Ennis School staff member Nicole Holston.

Students reap the rewards from sales and profits.

“Whatever that program needs. Like if they want to make food, if they want to go on field trips, if they want to go on community outings, they can use the money for that,” said Mr. Perfetti. “It is pretty much a general fund.”

Racks and shelves feature gently used second-hand items that pretty much span the spectrum.

“We have clothing goods from small child to adult sizes,” said Mr. Snyder. “We have housewares, which could include coffee pots, microwaves, things along those lines. We have had some bedding supplies, some jewelry, toys, figurines and knick-knack things along those lines.”

“And purses and sunglasses …,” Ms. Perfetti added.

“We actually do have some new items as well. Most everything is gently used but there are new items as well,” said Mr. Snyder.

Always welcome, donation of usable goods and items are can be dropped off at either Howard T. Ennis School on Ennis School Road in Georgetown or the Thrifty Eagle store at Carver Academy, located on Frankford School Road.

“We do have people that drop things off here (Ennis), mostly staff at Ennis bring things in here. People from the outside community usually come to the Carver Center and drop off their donations there for us,” said Mr. Snyder.

“And we’ve actually had some of our customers come back and donate, a few of them since we opened,” said Ms. Holston.

Howard T. Ennis previously had a thrift store operation at another location.

“That store was in Millsboro, and it started probably about 10 years,” said Ms. Perfetti. “We had closed it when the lease ran out, because the building wasn’t accessible to all of our students. And now, we have this one down in Frankford.”

“A couple of things that we focus on, they are working on their social skills which they are required to greet all customers when they come in and to help them with anything that they need to do,” said Mr. Snyder. “Also, as far as life skills, it’s teaching the kids not only to run a store but all of the details that go into stocking, sizing, locating items and things like that.”

“They, also, have to learn personal hygiene skills because they have to have social awareness of that as well when they are out there,” said Ms. Perfetti. “So, Mr. Snyder works on that with them here (at Ennis) which transfers to the store.”

The Ennis program offers experience beyond the confines of the Thrifty Eagle.

“All of our kids have an opportunity to work with local businesses with a variety of jobs,” said Mr. Snyder. “This is just one job in a list of several.”

“That is voluntary work, though,” Ms. Perfetti said. “It is not paid employment.”

“This here is definitely a unique opportunity for the kids. A lot of them have already been going out on work crews. But this is something they can take ownership in, because they’ve seen it from an empty road to where it is now,” said Mr. Snyder.

“This is great for the community to come in and help us out. It’s also not just for the students that have been here on the ground floor of this operation but now we have a place for our Ennis students — if the teachers want — to come here and actually do some shopping and learn that skill as well. So, it’s a win-win situation for the whole school.”

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