WILLCOX — When you shop at the Buck Stop Thrift Shop, you’re doing more than getting a bargain. You’re helping to provide work training for a population that might otherwise be overlooked.

“The thrift store is a vocational training program for higher functioning adults,” Lane Hegel said. He’s the executive director of Graham County Resource Center, which oversees the store. “They’re learning basic retail skills, customer service skills, basic work ethic and how to get along with their co-workers, with the eventual goal of finding a job out in the community.”

With the bankruptcy of Tucson-based Community Providers of Enrichment Services in March 2020, there was a hole left in Willcox for services for people with developmental disabilities. That’s where GCR stepped in.

“Most of the big agencies out of Tucson or Phoenix aren’t interested in going to these little rural communities,” Hegel said. “We know there’s a need there, and we felt that Willcox was close enough that we could support it and provide services down there and create a quality program.”

Manager and coach Johanna Fonseca works with the clients to help them learn what it takes to work in a shop. What she coaches all depends on what a client needs, but basically any of the skills a person might need to work in a store.

“It all varies with different clients,” Fonseca said. “(For example), we have a client that doesn’t know how to sort so we help him sort small, medium or large clothing; or how to hang clothing; or how to tag it with the color of the month.”

Fonseca said she really loves her job because she finds her clients are so happy to come to work.

“I just really enjoy helping them and trying to better their futures in some way,” she said. “When they go home happy or they just had a great day or they did an awesome job that they know they did, that gives us all satisfaction.”

Currently there are about 10 clients who work shifts in the Maley Street shop, but Hegel said that number is growing as the demand for GCR’s services grow. He attributes it to the fact that the number of people being diagnosed with autism has exploded.

“Autism is growing at an epidemic rate; that’s what we’re seeing,” he said. “It’s a little concerning. The rate of people needing services is growing so fast. We are legitimately seeing more people with autism than we did 15, 20 years ago.”

Although the store opened some time ago, in June 2020, the official grand opening was a couple of weeks ago, and according to Hegel, the community of Willcox has been very generous, both with shopping but also with donations.

“We opened up and just (by) word of mouth, the community’s been a huge supporter of it,” Hegel said. “They’re starting to bring all kinds of donations.”

The shop is always accepting donations, “anything we can resell,” Hegel said. It has to be re-sellable. “Sometimes people will drop couches with no cushions. You can’t resell that, right?”

Profits from the shop are reinvested back into the programs of GCR.

“It allows us to do things that similar agencies don’t do,” Hegel said. “We have dances for individuals, (for example), and also invest in facilities, like we bought that building down in Willcox. We’re able to do that through the money generated through the thrift store.”

It turns out the thrift store is just one aspect of the work GCR does.

“We also have an adult day program for our lower-functioning people, where they work on habilitation skills, activities of daily living, some prevocational skills,” Hegel said. “All of them have the eventual goal of going into the work program.”

There are also programs where staff members go into homes to support families, such as providing respite care or help a person with attendant care.

So far, Hegel said, things are going very well, both in the shop and with the other programs GCR offers.

“We’re just super-appreciative of the community and the support they’ve had for the program we started there,” Hegel said. “It’s been great.”

For anyone who still needs a costume for Halloween, Fonseca said the shop still has some. Or anything else you might need for your household.