MATTHEWS – Passersby might see ZABS Place, situated at the corner of Trade and John streets in downtown Matthews, as simply a trendy thrift shop. In reality, the store is more about mission than merchandise.
Transitioning into adulthood can be a scary time for young adults with developmental disabilities and their families, and the people behind ZABS Place have committed to help make that transition a little easier.
ZABS Place was founded by two local couples, Bentzion and Rochel Groner and Charlie and Caren Gale, and opened in November 2014. The “affordable, upscale (and) inclusive” non-profit thrift boutique offers a variety of clothing, small furniture, vintage items, art and household goods. But it also offers something else – a place for young adults with special needs to transition into the workplace.
The Gales’ son, Jonathan, is on the autism spectrum and was active in the Friendship Circle of Charlotte, an organization for special needs children, for years. But when Jonathan was about to age out of the Friendship Circle, his parents were left wondering what was next.
“What’s happening was a lot of the kids involved in Friendship Circle were getting older, and there wasn’t a good place for them to learn (job) skills,” said Rebecca Gale, Jonathan’s sister and the marketing coordinator for ZABS Place. “A lot of these kids, as they graduated high school, needed a place where they could learn how to work.”
Caren Gale said she wanted a place for her son to have the opportunity to learn essential job skills and found nothing in the Charlotte area to meet that need. Thus, she and her husband, along with the Groners, chose to take matters into their own hands.
It took about two years to find property that was reasonably priced and in an area known for foot traffic. Once they discovered the site at 100 N. Trade St. in downtown Matthews, they knew they’d found the right spot for ZABS Place.
Friendship Circle of Charlotte oversees ZABS Place, which was named for Zecharya Avraham Boruch Shporer, a 19-year-old Friendship Circle volunteer who died of leukemia in 2012. The thrift shop works with seven area colleges to provide internship opportunities for students studying special education, speech pathology, occupational therapy, psychology and more. The interns work as job coaches, who train young adults with special needs.
“(The interns) are thrilled and delighted to get an internship where they have the opportunity to roll up their shirt sleeves and see what it’s like to work with the (special needs) population,” Caren Gale said.
During and after training, young adults with special needs complete a variety of tasks, including receiving and tagging items, listing items for sale on eBay.com, operating the cash register, helping customers carry items to their cars and more.
Since launching ZABS Place, Caren Gale has seen a change in her now-20-year-old son, who works at the store multiple days throughout the week.
“I’ve seen such a change in (Jonathan’s) self-confidence since he started working there,” she said. “It’s such a good opportunity for him to exercise his social skills … When he comes home from work, I can just tell by the look on his face he feels like he can do stuff, that he’s contributing to the community. It’s not about his disability, but about his ability.”
ZABS Place is open Monday to Thursday, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Friday, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.; and Sunday, from noon to 6 p.m. Visit www.zabsplace.org or call 704-708-5600 for more information.