SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — When Jennifer was released from prison she thought everyone knew her past. “It was like I had ‘felon’ tattooed across my forehead,” she said. But after she interviewed at the manufacturing plant at Deseret Industries, an agency sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, her life started to change.
Established in 1938, Deseret Industries (D.I.) is a both a nonprofit, vocational rehabilitation facility and a thrift store. It’s a place where the public may purchase inexpensive, quality merchandise. But more importantly for Jennifer, it is a place where trainees work, receive training and are assisted in finding long-term employment.
“They gave me back my sense of self-worth and self-esteem. I was valued and that really helped me at a time in my life when I needed it,” Jennifer said. “They helped save my life, a life I didn’t think I wanted to save.”
Jennifer isn’t alone in her experience. Bill was in rehab for drug abuse when he received a referral to D.I. He says he gained stability in his life: a turnaround complete with job training, discussions in self-esteem building, workplace ethics and expectations, and even a new white shirt and tie.
“I got a job and a locker and they treated me like a real person,” Bill reports, describing the self-respect he felt after participating in the vocational training programs.
Thousands of others in challenging situations have discovered that the multifaceted programs at Deseret Industries can redirect their lives. Trainees often include refugees, who enroll in English classes as well as the vocational components of the programs. Women and children living in shelters or even troubled teens or returning veterans find a niche that offers a boost from their difficult circumstances.
As trainees join the employee ranks at a Deseret Industries thrift store, many business and workplace skills may be acquired, such as custodial or computer skills, customer service, merchandising or even supervisory experiences.
In addition, community partnership programs allow participants, at no cost, to work with other local agencies to gain broader job skills in fields such as welding, medical transcription, pharmacy technician, forklift operation or food services.
As a part of the work rehabilitation curriculum, trainees study seven basic work behaviors that will help them find success on the job. A team coach helps implement and evaluate these additional skills as a part of an individual plan developed for every worker.
In addition, each worker is assigned a mentor, whether it is the local Church bishop, a friend or family member or even a parole officer.
“Every individual needs a support team,” explains Rich McKenna, director of the Deseret Industries operations. “Our goal is to help people become self-reliant, and we hope to help them get to that point in their lives. It’s a holistic approach based on the needs of the person and what can be done to help prepare for a job. We help build bridges over poverty and over languages, helping people who help themselves.”
Deseret Industries operates 43 thrift stores in seven western states. The stores collect inventory from individual local donations, enabling associates to process and recycle that inventory to fit others’ needs — a circular strategy of service and learning that benefits the entire community.