by Madison Garner
After graduating from college with a degree in theology, what’s the next step? Start a business. That’s the path Brent Hendricks, a Whitworth alumnus, took. In July 2011, he created Global Neighborhood Thrift Store, a business designed to provide jobs and low-cost supplies to refugees in Spokane.
Hendricks had been working with the non-profit Global Neighborhood, which focuses on helping refugees in Spokane.
“We had worked with refugees for a number of years. Listening to them, it became apparent their greatest need was employment,” Hendricks said. “Some of the biggest barriers was needing a reference and experience.”
Seeing this need for employment, Hendricks decided to tackle it head on by creating a thrift store.
“Having a job at our store helps people get their foot in the door of the employment market here in Spokane,” Hendricks said. “Since we were finding it very difficult to connect refugees with meaningful jobs, we just decided to start something to employ them ourselves.”
The idea for a thrift store stemmed from an overflow of donations. Hendricks’ sister, Stephanie Hendricks, works with him at the store.
“Global Neighborhood had been getting so many physical donations to give to refugees that storing was getting so complicated,” Stephanie Hendricks said. “They built the thrift store to give cheap products to the refugee community and provide jobs.”
Currently, the store employs three refugees.
“It’s very rewarding seeing how their english skills and job skills progress,” Stephanie Hendricks said. “We’ve built friendships among the staff.”
The thrift store aims to provide employment and teach the workers valuable skills so that they can be successful and get employment somewhere else.
“Before [working at Global Neighborhood Thrift] I didn’t know how to work in a store and now I do, so in the future I can work for another store,” said employee Gotpul Nyachol.
Global Neighborhood Thrift focuses on providing skills and tools, instead of charity. Charity is unsustainable, and the refugees don’t ask for charity. What they want is to work to provide for their family.
“Our focus is on empowerment,” Brent said. “We want to give refugees tools and the opportunity to work, learn, and provide for themselves. When a person gets a job, they also get dignity, which is just as important as money.”
For the customers, Brent focuses on creating a pleasant shopping experience.
“We focus on having positive customer service, not just have cheap stuff in a room,” he said. “We focus on being clean, organized, and friendly.”
Both Brent and Stephanie attended Whitworth and said they learned from their experience.
“Studying sociology taught me to see people as individuals,” Stephanie said. “Working with other cultures, it helps to be open to other world views. Whitworth teaches respect for individuals whether they are from across the street or Sudan.”
Brent earned a degree in theology and never studied business.
“The benefit of my education was learning how to learn,” Brent said. “I had training to think through problems. I think that Global Neighborhood Thrift lines up well with Whitworth’s goal of engaging in the community.”
Global Neighborhood Thrift and Whitworth share a connection. Some Whitworth professors serve on the board of directors and Whitworth students have been interns. One way Whitworth students can have an impact is by shopping at the story. Whitworth students receive a 5 percent discount.
“Every dollar spent at our store goes to employing and training refugees,” Brent said. “Also, talk to our employees while you’re here and get to know their stories.”
For students who want to volunteer, they can participate in a one time volunteering task or can help once a month to clean, sort and organize.
“We’d love to have more engagement from students because it helps create a connection between Whitworth and the community,” Brent said. “Plus, it helps us to create jobs for people who really need them.”
Contact Madison Garner at firstname.lastname@example.org.