The YOTO Home Store was founded in October 2015 and has continued to grow ever since.
All products for sale in the Home Store are donations from the community, ranging from glassware to artwork. It takes a handful of eager student interns and volunteers as well as a dedicated manager, however, to make well-loved trinkets look like new and arrange them into elegant displays around the store.
Georgina Waller started volunteering with YOTO in October 2016, both at the front desk and in the Home Store until she was promoted to full-time manager this past May. With a background in retail and a love of interacting with customers, the retiree thought the job would be right up her alley — and she was right. Customer service is the most important part of working at the Home Store, since the majority of visitors learn about the store by word of mouth and are often interested in finding out about other ways that they can help.
When she isn’t talking with customers, organizing schedules, or determining prices, Georgina helps lead a class for interns once a week to teach them job skills that they will need once their 16-week internship at the Home Store comes to an end.
One of these interns is Victoria Gaydosh, who started working at the Home Store in May, around the same time she graduated from Tucson High School. She is at the store four days a week: one day is spent in class, and the remaining three she works daytime or closing shifts. Although she laughs and explains that there is never a typical shift, Victoria describes that she and the other interns are responsible for the pick-up, cleaning, pricing and display of any donations that are brought to the store.
When all new donations have already been processed, Victoria and her peers will walk around the store and ensure that all of the products are up to par, but they also have fun — moving around items to make older ones look like recent additions, making guesses at which items will sell the fastest and picking favorites that they secretly hope won’t leave the store. Some also anticipate the sale of items they helped restore, which Georgina mentions as she smiles and recalls the excitement of a student intern after the fountain he fixed was purchased within a day of its placement on the floor. Despite the entertainment that accompanies working with the merchandise, Victoria most enjoys the welcoming atmosphere.
“My favorite part about working in the store is forgetting about the rest of the world and knowing that here I am loved and appreciated,” she says. Longtime volunteer and retired teacher Beth Wilson shares this same feeling of warmth and respect toward her teenage coworkers.
“I enjoy working with the students and seeing how much they grow, learn and mature during the 16 weeks they are with us,” she says.
Beth has been volunteering with YOTO for the past year and a half at the front desk, the Mini Mall, and now once a week at the Home Store. She helps put merchandise on the floor and man the cash register, where she witnesses firsthand customers’ joy in making a purchase that helps a good cause. Not only does the Home Store allow people to contribute to YOTO, but it gives them the chance to interact with some of the students they are supporting.
“The fact that customers can see students on the floor validates our mission. The store itself is a viable arm of YOTO that provides proof of success stories and lets donors know that the program is really working,” explains Georgina.
In the future, she and the rest of the Home Store staff hope for more customers and for more interns to join the program.
“I want more kids to feel as helped as I do,” says Victoria with a smile.