The Store of Hope on Broad River Road in Columbia prides itself on giving troubled youth people a second chance and real world job experience…even if they’re behind bars. From reupholstered furniture to ceramics and various wood-work, the Store of Hope is always filled with professional quality goods.
Some customers are shocked when they learn that everything has been made by teenagers who have been sentenced to do time at the Department of Juvenile Justice.
The program, which began six years ago, allows sixteen to nineteen year old inmates to take part in after school programs that teach them job skills and, hopefully, guide them to a better life once they are released.
Seventeen-year-old Marvin C. was awarded the hardest worker honor in the upholstery class despite having no prior experience.
“You gotta figure out what goes where and how to sort it out and put it together. And I just…it came easy. I like it but sometimes it gets complicated. You gotta make sure everything fits right, but I enjoy it. I’m here four days a week and it’s very good,” he says.
Upholstery instructor Rebecca Morrison says that from day one in the program the boys are already learning everything from sanding and painting to assembling furniture.
“Hands on experience in here. The first day they’re here, they start tearing down. They get to tear things apart using their tool boxes and they have to remember how they tore it down because they have to put it back together,” she said.
The boys do earn a paycheck for their hard work, which has proved to be extremely valuable for some inmates.
“I had a young man that came to me and he said ‘Ms. Morrison, I want to take my GED but its $40 and I don’t have that money.’ And I said, ‘Well think about the end of the month, if you’re here every day, you’ll have the money to pay for it,’ and he did. He was able to take his GED and successfully pass it,” Morrison recalls.
The Store of Hope manager Melanie Pompey says it's programs like these that also give youths a better opportunity for employment despite their troubled past.
“Whenever you apply for jobs, they’re always saying, ‘No, you can’t do this because this is what happened to you,’ but they’re allowing them to have the opportunity to meet people that will allow them to have jobs, so that’s the part that pulled me in. The fact that they’re allowing them to have, what I call, a second chance,” she says.
And the boys agree that as long as there is furniture to fix, they’ll continue working hard not only for potential buyers, but for a shot at a better future.