Denise Carleton decided during the Covid-19 pandemic to rent a storefront for Teacher Reuse Exchange, a nonprofit she founded to give used school supplies to local teachers and keep them out of landfills.
“I just decided to go for it and rent a space,” Carleton said. “I said I’ll figure out funding.”
And with this new space, she said the organization immediately started to receive an abundance of donations, with books, supplies and other treasures being delivered to them from as far as Villa Rica. And hundreds of teachers came out to shop each month for supplies they would normally spend an average of $350-$1,000 of their own money on.
But despite this success, Carleton couldn’t find enough funding to keep the space open.
That was when she became a board member for Literacy Forsyth, a nonprofit serving Forsyth families with educational programming. Carleton said she hoped to partner with them to offer them a physical space while keeping the Teacher Reuse Exchange, or TRE, store running.
Now, just a few months later, that partnership has become a reality.
Together, the nonprofit and Literacy Forsyth hosted a grand opening and open house on Thursday, June 30, for a new joint location at 101 Meadow Drive, Suite 2T in Cumming, inviting locals and community leaders to see the space for the first time.
“Dreams do come true,” Carleton said.
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Leaders with both organizations, Forsyth County Public Library and Keep Forsyth County Beautiful attended the open house, looking around at the space where teachers will be able to pick up school supplies and educational materials each month to keep up with students’ needs in the classroom.
Toward the back of the space, there are shelves filled with donated books that teachers will be able to take back to classrooms or community members of all ages will be able to borrow through Literacy Forsyth’s lending library program.
Literacy Forsyth Executive Director Brian Young said the opening of the space marks not only the beginning of a partnership with TRE, but also a “reemergence” of the organization and its programming.
“When the pandemic hit, everything was put on hold — our GED programs, our [English as a Second Language] programs, the lending library,” Young said. “And while they were put on hold, other organizations started providing those services.”
Literacy Forsyth was forced to go dormant for 15-18 months, and during that time, Lanier Technical College and The Place of Forsyth started to offer similar services to the community. Now, Young said it just doesn’t make sense for them to continue with programming that might compete against these new services that have found success in helping those in the community.
Instead, they have partnered with Lanier Tech and The Place of Forsyth to help expand those already-existing programs, and they partnered with the University of North Georgia to connect students with those in Lanier Tech’s GED program to provide free online tutoring.
But aside from that partnership, Young and Literacy Forsyth’s board of directors decided it was time to switch up their programming and mission to better align with the community’s needs following the pandemic.
“We’re looking at all aspects of literacy,” said Jeffrey Fischer, the board of directors’ chairman for Literacy Forsyth. “So we’re actually looking to do some financial literacy classes, and we’re exploring some options really similar to what Leadership Forsyth does with possibly doing classes on local Forsyth County [civic] literacy like how your parks work, how your government services work — just all aspects of that.”
Young said they plan to offer the classes and seminars both in-person and online through their own curriculum and educational materials and guest speakers. And instead of simply focusing on adult literacy, the organization wants to offer these services to all age groups.
Now, Young said he and the board are working to create these civic and financial literacy courses and tailor them to different age groups.
They plan to be able to offer this programming across the county by the end of this year, setting up ways for those interested to join Zoom meetings or Facebook Live sessions at times that work for them and in-person seminars hosted on-site for local groups or in partnership with other organizations in the community.
For now, Young said the Literacy Forsyth and TRE joint space is not large enough to host seminars or classes, but he hopes they will be able to expand or find a larger location in the future as they continue to expand their services.
“For now, this was just getting, for us, a space again,” Young said. “I know that may sound small, but it’s been a huge step for us.”
At the end of the open house, attendees went outside of the space where leaders from TRE and Literacy Forsyth held their ribbon-cutting ceremony, officially opening the space to the community.
Beginning on July 26, the store will be open every Tuesday and Thursday from noon to 2 p.m. and 4-6 p.m. for teachers and students needing school supplies. For now, it does not serve as a permanent office for Literacy Forsyth.
Learn more about Teacher Reuse Exchange and how to donate to the organization by visiting www.reapingnature.org.