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PIER store enhancing lives
Adults with disabilities enjoy the opportunities
Kate Kreager, from left, Kelly Wise and Hannah Wood arrange clothing items at the PIER Foundation Thrift Store on Browns Bridge Road. The store provides jobs to adults with disabilities. - photo by Autumn Vetter

In just its first year, a nonprofit thrift store in north Forsyth is living up to its name of Provide Inspiration, Employment and Resources.

The goal of the PIER store on Browns Bridge Road has been to establish a self-sustaining business that provides jobs to adults with disabilities.

It opened on Sept. 22, 2011 with just six employees. The staff has since doubled and co-founder Cindy Matteson said the growth is not stopping.

“Our goal was to reach 15 [employees] by the end of this year and we’re probably going to hit that,” she said. “Once we hit that, it will be the end of what we can take in. Fifteen is our max here.”

The store’s growth is steady and it’s drawing more customers, but for Hannah Wood, working there is more than a part-time job.

“It’s a safe haven, honestly,” she said. “My family was worried that I would have trouble with a regular job because I suffer with Asperger syndrome,” she said. “And so they wanted a safer place where I wouldn’t have to worry about what other people thought of me or anything.”

At 20, Wood is the store’s youngest employee. The oldest is 51. The age range is exactly what Matteson had in mind when starting the foundation with her husband, Hutch.

It gives the adults a chance for social interaction they are no longer getting in school, but it also offers a future toward independence.

“Prior to coming to work here, everybody that you talk to would notice a difference in their self-confidence and the quality of life,” Hutch Matteson said.

“The fact that they can get a pay check and buy Christmas presents for their family instead of sitting around a table and getting but not being able to give … They’re learning valuable skills … this is far better than we could have ever imagined.”

He hopes the lessons employees learn at work can be used as hands-on training for holding down a job elsewhere. For the workers at PIER, employment has made “all the difference in the world.”

When they first opened, Cindy Matteson said they never thought they’d fill the place. But donation after donation, the store is not only full but has grown to include groceries and a 50 percent-off sale section. They’re also creating a special Christmas section.

“The future of this is we want to purchase land and we want to rebuild this store and we want to build other things that they can help run and bring in revenue,” said Cindy Matteson, whose son also works at PIER. “We also want to build residential housing for them, because many of them are at a point where pretty soon, they’re going to need some help. Their parents are aging or they’re living with grandparents.

“There’s not even one group home in Forsyth County, so we have a vision to build residential housing for them.”

During its recent first anniversary, the PIER Foundation presented Advanced Disposal with a Community Partnership Award for its help in providing free trash pickup and a Valentine’s Day party.

“Their partnership has enabled the PIER Foundation to go farther and faster than we ever imagined,” Cindy Matteson said.

PIER is also looking at other employment opportunities, even joining with other companies like Siemens, which provides transportation to and from the company’s Alpharetta office on work days.

It helps further the workers’ sense of independence, Cindy Matteson said. They can take the bus, and not have to wait for their parents to drive them. It’s all about jobs and independence.

“Being here at a job is good for them in so many ways,” she said. “But that’s what they’re looking for more of is being independent and that’s what we want to continue. This vision is going to get bigger.

“This is the beginning of us thinking about what kind of total life they will need.”

It’s not all work and no play, however. The employees use tip money to plan several monthly outings, such as bowling and other group activities.

“It’s just been the most fun you could ever imagine,” she said. “A lot of work, but a lot of fun. And they just make our lives so much better. Just watching them be so excited about what they do and seeing their lives change daily is what it’s all about.”

Staff writer Jennifer Sami contributed to this report.