For a little clothing store, Above the Underground is making a big impact on the lives of people in Abbotsford. And if Darlene Davy, the store’s manager, has her way, many more people will know about it.
“I always say Above the Underground is Abbotsford’s best kept secret, but I’d like to change that,” she says with a smile.
Above the Underground is a unique Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) program that offers hands-on training and work experience at the second-hand clothing store.
The store runs two separate training programs:
- The 12-week associate program includes both classroom training and the opportunity for participants to put that training into practice in the store. The program is funded by sales from the store. Participants, who must go through an interview process, have the opportunity to learn customer service; retail sales, including the use of a cash register and debit/credit reader; promotions and advertising; merchandising and displays; and robbery and theft prevention skills. They also learn how to write a résumé and look for a job.
- The 13-week Youth Keep Working (YKW) program teaches life and employability skills to unemployed or underemployed teens and young adults, and is funded by the Government of Canada through Youth Skills Link. Participants spend the first six weeks at Above the Underground receiving computer training, a first aid certificate, and training in job search and résumé cover letter writing. They then move on to work in a community project for the next seven weeks, developing their skills while giving back to the community.
A new partnership with the MCC Clothing Etc. thrift shop at the MCC Plaza in Abbotsford means that YKW participants also spend part of their experience at the thrift shop sorting and pricing items.
“It’s a win-win situation,” Davy says, adding that it provides the thrift shop with much-needed volunteers and makes it less crowded at Above the Underground’s back sorting room.
Pam Thompson has been through the associate program and continues to volunteer in the store because she loves it so much. She found out about the program when she and her husband moved to Abbotsford from Chilliwack.
“I’m a people person,” she says. “I love working the cash, answering the phones and interacting with the customers.”
She is currently involved with another employment program that finds odd jobs and matches them with employees. She has done landscaping and car-washing through this new program. But she has other dreams. “I’d love to be a greeter at Wal-Mart,” she says.
Davy has managed Above the Underground for nearly two years and absolutely loves her job. Having worked as a group home employee for youths and in retail, she says this job combines her two work experiences in a unique way.
“It’s a new story every day,” she says. “I’m never bored and there’s always something new to learn or someone to help.”
She says she sometimes feels like a “mom” to some of the participants she meets, helping them find housing or with filing their income tax. She stays connected with previous associates. “It’s so much more than a job for me,” she says. “I love it.”
As for the shop, she wants people to share the secret far and wide. It is not your average thrift shop. While all the clothing is second hand, Davy is very particular about what makes it onto the floor. She looks for current, trendy and fashionable items, and says that if she wouldn’t wear it, she doesn’t put it out.