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Advocating for people with disabilities
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By Joshua Pilkington

Arc Thrift Stores are not just a place to donate used goods and find some excellent bargains. It is also one of the largest integrated employers of people with disabilities in the state of Colorado as over 300 of the thrift store chain’s 1,600 employees have a disability.

Walking through the doors of the one of the 27 stores along the Front Range, patrons may come in contact with a greeter like Ruben Olivera, who loves to discuss his passion for fishing and his recent marriage.

“I love fishing,” Olivera said enthusiastically. “But I haven’t been fishing in a long time.”

Fishing trips, hikes and other indoor and outdoor outings are some of the recreational activities that arc ambassadors get to be a part of as part of the non-profit’s Ambassador program.

“We have social events every month,” said Dominick Rivera, Ambassador Relations Manager, arc Thrift Stores. “We have these separate events in the Metro area and in the north for Greeley, Fort Collins and Loveland and we have separate events in Colorado Springs. This [July] we went sailing at Cherry Creek Reservoir and we partnered with a company called Community Sailing of Colorado. They have an adaptive sailing program, so they have the ability to work with people in wheelchairs and putting them in sailboats.”

August’s social event saw the Metro chapter’s ambassadors meet up at Chatfield Reservoir for fishing, Rivera added and upcoming events feature trips to the movies, karaoke parties and a costume party.

“We also go to the movies and have dances,” he said. “In October for Halloween we’re going to have a costume party. We just try to be engaging and allow them to socialize with each other.”

According to Erick Martinez, Vice President of Retail Operations at arc Thrift Stores, it’s not just the ambassadors who benefit from the program.

“They add to the value of what arc Thrift is about,” Martinez said. “What we’ve found is our employees really appreciate that. When they are working alongside our ambassadors they get to connect with them more. They get to hear their struggles and their successes and I think it brings a lot more meaning to their work, to know that what they’re doing is benefitting people.”

Part of the hiring process, Martinez added, is getting to know the employee to figure out where his or her abilities can best be utilized.

“Our approach is not to have them off in a corner,” he said of arc’s ambassadors. “Our approach is to include them in the workforce. What we do is we meet with the individuals and chat with them, find out their abilities and what they can do. Then what we’ll do is cater the job to their abilities.”

Extroverts, like Olivera, for example, end up in a greeting position to welcome people to the store, at a cashier position or they help open certain showcase events. As for those who like to keep to themselves “we might have them in the production room processing donations,” Martinez said.

Rivera recalled one ambassador in particular who, in a previous position, was not utilized to her skill set and saw how she blossomed as an employee at arc.

“We have a girl at our West Colfax store, Laurie Espinoza, who has cerebral palsy, so she’s in a wheelchair,” he said. “She worked at a company where they wanted her to work with her hands and that’s impossible for her. Her greatest strength is her voice, so we have her as a greeter and she does a great job at that.”

As a true non-profit, all proceeds earned by arc Thrift Stores go directly to the arc chapters in Colorado. Donations for clothing, cookware, furniture, toys, games and other goods are accepted a multiple donation centers throughout the state.

On September 8th arc will host the “Born to Be Me” Gala fundraiser at the Hyatt Regency Denver Convention Center at 5:30.

This year marks arc’s 50th anniversary of advocating for people in Colorado with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

For more information visit





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