Councilman Bob Yates: “Rambling to Help Others”

Councilman Bob Yates spoke about Ramble on Pearl in a recent newsletter. Thank you for helping us spread the word! He writes,

Typically, I wouldn’t use this space to promote a commercial venture. But Boulder clothing store, Ramble on Pearl, is different. It is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, set up to help people in need. Opened in August 2014, Ramble on Pearl is a clothing store that provides employment training to adults with developmental or cognitive disabilities, including those with autism or Down syndrome.

Ramble founders Connie and Andy Minden confronted some difficult decisions as their daughter, Kendra, reached adulthood and was ready to live independently. Kendra has a cognitive disability and lacked the work experience that so many teenagers and college students gain with summer, evening, or weekend jobs in retail or in the service industry. At the age of 23, Kendra faced the classic chicken-or-egg dilemma of not being able to procure a job due to her lack of experience, and not being able to gain experience without that first job. Recognizing that many other adults with developmental or cognitive disabilities also struggle with this challenge, Connie and Andy determined to not only train their daughter, but to make that training scalable so that others could gain the experience and confidence necessary to earn independent employment. Without any prior retail experience, two years ago the Mindens opened Ramble at 1638 Pearl Street, with their daughter, Kendra, as one of their first employees.

Ramble’s premise is simple. First, to ensure economic sustainability, they use their nonprofit status to gain discounts—sometimes even outright gifts—from high-end clothing designers who support their mission. As a result, Ramble procures brand new men’s and women’s fashions from local brands like Krimson Klover and Walleroo, and national brands such as Toad & Co and Bench, at significant savings to its customers, making the store competitive with its downtown neighbors while also offering the community the opportunity to shop with a purpose.

However, the Mindens’ primary objective is not affordability, but to use Ramble as a place to train adults with developmental or cognitive disabilities essential employment skills. Ramble’s trainee employees, called “apprentices,” are paid to manage the store’s inventory, fill the racks, help customers select fashions, and ring up sales. Each employee with a disability is paired with a job coach who has experience in the retail world. After a few months of training, apprentices can typically perform any job that their coach can, often with enthusiasm and joy. Once that proficiency is attained, Ramble helps its graduate apprentices secure independent jobs outside the store. In the two years since Connie and Andy opened Ramble, they have successfully place 11 adults with disabilities—including their daughter Kendra—in jobs throughout the Boulder area. Once hired in their new jobs, Ramble provides graduates ongoing coaching until they are completely independent.

One of Ramble’s most recent graduates is Penny. After her training at Ramble, Penny landed a job in October with Clutter Consignment in the Steelyards. There, Penny works five days a week tagging and merchandising Clutter’s products and staffing the cash register. Says Clutter’s owner, Patty Ross, “I believe that the more we can help people, the better off we will be. And when you understand that people are people first and their disabilities come second, then maybe barriers will be broken down and life for all will be good.”

While Penny has worked at Clutter for only a short time, Patty says that she is doing “fantastic.” Says Patty, “She’s fitting in very well, catches on quickly, and she is always smiling. She’s a great addition to my wonderful staff.” Penny is equally happy with Clutter, telling me when I visited her at the shop, “I love this job. The people here have taken me under their wing and taught me so much. And it’s so fun being around customers and helping them pick out what they need. I feel special here.” At RambleOnPearl.com you can read about other recent Ramble graduates, including Alexa, who now works at the Humane Society, Sean, who works at King Soopers, and the Mindens’ daughter, Kendra, who is a proud employee of Bed, Bath & Beyond. In addition to the 11 graduates who have been placed in independent jobs, the Mindens are currently training three more people at Ramble, and there is a wait-list of others who seek this opportunity.

Three-quarters of Colorado adults with cognitive disabilities are unemployed. And often those who do have work are isolated in “enclave” jobs, out of the public eye and paid less than minimum wage under an exemption permitted by state law. But, Connie and Andy Minden are making a difference here in Boulder, unlocking the talent often hidden in people with developmental disabilities, helping them live independent lives, filled with confidence and pride.

As you embark on your holiday gift shopping and plan your year-end support of worthy causes, stop by Ramble on Pearl, where you can do both.

Bob Yates’ original post can be found here.

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