In her teens, Velvet Edwards dropped out of Lincoln High School to care for her mother, who had hepatitis and scoliosis. By 22, she had few life skills and no high school diploma as she watched her mother slowly disappear. “Toward the end, her organs just started to shut down, and she faded away,” says Edwards, now 28.
A month after her mother’s passing, Velvet was pregnant.
By late 2012, she had four children, and jobs were scarce. She’d worked in customer service and restaurants but never held a long-term job. She received aid from Placer County and signed up for a job training course. It was there and through the county’s Help to Hire program, she heard about a Rocklin thrift store that was looking to hire.
Compassion Planet Thrift’s mission is to improve and advance the lives of emancipated foster youth or at-risk teens. The nonprofit runs the thrift store but also offers food, life-skills training and, soon, housing for youth. Edwards says connecting to Compassion Planet was a defining moment in her life.
“It’s such a critical age,” says Scott Flanagan, executive director of the nonprofit. “A lot of young people, if they don’t have a good target or good skills or a support system at that time in their lives, it can not only impact their lives but future generations.”
Velvet’s link to Compassion Planet was made possible by Placer’s Help to Hire program, a subsidized-wage reimbursement plan for employers. The incentive reimburses up to $6,000 of wages paid by public, private or nonprofit employers for hiring eligible Placer County CalWORKs participants. The reimbursement pays up to $1,000 a month for six months.
Flanagan started Compassion Planet as a small food closet called Share the Harvest in 2008. In summer 2012, he launched a more sophisticated operation with the thrift store, a board and housing plans. He now has half a dozen employees and at least 75 volunteers. The organization is now looking to open housing sites by 2015 in Sacramento and Placer counties for at-risk youth and foster youth who have aged out of the system.
Compassion Planet ran an operating budget of $190,000 in its first year. About half of that came from donations, and the other half came from business ventures, such as the store and online sales. Flanagan is hoping to double his budget next year with 75 percent coming from sales rather than donations.
Edwards volunteered at the thrift store for a few months before they hired her. Now, she’s employed as a shift leader.
“It feels great. I love working here and working with people. It’s rewarding helping others,” she says.
Edwards recently received her high school diploma at Roseville Adult School and hopes to start college soon. She’s considering a career as a juvenile probation officer.
In the meantime, she says, she’ll continue to roll with life’s punches as she tries to keep her sanity.
“My biggest challenge is trying to survive with everything I have on my plate,” she says. “I don’t know where I’d be if I didn’t meet Scott, his wife and this program. It’s given me skills I need not just in a job but in life. I appreciate everything they’ve done for me.”
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