Davis always reports to work with an Ernie doll named Iggy. He uses a wheelchair and doesn’t speak much. Davis is a special needs student at Thomas Jefferson High School — and a volunteer at the Richmond Habitat for Humanity ReStore. He enjoys the four mile bus ride from school to the store twice a month so he can help out.
In 2015, Rudy Hall, a TJHS Special Education teacher, approached ReStore’s volunteer coordinator Jenn Wilson about a potential partnership. Since then, the students have helped clean and organize many of the departments with the help of a one-on-one aide.
One of the students flagship projects was an overhaul of the so-called “knick knack room” — a daunting and chaotic closet full of all the things that are hard to organize. Their effort made it possible to store the fruits of a large donation.
“Volunteering at the ReStore provides our class with vocational experience,” says Rudy. “And being out in the community increases their self esteem. The kids look forward to coming.”
Jennifer agrees. “Everyone is employable. The skills that they’re learning here will help them after they graduate. And the best part is that they feel a sense of accomplishment and have a sense of pride in their work.”
The kids work hard. They complete any task they’re asked to do, whether it’s sweeping, cleaning, or organizing. Sometimes the aides make a song about the assigned task for the day and everyone sings together.
“I like doing this because we laugh,” says Kendrick, a student. “And act goofy!” adds his friend Wright with a big smile.