Matthews thrift store ZABS Place hires young adults with special needs

An upscale thrift store and employment center for young adults with special needs has opened in downtown Matthews.

ZABS Place, run by Friendship Circle of Charlotte, opened in November.

“The genesis for ZABS Place began at a kitchen table,” said Caren Gale of Myers Park.

As parents of a child with special needs, Gale and her husband, Charlie, were concerned about their son Jonathan’s future after he graduated from high school.

“My husband and I had many discussions about creating a store that would expose young adults with disabilities to a variety of job skills, a place where young adults with disabilities could at long last find a home to express their abilities,” Caren Gale said.

Bentzion and Rochel Groner of Stonehaven were having similar discussions. Bentzion is the director and Rochel the creative director of Friendship Circle, a nonprofit organization that pairs teenagers with children with special needs to provide them social opportunities and friendship; however, the ties ended when the young people graduated.

“These kids have so much to offer, so much potential,” Bentzion Groner said.

The Gales reached out to the Groners and began planning what would become ZABS Place.

“We began to work very closely with Rochel and Bentzion, whose compassion and empathy was the driving force in our joint desire to open a store,” Gale said.

A lot of research, meetings, travel and community support went into developing the concept. Friendship Circle, started by Chabad Lubavitch of Charlotte, partnered with Lifespan Services of North Carolina and the Autism Foundation of the Carolinas, and received two grants from the Jewish Federation of Greater Charlotte.

The organizers found a model in Our Thrift Store, a nonprofit in Tennessee that employs people with special needs. Our Thrift Store founders Dave and Sandy Krikac shared information and also donated a pickup to ZABS Place.

After two years of planning, collecting merchandise, raising money and finding a location, ZABS Place opened at the corner of Trade and John streets.

ZABS Place currently has 13 young adults who come in one to two times per week. Some have job coaches, some get vocational rehab, and some are trained by Rochel, Bentzion Groner said.

The young adults receive donations, sort and process items, tag items, restock, photograph items for sale on line, write descriptions and post items to Internet marketplaces such as Craigslist, eBay and Etsy. They also ring up sales, count pieces of games to make sure they?re complete, and help customers take their purchases to their car, Rochel Groner said.

Jonathan Gale, 20, works at ZABS Place four days a week photographing merchandise, posting descriptions on Ebay, running the cash register and talking to the customers.

Jonathan said he loves the work. “I always feel happy and important there,” he said.

ZABS Place was named to honor the memory of 19-year-old Zachary Shporer, who died from leukemia in 2012. He was a supporter of and volunteer with Friendship Circle.

ZABS stands for Zachary’s Hebrew name, Zecharya Avraham Boruch Shporer, but also happens to match as an abbreviation including the names of Zachary and his siblings, Alexander, 25, and Brianna, 19.

“Zachary was really involved all his life in trying to do wonderful things for other people,” said Zachary’s mother, Lisa Shporer.

“When we visited him in the hospital, he always asked about our latest programs and events,” Rochel Groner said.

The day after Zachary died, the Groners asked the Shporers if they could do something in his memory. The Shporers have been involved with ZABS Place since.

“ZABS Place is close to my heart,” said Lisa Shporer. “To be able to honor our son and young adults with special talents is fantastic.”

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