Arlington thrift store helps disabled seeking on-the-job training skills

ARLINGTON – Chris Christenson and her family had just pulled into town and unpacked, looking for a place to donate unwanted household items after their move from Gunnison, Colo.

Christenson dropped by the Quilceda Community Thrift last week after a phone conversation with the manager about the nonprofit store at the Country Charm Dairy and the causes they support. Proceeds benefit programs offered by Quilceda Community Services in Marysville.

It was small-town charm and a general aviation airport for a future plane purchase that drew the Christensons to Arlington. It was the thrift store’s vocational program for the disabled – and Google Maps – that got her to the store’s doorstep with two Jeep-loads of donations, and an assortment of exotic collectibles from their family’s world travels.

“That’s so amazing that they’re helping people in that way,” Christenson said. “That means a lot to me, rather than taking items to a Goodwill or some other thrift store.”

For five years, the Community Thrifthas provided an inclusive workplace that offers vocational, transitional and life skills for developmentally and intellectually disabled young adults.

Karen Harper, board president and a founding family member of Quilceda Community Services that operates the second-hand store, said the program is self-supporting through partnerships with Arlington and Lake Stevens high schools. Both send students ages 18-21 for on-the-job training.

Store manager Jennifer Morgan oversees the program.

“The students come here with a job coach a couple of times a week, and they learn a job skill, or a skill for when they become independent and live on their own,” Morgan said. “They help us out, it helps them out, so it’s kind of a win-win,” she said.

Harper said one woman who got training three years ago now works at Nordstrom’s in Seattle, which was a goal of hers.

Harper said Morgan is good at working with the job coach and finding tasks where the student can gain confidence.

Morgan recalled one student who was blind, but she found something he could master.

“Just by touch, he was able to do basic chores, and match socks and household things just by feel,” Morgan said. “Each kid comes in with their own disability, so you have to work with them to figure out what their strong points are, because it’s not like each one of them can do all the chores.”

Harper’s parents founded the nonprofit in 1976 because her older sister was disabled, and they saw the importance of providing a supervised and productive environment for adult disabled children. “They need a voice,” Harper said.

Surplus funding from the store supports a residential program with five sites, a professional guardian who serves as an advocate to help the disabled and their families, and a year-round day activity recreational program at Willow Place used by some 200 individuals. The recreational program has grown so much that Willow Place underwent an expansion this year that doubled the building space for activities. A reopening is scheduled this spring.

Morgan said the thrift store shares a deep connection with the community, and a supportive customer base in north Snohomish County.

“It’s one of the only true thrift stores in Arlington anymore,” she said, adding, “When the Oso slide happened, the thrift store treated it as ‘just come get what you need’” for displaced families and victims.

“The thrift store offers collectibles, clothing and furniture in good condition at reasonable prices,” Harper said. “Many people come here specifically because of the agencies the store supports. Many have disabled children.”

At a glance

The store is open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays in the former Country Charm Dairy barn, 604 E. Gilman Ave.

For details, call 360-435-0707 or

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