Destiny Conner, 13, takes tags off of clothing at the new Volunteers for America storefront on May 16 in Sultan. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Destiny Conner, 13, takes tags off of clothing at the new Volunteers for America storefront on May 16 in Sultan. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

At Sultan’s only thrift store, teens learn teamwork, job skills

Teens with the Sky Valley Youth Coalition “stepped up and created the store” on Main Street.

SULTAN — Teens from the Sky Valley Youth Coalition sorted through donations of secondhand goods and rang up customers last week week at the new Volunteers of America Thrift Store.

Sultan’s only thrift store opened early last month on Main Street offering gently used clothing, furniture, bikes, household items, tools and more. Credit goes to the teens who “stepped up and created the store,” said Kim Biegel, program manager of the youth coalition and project manager of the store.

Proceeds benefit VOA’s Community Resource Center in Sultan, which includes the youth coalition, a food bank, free showers and housing assistance.

Teens will now volunteer at the store several times a week, during school breaks, after school and on an adjusted schedule in the summer.

The experience will help build job and life skills, Biegel said.

“They have the ability get a job as a cashier or in a retail establishment,” she said. “It’s teamwork and problem solving.”

Thirteen-year-old Destiny Conner was in charge of the register last Monday. She has learned to “be nice to customers no matter what” and to put on price tags and count money.

Destiny, who joined the youth coalition three weeks ago, said she would probably be “sitting on my phone” if she weren’t at the store.

“It’s something to do and it’s not boring,” she said.

The Sky Valley Youth Coalition started in 2016. Biegel said the program is a safe place for teens after school and “a place to be where their voice is heard.”

“I would rather them working at the store than making poor choices that would negatively impact their life,” she said.

The youth coalition had 40 kids at its height, but dropped to two amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Biegel said online hangout sessions didn’t catch on and many kids aged out of the program.

She has focused on rebuilding the coalition and is up to 13 participants. It is open to kids ages 13 to 19 in the Sultan School District.

The youth coalition is now temporarily housed in the same building as the thrift store. One room functions as a space to do homework or art, play basketball, or have a meal. On the wall, there is a large poster with handwritten rules.

“Leave drama outside. Be nice. Be inclusive. Do your chores/do your own dishes! No bullying/harassment.”

Fourteen-year-old James Nelson said he and his peers had a meeting to come up with those rules.

The teens largely decide what activities and projects they do, Biegel said. The original teens in the program decided to make fighting hunger a priority: they set up a program to provide weekend meal packs to students at Sultan high school and middle schools.

New youth coalition members have carried on that tradition. In the past month, they also teamed up with the Sultan Police Department to collect 46 pounds of drugs for the National Prescription Drug Take Back Day, and stuffed 1,000 Easter eggs for a community egg hunt.

James has been with the youth coalition since he was 11.

“(The youth coalition) gives me something to do and help out with,” he said.

He struggled with online learning during the pandemic and is happy to be in-person again.

The teens will also get a say in the new Sky Valley Teen Center going up in Sultan. The two-story structure will be built next to VOA’s Community Resource Center on First Street.

James said he would like to see a full kitchen and maybe a basketball court in the larger space.

The building will also include six emergency shelter beds for youth experiencing homelessness, Biegel said.

VOA received a $500,000 federal grant for the project, as part of an appropriations package passed by Congress in March.

The center would provide food, clothing, tutoring, mental health support and other social services, and a safe and comfortable place for kids when not in school, according to a funding request submitted by U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene.

“Hundreds of teens from rural East Snohomish County would have access to services that they currently have to travel to Monroe or Everett to receive,” the request on DelBene’s website states.

Biegel said community members can support the youth coalition and other programs when they shop at the thrift store.

“It allows those programs to continue going and we can create new ones,” she said.

The Volunteers of America Thrift Store is located at 430 Main St. in Sultan. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, Thursday and Friday, and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.

Jacqueline Allison: 425-339-3434; jacqueline.allison@heraldnet.coml Twitter: @jacq_allison.

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