NEW PORT RICHEY — It's a little after noon on a Wednesday and Brittany Braun is busy sorting through a small pile of clothing — jeans and shirts that need to be inspected and priced before being folded or hung on the sales racks in portable classroom 11.
There's work to be done. Even so, Brittany, 19, takes the time to look up and offer a proper greeting to customers who venture in.
"Hello! Welcome to the Gold Mine!" she says in a sing-song voice. "Can I help you?"
The greeting is a practiced skill, one of many that Brittany and other students in the school's Exceptional Student Education Program are tackling in the Gold Mine Boutique, a modest consignment-thrift shop off the beaten path on the J.W. Mitchell High School campus.
While Brittany sorted through clothes for stains or rips, Matthew Shamonski, 21, steamed the wrinkles out of some new arrivals under the eye of his watchful teacher. Sean Mulcahy, 17, was having some fun using a contraption called a "fuzz buster" on a brown sweater, while Mariah Bruno, 19, staffed the front counter in her wheelchair, tending to the new inventory — jeans, a jacket and a couple of shirts — being brought in by Brianna Ridge, 17.
"I don't care about the money," said Brianna, while her friend combed the racks for cheap finds. "I just want to give these things to someone who needs them."
That's part of the idea — having a place right on campus for students to donate their used duds, shop at discount prices or make a little cash for their consignments. But giving students experience in the world of work is the real drive behind this new venture.
The Gold Mine is one of two school-based enterprises on the Mitchell campus that offer on-the-job training to those in the ESE program. The other is Mustang Market, a more established campus shop just off the commons area where students and faculty can purchase balloons, flower arrangements and assorted novelties to be delivered to that special someone.
The idea is to provide different opportunities for students to develop skills in a field they might like, said Nancy Luikart, Mitchell High's job placement transition specialist. There are about 50 students working in the program, earning "Mitchell Dollars" that can be used to purchase snacks or other items in the school store. Some students stay on campus, taking jobs in the two stores, the cafeteria, delivering papers to classrooms, collecting recyclable items or making custom-order wooden signs to sell. Others venture out to work at Publix or other local businesses.
"We try to match students with their interests and their skill level," said Luikart, who is the wife of School Board member Steve Luikart. "They learn how to deal with people, (and) what it takes to work in a real retail store or business. The hope is for them to train and become employable, perhaps even landing a paying job."
And expanding their horizons.
Sean is a country music fan who plays clarinet in the school band and guitar on his own. His dream is to one day have a career as a recording engineer. But he's found a good backup. As an employee for the Gold Mine, he discovered a knack he has for designing sales and advertising fliers on his computer.
"It tells people when we're open, things like that," Sean said as he proudly showed off his latest design that was to appear on the morning announcements and at intervals throughout the school day on classroom television sets.
Business has been a little slow for the startup, so Sean's work will hopefully drum up more customers, such as Ashley Smith, 18, who, after riffling through the racks was thinking of settling on a bright red spaghetti strap top.
"What do you think? Think this would be good for summer?" she asked Brianna, who nodded in approval.
Michele Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.