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Second-hand shop provides second chances in Citrus

Discarded clothing, used furniture and second-hand items are the raw materials for a new program that will provide job training for recovering clients of the Marion-Citrus Mental Health Center. A half dozen of those clients and several staff members from the center opened the doors of the Rags to Riches Thrift Shop in the old Beverly Hills shopping plaza Oct. 22.

Since then, a steady flow of customers has stopped by the small shop to donate items and browse.

"We seem to be doing really well," said Margaret Schu, director of Citrus programs for the center.

The thrift shop is designed to provide a job training site and a way for recovering clients to get back in touch with the community.

"We want to expose our clients to the community and the community to our clients," she said.

The idea came from clients involved in various outpatient programs at the center. When Schu asked the group what she could do for them, they said they wanted to find a way to make some money.

To prove their commitment to the idea, they independently polled people in the area to see if there was an interest. They also found a location in one storefront of the old plaza, Schu said.

Under the supervision of the center's staff, the clients will be involved with every phase of the operation from managing the shop and sorting clothes to minor repairs and sales.

The clients are those who have completed treatment programs through the center. Most have been hospitalized several times. All are on medication to help with their problems.

"They're not dangerous and they are supervised," Schu said. "They're already living in the community in their own homes."

The clients chose Beverly Hills as the location for their thrift shop so they wouldn't be competing with Goodwill or the Key Training Center's efforts in other parts of the county.

Money raised will be placed into a fund. After a six-month trial period, center officials will assess the program. If they think it is successful, they will use the money collected to provide the start-up capital to make the business self-sufficient.

"We're looking at it hopefully as a way to enhance their self-esteem," Schu said. "And we want to provide training."

The ultimate goal of the program is for the clients to learn marketable skills and return to the community to work.

The shop is expected to sponsor a grand opening sometime in early December. Currently, the shop is open from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.