Girls Republic Students Learn Work Habits at the Boys Republic Thrift Shop

August 5, 2019

How often do we clean out our closets, clinging to some faded favorites and sorting sweaters, scarves, and blouses to pass on? When we do this, we consider the precious space gained between hangers and the quiet sense of helping others, yet how often do we imagine the clothes en route to future owners? How often do we think about the people’s hands the items pass through in between?

Some of those hands belong to Sasha, a 17 year-old Girls Republic student. Sasha earns part of her way at the community residence by checking the quality of donated clothes, pricing items, and assisting customers at the Boys Republic Thrift Shop. At the Thrift Shop in Altadena, Sasha and students like her learn responsible work habits that equip them for future job success. Maybe Sasha has folded or arranged clothes before, but these tasks take on new meaning at the Thrift Shop under the supervision of Mella Brienza, thrift shop volunteer and President of the Pasadena Auxiliary.

Ms. Brienza fosters skills the girls have not acquired growing up such as counting back customers’ change without relying on technology and channeling their creative energy to craft store front window signs. The job is fundamental in creating respect for the materials the girls work with, the customers they help serve, and compassion for coworkers and supervisors. While the Thrift Shop provides work and life experience for the girls, Sasha’s favorite part is helping Ms. Brienza and other volunteers. The outward trajectory of giving stems from the Thrift Shop’s larger history–a history that not only preexists Sasha and Ms. Brienza but the shop itself.

Girls Republic student Sasha writes prices on merchandise at the Thrift Shop.

The Boys Republic Thrift Shop grew from the Pasadena Auxiliary’s rummage sales. The Pasadena Auxiliary, founded by Miss Kate Fowler and her young female friends in 1911, held its first rummage sale in 1914 to benefit Boys Republic. The rummage sales became so popular that eventually more than 10,000 customers attended a single sale. Celebrity presences spurred excitement–and business–at the rummage sales. Celebrities based in Los Angeles and the news media promoted the Republic programs and ultimately, the popularity of the rummage sales led the Pasadena Auxiliary to open a brick and mortar store in 1986 that would benefit Boys Republic students.

Girls Republic students who often lacking real-world work experience find themselves facing the critical transition to adulthood. For them, the Thrift Shop offers work experience that mirrors the demands and expectations of the workplace. Students like Sasha find that the thrift shop offers them an opportunity to acquire good work habits, but this is only one of several important outcomes. Sasha appreciates the skills she learns from her first job, but she seems more enthusiastic about assisting Ms. Brienza and other volunteers in the shop. Ms. Brienza acts as a mentor to the girls. In exchange for their good work habits, she shapes them into confident and responsible young women.

Communities like the Pasadena Auxiliary and Girls Republic, the opportunities those communities create for Girls Republic students, and the bonds formed through those opportunities are all stories of connections between women. Sasha has entered a cycle of service and strength as demonstrated and afforded to her by other women. She wants to go to law school one day to continue helping others, and her experience at the Thrift Shop, selling clothes to customers and meeting meaningful female role models, might just be the story that gets her there.