Whitworth alums expand Spokane non-profit

Annika Bjornson | Staff Writer

Global Neighborhood Thrift (GN Thrift), a non-profit started by Whitworth alumni Brent and Amy Hendricks, will be opening a new and larger thrift store with a weekend full of free food, music, and discounted items. The organization is focused on employing refugees and providing lessons in English, American cultural workplace norms, and other important job skills while helping their employees find full-time jobs in Spokane.

The relocation to 919 E Trent Ave, about 20-30 minutes from Whitworth, will be celebrated with many festivities. On Saturday, April 13 the ribbon-cutting, performed by city council president Ben Stuckart, will take place at 9:15 a.m. as participants enjoy a breakfast food truck and free Arctos coffee. Later in the day, there will be free ice cream provided by Umpqua Bank, a No-Li beer garden, and a 5 p.m. free performance by local band Mama Doll in the store. Additionally, most of the store is 50% off on April 13, 14, and 15.

With only days to go before the new space opens to the public, Hendricks is excited to be working in a much bigger place that will allow his team to employ more people and impact more lives as people settle into the area. The old, outgrown store, which Hendricks said was inconveniently across town from GN Thrift’s rented warehouse, was about half the size of the new space.

Hendricks graduated from Whitworth in 2006 with a bachelor’s degree in religion, unsure of what he would pursue after college. “I was living with a couple guys close to downtown and...we ended up working as temporary hosts for refugees who were being resettled here at the house,” he said, “so I [met] quite a few refugees over the course of the year and I didn’t know anything about refugees at the time but...I learned about their situations.”

This led him to work at World Relief for a year as a resettlement worker until he and his wife founded Global Neighborhood in 2007, which at the time was a non-profit focused on providing more “long-term, ongoing support” for refugees, since the resettlement agencies were limited by government contracts.

“We did a lot of educational stuff and volunteer initiatives within the first few years,” he said, “[we] built a lot of contacts within the community, and through that experience...we learned that the most pressing need for people coming here as refugees is employment.” However, he continued saying, “none of that sticks if people don’t have a job because people have so much stress about being able to pay rent or buy diapers,” and so they sought a solution that would help the workers use their skills and translate them into the American job environment.

In 2011, they started a new organization, GN Thrift, and their focus shifted to employment and training to prepare some of the 500-600 refugees that enter Spokane each year. They began with two people on their staff, and have since grown to see 126 people from 29 different countries go through their job-readiness program and find more permanent work. Their mission statement reads, “Global Neighborhood is a community benefit organization that focuses on using business to provide former refugees with opportunities for development so they can thrive and contribute as equal members of our community.”

English as a Second Language (ESL) is a major component of their services, as workplace shifts are structured around breaks during which a group of volunteers teaches an ESL curriculum. “Instead of reinventing the wheel and providing a whole other school for people,” Hendricks said, “we just structure all of our shifts around those classes so all our employees can continue going to school.”

The employees’ week consists of 20 hours of working at the thrift store and 20 hours of learning English and job training, typically completing the program and moving on to full-time employment after about six months.

Hendricks described the group as a “cross-section of society,” including doctors, accountants, and lawyers as well as people who have never been to school and are illiterate in their own first language. “Everybody has an interesting story,” he said. “We work with people who come here as refugees, [and] that is a very diverse group within itself...I like to claim that we have the most diverse workplace per capita in Spokane; right now, we have maybe 25-30 people and maybe four to five of them were born in America.”

Hendricks credits his success in part to his Whitworth education. “I learned how to learn, which is the most important thing,” he said.

He and his staff welcome the participation of Whitworth students in their opening weekend festivities and look forward to the continued service they are providing refugees who now call Spokane home.