When I first came to Our Thrift Store I thought it was going to be a mere layover before getting my ticket to where I really wanted to go. Little did I know that my time there would change the entire course of my journey.

At that particular time in my life I was young and searching for purpose and a job that would allow me to make a difference in the world. More importantly, I was praying a very specific prayer – that God would “make His desires my desires and His heart my heart”. Our Thrift Store was His answer to that prayer.

While uncomfortable at first in my new role at OTS, I quickly began to learn from the experienced employees that surrounded me. It became very evident that the biggest hurdle I had to overcome was myself. I was prideful and inwardly judging myself for working in a store rather than being “successful” in a big corporation that my college degree had prepared me for. I had no knowledge about any disabilities and I didn’t understand why God had brought me to a job that I was unequipped to do. I naturally assumed that I had to act differently around someone with special needs and this assumption is what hindered myself (as I believe it does many others) at the beginning. But the more I watched and was surrounded by this unique environment, the more my eyes were opened to the beauty of this community that I had never before been exposed to.

Here was a place where everyone was free to be themselves and be met exactly where they were at. Negativity was overwhelmed with joy and gratitude, and the day-to-day tasks were livened with child-like fun and silliness. It didn’t matter where you came from or what experience you held – grace was abundant, growth was evident, and love was inevitable. After a life of a whole lot of pride and selfishness, it was truly freeing. And, even more, it revealed strengths within myself that I never knew I had. Once I let my guard down, I found it very natural working with the employees and discovering the hidden abilities and amazing qualities they held. I discovered that I was a teacher and a leader and had a gift for bringing creativity to any environment. My love for the employees at OTS quickly grew and my heart began to change as I began to redefine what “success” looked like in my own life.

As the direction of my life slowly began to change, my role at the store began to grow enabling me to learn more in depth how to lead and guide as a manager. I was surrounded by mentors pouring into and affirming me. Little did I know I was learning essential skills for my future.

Almost two years into my time at OTS, I was still trying to juggle my job there with 2-3 other jobs that “would lead to the career I wanted”. It was exhausting and doors were continually closing. At that time, my manager and mentor, Sandy Krikac, asked if I had ever considered combining my passions and talents. My talents were in the arts but my passion was to have a job that made a real difference in the world. God had now shown me His heart by introducing me to OTS and everyone it served – it was time now to find out what He wanted me to do with it.

It all began with a play. Dave and Sandy not only encouraged me but allowed me to use part of business hours to produce a play with the employees with disabilities at the store. The employees would get together at 2pm every work day and we would rehearse a short play I wrote for them based on the fairytale, Cinderella. We pulled costumes and props from the store and scheduled a performance in a small youth room at a local church. The performance was extremely simple with no more than 40 people in the audience. But by the end of it, everyone was in tears and we knew we…or God, was onto something.

What began in the upstairs of Our Thrift Store has now become a developed non-profit called Backlight Productions – a theater arts program for adults with disabilities. Backlight partners with local professional artists and companies to produce large scale stage productions that feature adults with disabilities in quality and respectable lead roles. It integrates them in the arts community, changing the image of what should be in the spotlight and how powerfully the stage can be used for good.

Our Thrift Store is not just a place where people with disabilities find fulfillment. It is a place where young people come in without direction and with a skewed idea of “success” and are then mentored, poured into, and exposed to a more meaningful life. My journey could have gone in many directions but I cannot imagine a path more beautiful, fulfilling or fruitful as the path I was led down due to my time at OTS. I know I am not the only person whose young life was affected in this way and I know I will not be the last because, Our Thrift Store is a place you go where you cannot help but be changed.

Melissa Smith

Executive Director