North Miami special needs kids operate secondhand store

Eight years ago, special education teacher Veronica Martin saw a need for low-cost clothes and other items for students and others in the North Miami community. The she hit upon a way to satisfy that need: a secondhand shop within North Miami Beach Senior High.

The store is part of a project called Friends in Training, which was founded almost 20 years ago by Martin and another special education teacher, Zuzel Hernandez.

The idea was to give special needs students at the school an opportunity to learn how to operate a café, make coffee and hot chocolate, sell snacks, and work in a greenhouse growing herbs, plants and vegetables.

However, their greatest accomplishment is the secondhand store, which operates Monday through Friday during school hours. Though they use the term “store,” it is free of charge to not only the members of the school but to the community as well.

The workers are taught organizational skills, customer service, how to check clothing for quality, and how to properly place items on shelves.

Martin and Hernandez said they opened the classroom-size shop because the school is located in an area that is predominantly low income and has families moving from places like Haiti and Central America.

After the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, said Martin, “the school became that community that helped all neighboring families, so we turned around and opened a secondhand store available to the public.”

The items range from clothes, shoes, baby accessories and CDs to home decoration. The school continues to encourage donations of any kind. People use what they find for prom, job interviews, dates or for other important occasions.

“The items are free, things are donated, teachers go through their closets to find what they don’t need any more and our kids check all the buttons and all the zippers, then put it in the second hand store,” said Martin.

Last year, one student’s family chose a simple dress and turned it into an elegant prom gown. It started out plain but the family bedazzled it, sending pictures of the final result and thanking Martin for the opportunity.

Friends in Training also offers class periods where the rest of the student body can work at either the café or the greenhouse.  They interact with special needs kids, acting as role models.

“Working with Project FIT has been beneficial for me and the special students because I get to engage with them, learn how to communicate more and gain experience while working with them,” said senior Ashanti Marshall, who has been in the program for over 3 years.

Another student in the program recalls turning to the store for a job interview.

“I used the clothes from the secondhand store and they were comfortable. I loved it. It really helped me out that day,” said senior Delesha Graham

Mariana Vargas is a senior at FIU majoring in journalism. She was born in Bogota, Colombia but grew up in Miami. Her passion for writing led her to journalism. She strives to write stories that bring awareness to special causes and inspire others. She hopes to one day travel the world, writing stories of the different people she encounters.