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Deseret Industries: It's about the people, not the stuff

Published: Wednesday, July 17 2013 7:30 p.m. MDT

Rocio Mendoca works as a job coach in the clothes processing department at the Layton Deseret Industries in Layton on July 11.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

LAYTON, UTAH — Stacy Fredericks had a pretty good life, all things considered. She had a good husband who worked hard to provide for her and their three beautiful children. They were't wealthy — not by any means — but they were able to live comfortably enough that she could stay home with the kids and focus all of her time and considerable talent on the only job she had ever wanted: being a full-time homemaker.

Then her husband got sick, and her happy, simple world was turned upside down.

“My husband couldn’t work, and I had no real job skills,” Stacy said. “I had been to a little college, but not enough to qualify me for anything that I could do to support our family.”

A member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Stacy went to her bishop, or ecclesiastical leader, for counsel and support.

“I wasn’t really looking for a handout,” she said. “I was really trying to find long-term answers, because we were in the middle of long-term challenges.”

In April 2012, the bishop referred her to the Layton Deseret Industries store for employment and training.

“I was a little nervous about that,” she said. “I didn’t know what to expect. I mean, working at DI would be OK, but I didn’t really see it as a lasting solution to our family crisis.”

Stacy wasn’t alone in her limited perspective of Deseret Industries. For most of those who are familiar with the chain of 42 LDS Church-owned thrift shops in seven western United States, DI is all about stuff: the stuff you donate, and the stuff you buy at really cheap prices — including, occasionally, hidden treasures. Many are also aware that the LDS Church utilizes Deseret Industries merchandise to provide for the poor and needy as well as part of its extensive humanitarian outreach during times of tragedy and crisis around the world. And some are aware that DI provides jobs for people who might not be able to find work anywhere else.

People like Stacy.

But if you ask those who run the stores, either on a local or church-wide level, they will tell you that DI is about people, not stuff.

“The stuff is what makes the miracles happen,” said Dave Mecham, manager of the Layton Deseret Industries store to which Stacy was referred. “It’s the vehicle that drives the program. But the program is about hope. It’s about giving people a second chance. It’s about taking people where they are in their lives and finding ways to connect them with work that elevates them financially, emotionally and spiritually.”

Which is not to say that Deseret Industries is a religiously oriented employment placement service, because according to Jessica Saari, development specialist at the Layton store, it’s much more than that.

“This is something greater than the sum of its parts,” Saari said. “Our job is to connect people with meaningful work. In order to do that, we ask people to trust us, and to allow us into their lives. We work with them in a lot of different ways — ways that really make a difference in people’s lives. It’s amazing to be part of that, to see that happen.

“People often like to brag about the treasures they find at DI,” Saari continued. “They don’t know that the biggest treasure at DI is found in the way the program here transforms lives.”

For Stacy, that transformation began in the sorting room, where most new DI associates, as the workers are called, start their training. It is here that they learn the basics of employment — punctuality, dependability, following instructions, doing quality work, working as a team and, if needed, personal hygiene — as they sort through donated clothing, tools, electronic gadgets and household items to determine which ones will be cleaned and prepared for the sales floor.

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