If it hasn’t been made evident by now, we love people here at AAT! We love hearing about their stories and passions for our community, but we also love hearing about what our fellow locals do and why they do it! For example, we have some wonderful neighbors who own/manager some fantastic local businesses and serve our town tremendously by doing so! This fact is why AAT has partnered up with our good friends at B3 Glass, to bring you all “Small Business Fridays!” Each week, we’ll feature a different, local small business and talk with its owner and hear about their journey, their business in general, as well as their heart for their customers and our city!
This week, we’re joined by Rebecca Hepworth, the executive director of the Ruby Mountain Resource Center, to chat about what exactly what this non-profit is all about. Now, you may be thinking to yourself, “Anthony, what is there to know? It’s a thrift store. It can’t be that complicated!” Well, you may assume that’s all there is to RMRC; however, there’s so much more! Although Rebecca and her team oversee three retail locations in Elko, their main focus is actually providing job training for men and women with intellectual disabilities. Yes, that’s right! Many individuals may not know that fact, but that’s why we’ve invited Rebecca here today!
Thank you for joining us this week, Rebecca! For our readers to really understand the mission of RMRC, I think it would be helpful to start at the beginning of the fifty-one-year-old Elko staple! Can you tell us the story of how RMRC came to be?
“Ruby Mountain Resource Center was founded in 1969. Several parents got together to form a group. They had children with intellectual disabilities who were not receiving an adequate education. So, they created a school. And, over the years, it’s moved around from place to place in our community. There have been outreach stations in Well, Carlin, and maybe even farther out! As those children grew, other children came to join the group, but eventually, all those children became adults. If you’re going to have a school that works specifically with people with disabilities, it helps to have a place where they can work.
“As time passed, the board of directors felt it was time to change from an in-class educational experience to a job-skill focus training program. This change probably occurred in the mid-eighties. I say this because, in 1984, I was working on my master’s degree in Roosevelt, Utah. I came to Elko for a convention held by the Elko County Association for Retarded Children. That was my one and only visit to Elko! After that, they must have changed their name because, as time passed, some of those words became not properly used anymore.
“They developed the Ruby Mountain Resource Center. Our primary focus is not the thrift stores. That’s how we earn our income and make it possible for us to provide our other services. No, our main focus is on our job training with our people with disabilities. We have around fifteen or sixteen individuals who are actively working on this training. We also have a satellite program for day habilitation, and that’s for people who are more profoundly disabled. They are unable to work but truly can’t sit at home without any stimulation. So, they come to us, and we work with them in several ways.
“If customers come into our store and don’t always notice our individuals, it’s because they’re no different from you or me! They are working hard, blending in, and that’s what we’ve taught them to do. Really, at the end of the day, we’re all people with disabilities. No one person is perfect and can do everything. Our specific disabilities just may look different from someone else’s.”
Wonderful! Now, how to come to join the operation?
“I came aboard in 2015. I came to Elko because I was working for the hospital as a practice manager, but it just didn’t work out. So, after a while, I quit that job and found this one. It wasn’t my intention to stay here, but a job was a job! But I have come to appreciate what we do!”
Besides just the retail element of the store, what other services do you and your team provide?
“In the Spring, we usually have a greenhouse. We help out the less fortunate in our community by giving away bags of food to hungry people. We also give clothing vouchers to people who need some clean clothes because maybe they just got off the bus. If your house burns down, we can help furnish your new home. We’re able to do all of this because we have such a generous community, and I’m so thankful for everyone! I don’t think we could have survived for fifty years without the donations and support of the town!”
So, you’ve been involved with RMRC for five years now; what do you love most about your work, Rebecca?
“The answer to that question is the people we work with! During the COVID closures, I was home just like everyone else. Sometimes, I’d work, and sometimes I’d feel sorry for myself. I genuinely thought about not coming back to work at all when things opened back up. However, I started coming back in, two days a week to start, and I had to get out and see our people! I love doing my walkabouts, where I go to every place where there are people with disabilities, and I hang out with them for a bit. If it were just about the stores, I probably still wouldn’t be here.”
Many of our readers may be learning a lot of new information about RMRC through this article, Rebecca, so let’s keep it going? What are some other aspects of the shops that people may not be aware of?
“When someone donates something to us like a swimsuit in January, we know that nobody is going to buy those at that time of the year. So, we have to do something with that perfectly good swimsuit. Instead of throwing it in the garbage, we conex it, which means we put it in storage. We have a lot of space here, but we don’t have enough space to keep everything like that swimsuit from January until the Summer. So, we recycle it. We sell items at around two or three cents a pound to another organization that takes those wears to third world countries.
“Another thing people may not be aware of is the theft problem we have. If people drop off donations to us outside of business hours, the odds are, we’re not going to get it. We have surveillance; we watch and know who some of our frequent flyers are. As we gather more information, we’ll be able to start taking some action. If you need something, we’ll give it to you! Just ask, but don’t take things.”
Fantastic! Is there anything else you’d like to say or reiterate before we let you get back to the action, Rebecca?
“Ruby Mountain Resource Center is more than a thrift store! This is a job training site for people with intellectual disabilities! We love to have people come shop with us, we love to accept donations, but we are so much more than a thrift store!”
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See you around, Elko!