By Lyndsie Kiebert
Everyone should spend an hour with Lois Miller.
You might laugh. You might learn a lot. You might even share too many personal details about yourself, just because it feels right.
Maybe it’s the power of Miller, or maybe it’s the power of the Cottage, the thrift store located in a house just next door to Panhandle Special Needs, Inc. on Boyer, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this month.
Miller told me, as she gave me a tour, that she thinks it’s the store and its many volunteers that make people so comfortable that they sit down, enjoy some coffee and share their stories.
“People come in here and they love this place because we see them. People will come in and tell us their whole life story,” she said. “It’s just great — what other retail store do you go into that that ever happens?”
Miller had the idea to start a thrift store to support PSNI during the recent recession, and once they secured the house, everything else fell into place.
“People just helped out — it was like a snowball,” she said.
Right now, the Cottage has just over 20 consistent volunteers, but Miller said they desperately need a few more. Volunteers work three-hour shifts, either 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. or 1-4 p.m. Monday through Saturday, sorting and pricing donated items.
While the Cottage does not accept clothing, mattresses or electronics, any other donations of home or garden items are greatly appreciated. The rooms of the store are separated like in a true house — kitchen items in the kitchen, craft items in the craft room. Volunteers leave their own stylistic mark on displays throughout the shop.
“That’s what makes it so unique, is everybody has their own little touch,” she said as we made our way from room to room.
We headed over to PSNI’s main building, and Miller beamed with pride as she said hello to clients, described the various activities happening in each room and detailed the many renovations the building has gone through over the years, oftentimes thanks to her dedication and help — though she’d never frame it that way. Whether it’s finding local jobs for the developmentally disabled, teaching them life skills or providing them an important social outlet, PSNI has been hard at work for more than 30 years, and Miller has been an active PSNI board member and advocate for 15. Right now, PSNI serves more than 100 individuals with a range of disabilities.
“The community does not know all that goes on (at PSNI),” she said. “It’s really important for them to know.”
PSNI Executive Director Trinity Nicholson said the Cottage has had an immeasurable positive impact.
“Since introducing the Cottage to our program 10 years ago, we have not only been able to increase our income to support our programs, but have experienced a true feeling of community,” she said. “Our staff and clients are creating disability awareness with our customers, and we are building community relationships with our many volunteers who are the heart of the Cottage.”
There’s no doubt Miller is the driving force behind that heart, and she shows no signs of slowing down.
“I’m only 91 and a half,” she said with a smile after giving me a full tour of PSNI’s facilities. We then headed back to the Cottage, where we shared a cup of coffee and just a couple of life stories.
Celebrate the Cottage on Saturday, May 25, during regular business hours, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The day will feature cake, punch, special discounts and the chance to win a gift certificate.
To learn more about the shop, the celebration or about volunteering at the Cottage, call 208-255-7800. To learn more about PSNI’s services and how to help, visit panhandlespecialneeds.org.
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