Linwood Boutique employs, helps train autistic adults

  • Ashleigh Wood has worked at Linwood Boutique, a thrift store that helps train autistic adults, for nearly four years.
Ashleigh Wood has worked at Linwood Boutique, a thrift store… (Photo courtesy of Keith…)
September 02, 2014|Pete Pichaske | For The Baltimore Sun

The Linwood Boutique is a thrift store with a twist.

Like most such stores, the historic Ellicott City shop sells used clothing, furniture, books and other donated items. But it uses the profits to provide employment and job-training skills to an often-neglected population that badly needs them: men and women with autism.

The boutique is operated by the Linwood Center, an Ellicott City school for the autistic. Opened six years ago, the boutique is staffed by people with autism, a brain disorder that affects the normal development of social and communication skills.

“The purpose of this is to provide some soft employment skills for our adults,” says Kim Manning, deputy executive director of the Linwood Center. “It’s learning skills that can translate into other environments. For instance, how do you dress when you come to work, being on time, what do you do during your break, how do you relate to a manager. If our adults are verbal, we teach them how to conduct themselves in an interview.

“Though they’re learning retail things,” she adds, “they’re learning some of those employment skills that will translate into other jobs.”

Some of the workers are happy just working at the boutique. Ashleigh Wood, a 2009 graduate of Wilde Lake High School in Columbia, has worked there for nearly four years, mostly preparing items for sale.

Store manager Denitra Conway calls Wood “the mother of the back room,” and Ashleigh herself seems more than content with her job.

“I hang clothes and tag clothes, and sometimes do bagging, too,” says Wood, 23, as she deftly affixes sales tags to shirts and blouses with a sharp, pointed power tool. “It’s fun, educating, and it keeps the time going. … I like it.”

Other employees, like Tim Noel, use the skills learned at the store to land other jobs.

“I put books on shelves, make sure they’re in order, answer the telephone and help customers,” says Noel of his work at the boutique. “But on Wednesday, I go to my other job at Big Lots.”

Noel, 27, now stocks shelves at Big Lots one day a week but still works at the boutique four days a week.

“He got a lot of good training here at the boutique, but he wanted to be out in the community,” Manning says.

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