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Nonprofits Are Finding Power & Energy In Partnering With Other Nonprofits
By Tina Traster
Partnerships are the secret weapon of nonprofits, especially when their missions cater to underserved or unseen populations. Harnessing creative and synergistic energy opens doors, it brings a new dimension to an organization.
Just ask Carlos Martinez, executive director of BRIDGES, which is joining ranks with Yes, She Can Inc.’s Westchester-based retail enterprise Girl AGain to sell second-hand American Girl dolls at its Independence Café – A Unique Boutique in the Palisades Center in West Nyack.
“We can do more when we work together than when we work alone,” said Martinez. “I’m a big believer in partnerships. It brings organizations together. It can often be a powerful way to reach the community and accomplish goals.”
In this case, selling American Girl dolls and accessories at BRIDGES’ showcase boutique, expands Girl AGain’s retail footprint, while 20 percent of the proceeds will benefit BRIDGES. Both organizations are focused on providing opportunities for people with learning disabilities.
The grand opening celebration will take place at 10 am on August 29. Dolls range in price from $50 to $100, accessories start at $1.
Girl AGain, founded in 2014, recently doubled its space to 1,600 square feet at a new location at 10 Church Street in White Plains. The retail enterprise is the driving force behind the nonprofit Yes, She Can, which trains girls and young women with autism or who have learning differences. Trainees, as they are known, are taught retail and merchandising skills on the job at Girl AGain.
The retail store sells used but coveted American Girl dolls, clothing, furniture, accessories, and books that have been cleaned and prepared for sale by young women with autism and disabilities.
For Girl AGain’s collaboration with BRIDGES, between 30 to 40 dolls will be displayed in the windows of Independence Café, along with other crafts BRIDGES sells to showcases jewelry, hats, and other items made by and for people with disabilities. The operational components, as well as the merchandising team of Girl AGain, will remain in White Plains but Yes She Can, Inc.’s Executive Director Robin Davies-Small says the collaboration will be a chance to canvass the Rockland market for potential expansion, as well as attract customers in the county and beyond.
“Business collaborations have endless possibilities,” said Davies-Small. “For now, we will supply merchandise and offer display expertise, but this is an opportunity to increase our exposure, to let people know about the store in Westchester, and to bring in more trainees.” The Westchester nonprofit over the past decade has trained upwards of 70 girls and young women. Girl AGain also hosts in-store events such as American Girl book author readings, tea parties, and craft activities.
Davies-Small says Girl AGain sales represent roughly 20 percent of the nonprofits annual budget. The organization supports itself through fundraising and grants.
BRIDGES opened the Independence Café-A Unique Boutique retail concept two years ago. The boutique , located inside the organization’s welcome center on the second floor at the Palisades Center, features works and products of people with disabilities and veterans The selection of crafts – some made by people with disabilities, some for people with disabilities – is designed to market unique objects in a retail setting, in some cases for the first time. The boutique, which was part of the plan when BRIDGES relocated to the Palisades Center, occupies 400 square feet, and is manned by BRIDGES’s staff.
Organizations like BRIDGES and Yes, She Can emphasize the importance of teaching people with learning differences hands on skills in real retail settings. Trainees at Girl AGain sort, clean and prepare the merchandise, price it and create displays. They learn about marketing, merchandising, retailing, customer service and other business skills.
Girl AGain has no affiliation with Mattel or American Girl Doll.
In March, Jawonio opened Brick It Again, a store selling used and new LEGO® bricks at Lake Ridge Plaza in Valley Cottage. Jawonio’s Executive Director Randi Rios-Castro, who had worked with Yes She Can, said its success was the inspiration for the LEGO store.
Both LEGO and American Girl dolls can often be prohibitively costly but trendy. Both nonprofit organizations sell the merchandise at a discount.
Martinez recalls two decades ago, while working in Manhattan, passing the flagship American Doll store daily, paying little attention to a retail enclave that catered largely to a homogenously white market.
“At the time I thought it alienated a lot of girls,” he said.” “But they’ve done a good job of integrating dolls with toned skins, and even disabilities.”
In 2020, American Girl Doll introduced the hearing-impaired Joss Kenrick doll, which was retired in 2022. However, American Girl Doll has a bald doll to represent those with cancer or alopecia, as well as accessories such as a diabetes care case, wheelchair, crutches. and an allergy-free lunch.
Claudis Castaneda, director of marketing and retail operations, said Girl AGain will try to display as much diversity as possible – dolls of color, a doll with alopecia. And she added, “It’s crucial to show children (who come to buy dolls) that there is nothing wrong with people with learning differences.”
All around, nonprofits are working harder than ever to raise money and to keep things interesting.
“I’ve been in the field for 25 years and have seen a nice shift in the last year of nonprofits really trying to work together,” said Davies-Small. “Funding has grown tight and we’re all battling for the same money. In the past there’s been more of a competition. Something’s changed. I’m not sure what. But nonprofits are pooling resources to serve as many people as possible.”