“It’s a way for them to get their employment rolling and give them something to put on their resume.” explains Stahl. “And they’re helping, giving back and they love that.”
Janise Stahl had five beautiful, precious children. When her fourth daughter, Isabella, was born, she was an amazing gift. But when Isabella was only three months old, she passed away. Had she grown to adulthood, she might have one day been a resident of North Coast Community Homes, because Isabella happened to be born with a disability.
There is possibly nothing more painful than a parent losing a child. The ache, the vacuum that that little life leaves behind can never ever be filled. But Stahl has honored the memory of her daughter with a new venture – Isabella’s Closet.
Stahl works for North Coast Community Homes (NCCH). In addition to providing housing for several hundred people with developmental and other disabilities, NCCH provides housing for about 120 people with serious mental illness. It’s a wonderful aspect of the non-profit’s mission. Unfortunately, housing is only one part of the need.
“Each time they’d come in for housing, it was the most wonderful experience that they were gaining the housing.” said Stahl. “But more often than not they come in with barely any belongings.”
Stahl recognized that people need certain things to be stable and to feel comfortable in their home. She came up with the idea of a donation center to fill some of those needs. If she could reach people who were throwing away gently used furniture, cookware, dishes, and other things, maybe she could store the items somewhere. Then instead of it all landing in the trash maybe it could land in the homes of people who need the items.
For her, to a degree, it was a reflection of the concern she would have had for her own daughter.
“You automatically see how much help you need. She [Isabella] would have needed help, and it would have been nice for her to have it come from a place that felt good.”
Having a place that “feels good” is important to Stahl. You can hear in her voice the sensitivity, the concern for there being any stigma associated with someone who happens to need help. She wanted to make sure people who needed help weren’t paying for it with their dignity.
And so, Isabella’s Closet was born. Stahl felt that, because of her personal and professional experiences, she needed to go the extra mile. What started as asking for the occasional donation turned into compiling lists of what was needed by residents, and eventually to writing up a blurb that friends and family could share with others.
It’s been a long road these past five years. Donations are no longer dropped off on Stahl’s porch at home or at her office. Instead, they’re dropped off at a beautiful welcoming retail space. They lease a storefront in Akron, OH in large part thanks to a grant through the Margaret Clark Morgan Foundation. People can drop off donations and get a receipt for the tax-deductible donation. It looks like any other retail location, except the goods are free.
“The space is designed to feel good when you come in. There’s a huge gorgeous mural along the back wall.” explains Stahl. “We have a scented candle. You feel like you’re in a good place, even though there’s a need.”
The beautiful mural was created and donated by an amazing artist, who goes by the name Render Breakz. Breakz even did a timelapse video of the creation, so it could be used to promote the organization.
Isabella’s Closet serves people who experience severe and persistent mental illness who live in the area and have a need. They “pay” via a voucher or letter from their social worker that explains the items that are needed.
“Somebody could be homeless and just need a toothbrush and toothpaste and that’s what we’ll give them” said Stahl. “Someone else might have been homeless, and be moving into a place and need bedding, towels, dishes, a lamp.”
The store is open only two days a week on Tuesdays and Thursday for now. It’s staffed by volunteers and by the same people that experience mental illness who the store serves.