Gift and Thrift shop supports youth and artisans

RaY expands thrift-shop model and offers training through Level Up!

Casey Wall is the retail co-ordinator at the Level Up! Gift and Thrift.

Photo by Keeley Braunstein-Black

Resource Assistance for Youth, Inc. (RaY) has a new social enterprise on Graham: the Level Up! Gift and Thrift.

Caryn Birch, RaY’s director of education, says “Level Up! is a new education training program that is funded by Service Canada. It is a poverty-reduction strategy to help get youth ages 18 to 29 into the workforce.”

Birch says the program consists of nine weeks of “life skills curriculum that includes things like resume writing, cover letters, conflict in the workplace, assertiveness, etc. in that we also intertwine different certificate trainings like first aid, non-violent crisis intervention, etc.”

After that, participants work in one of RaY’s social enterprises, Birch says.

“Then they have 16 weeks of on-the-job support, and that program is paid from day one, so youth are earning an income from the beginning.”

She says six to eight of those weeks are spent at a RaY enterprise before participants are transitioned into an outside work environment.

RaY’s other social enterprises include a moving company and kitchen.

Casey Wall, RaY’s retail co-ordinator, says this isn’t the first thrift shop RaY has run.

“We had a thrift store that was primarily furniture items and pretty much everything you would see here – clothing, houseware items, home décor.”

“Unfortunately, the location that we were at, the building maintenance was kind of going downhill, so we ended up closing the shop due to maintenance issues. And so a couple years later, we were presented this opportunity again,” Wall says.

“So I thought that being in this kind of location, we had the opportunity to create a more elevated version of what we had prior,” Wall says. She says keeping the thrift element to the store in the new area was important to her, but she also wanted to highlight the diverse work of Manitoba’s strong artisan/maker community.

“With our last thrift store, I feel like it was almost kind of limited because of the kind of store we were,” Wall Says. “But now having the gift area, (participants)  get even more training, they get to learn how we keep track of artists, the importance of keeping track of inventory. They get to learn a lot more than they would in just a normal thrift store.”

RaY’s inventory of artisan products is also part of what makes it unique.

“Instead of opening the store with 30 different artisans, I had the opportunity to bring in artists gradually, so at least when I have regular people coming in, they can see different artists displayed, and so on a weekly basis someone could come in and say ‘oh, this is new!’ Managing all that is interesting, and I really enjoy the work.”

“A lot of them have ended up becoming self-starters after Casey trained them,” Birch says. “So they learned all about all of the things they needed to learn like pricing and laying things out on the shelves ... and they’re actively finding ways to keep themselves active throughout the day.”


RaY Level Up! Gift and Thrift is located at 415 Graham Ave. See more at

Published in Volume 73, Number 10 of The Uniter (November 15, 2018)

Related Reads