SALEM, Ohio — Paetyn Howell has developed a good understanding of workplace cohesiveness from her job at Reach for the Stars in Salem.
“One thing that I’ve learned is that your attitude affects everybody around you,” she says. “It just doesn’t affect you. It affects everybody around you, so you have to come in here with a positive attitude.”
Reach for the Stars, which celebrates its fifth anniversary in November, is a downtown Salem gift shop featuring items made by Columbiana Educational Service Center students, local artisans and Ohio businesses. It’s located at 440 E. State St.
The store started in the Kent State University at Salem building before moving to its current site. The launch was funded by an $890,000 grant from the Ohio Department of Education.
Gallery images include interior photos of Reach for the Stars, including clothing, art and gifts all available for purchase.
The store provides real-life training experience for students with developmental disabilities and increases their employability.
“We work with students with varying disabilities – most students have multiple disabilities – and intellectual disability or autism,” says Kitty Kromer, employment and transition coordinator at the Columbiana County ESC.
Five students currently work at the store, learning how to count money, tend to customers’ needs, custodial duties and some minor painting.
In addition to Kromer, teacher Robin TenEyck, assistant Anita Gillam and store manager Tammy Pitts help the students at Reach for the Stars.
Those in the program also learn basic living skills, such as dealing with money, food preparation and laundry.
Before the pandemic, this grouping worked in different community set-tings such as grocery stores, hospitals, nursing homes, the Salem Community Center and small, family businesses in town – getting other experiences besides retail.
“Students coming here have the desire to want to work in the community,” Kromer says. “So our goal is to give them enough training and different areas that they are able to have the skills to go out and get a job.”
Dillon Hunsbarger, a first-year store associate, says he mans the cash register, makes sure all the shelves and floors are cleaned and everything is presentable around the store.
October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, which raises awareness of the contributions these people make to workplaces and the economy.
Columbiana County ESC is a vendor for Opportunities for Ohioans, which provides job training and other services for students and adults age 14 to 65 who want to work and but have some barriers to employment.
“We try to get our students help for employment, but we also work with people all over Columbiana, and Mahoning counties that are referred to us for the purpose of job development, or getting a job or retraining and keeping a job,” Kromer says.
Kromer has had several students who have gained employment. She’s also had success with a summer work program.
The dietary de-partment at Salem Regional Medical Center, Discount Drug Mart in Lisbon, Goodwill and Giant Eagle in Salem have employed students through the program, Kromer says.
An individualized education plan is developed for each student, with annual assessment of the program’s effectiveness, Kromer says. The plan is to create goals for the student each school year, whether it’s academic, social or work skills.
Howell, who left Salem High School in 2019, has been part of Reach for the Stars the last couple of years. She has been blogging on the store’s website and shows an interest in journalism. She says writing is her strong suit – and is considering taking some classes in that field after she completes this program.
Becoming a medical assistant or a receptionist is her back-up plan, Howell says.
Hunsbarger says he’s been offered a job by Sundog Ciderhouse and Winery in Columbiana to clean wine bottles, do labeling and other tasks.
“I want to look for a janitor job or retail, but I have a couple job offers from different places,” he says.
At Reach for the Stars, wood-based items, customized T-shirts and hoodies, signs, greeting cards, and decorative items are sold.
Student-workers put price tags on merchandise, keep track of inventory and vendor sales, and decorate the windows each month.
There’s a variety of wares in the store from more than 100 vendors. Sportswear with logos representing Columbiana County high schools, home decor, food items and other locally produced items to say we also are part of the inventory.
The store’s art gallery features works by 15 artists with everything from ceramics to paintings. One of the newest items is Reach for the Stars coffee, which is roasted in Canfield with the store’s label.
“We are very proud to say we have reached 100 vendors,” Kromer says. “We have 100 folks from northeastern Ohio. Everything [we sell] needs to be made or upcycled in Ohio. That’s one of our requirements. So, we are a showcase, really for local vendors and crafters.”
The vendor receives 75% of each sale, while the nonprofit store use the remaining 25% to pay for its employees and provide upkeep of its building.
Those interested in selling their items with Reach for the Stars can visit Reach4TheStarsGifts.com or call 330 853 5721.
Pictured at top: Paetyn Howell writes a blog for Reach for the Stars in downtown Salem.