A lot of us might have ideas to change the world, but implementing those ideas is a whole different ball game. For Andy and Connie Minden, they are finally seeing the positive results of nearly three years of work.
They founded their fashion-forward, nonprofit Pearl Street clothing and accessories boutique, Ramble on Pearl, in 2014 with the goal of helping people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), including Autism Spectrum Disorder and Down’s Syndrome, find independence through employment.
Since they have been in business, they have found great success training apprentices with IDD with the hard and soft skills of employment in their boutique that enables them to find independent work in the community once their apprenticeship is complete. Their business model is unique in Colorado — and there are only a handful of similar models across the U.S. — so it took some honing to figure out exactly what works best, but it has definitely worked.
First, the Mindens wanted to change the stigma surrounding those with IDD.
“Often employers and the public do not recognize the capabilities of this population. They are very hard-working and committed to their jobs. They are often happy staying in entry-level positions. This can help reduce the high turnover rate in these types of positions, which is very costly for companies because it requires constant recruiting and training,” remarks Connie Minden.
“85% of the IDD population are unemployed and those who are employed often make sub-minimum wage due to specific exemptions in state law,” says Andy Minden. “We want to help people with IDD become more self-sufficient and be a part of the community at large.”
Their method for doing this begins with an interview of applicants for their apprenticeship program. The applicants undergo a trial period of three weeks, and 85-90 percent of the applicants are accepted into the program.
They are then trained for two months with job coaches where they are able to reveal their hopes and dreams for their future career and the skills they can offer their future employers. By doing this, the job coaches can help the apprentices learn job skills far outside the realm of just retail.
The program ends with four weeks of Master Apprentice work, where they work alongside Ramble’s store manager. During this time they are also applying for the jobs they hope to get after the program is over.
Perhaps the most admirable, brilliant and generous idea of the Minden’s business model? After the apprentices secure their new job, their job coach comes to help them transition into their new positions for anywhere from two weeks to a few months. The Mindens also leave the line of communication open to those new employers in case they have any questions or need a little extra help with their new employees.
Since opening, 11 graduates of the program have secured independent employment in Boulder and its environs and currently there are 6 apprentices participating in the program with 2 more waiting for spots to open up. Right now, Ramble has the capacity to annually serve 15-20 apprentices, but they hope to someday expand their program across multiple locations and job sites. One idea is to develop a satellite program in retirement homes to provide assistance to the senior population.
Another idea is to partner with fulfillment centers and manufacturing companies to train those with IDD — and even traumatic brain injuries — in the world of computers and technology.
But if they are ever going to turn those big goals into a reality, they need their upscale boutique to keep growing a clientele. Drop by if you haven’t already — and also check out their website. You can even host a private shopping party for your friends and networks at the boutique. Invite 10-25 people and Ramble on Pearl will reserve the entire store for you. They will provide food, drink and chocolates for the party where you will meet their alumni apprentices — and all purchases of their below-retail-priced all-new brand-named clothing and accessories go directly to supporting their program.