You’ll find her on any given day just inside the door to JCRS Arc Thrift Store in Lakewood. Lorraine Espinoza offers each customer a big smile and a hello when they enter. She also tells them what’s on sale. “White tags are half-price today,” she informed a mom and daughter on a recent afternoon.
What separates Espinoza, 48, from the greeter you might find in another store is that she is in a wheelchair and has a voice that catches due to her struggle to breathe. She has cerebral palsy and asthma, conditions that have required multiple surgeries and endless patience on her part.
She’ll admit to having bad days and that she can’t afford to buy the new wheelchair that she needs, but what you’ll mostly hear from her is a stream of positive comments about her work, her life and her family. She writes poetry and likes to go to Denver Nuggets games. She will happily wear a costume to promote Halloween merchandise, or a silly hat when it’s time to shake things up.
Espinoza has worked at Arc Thrift for a decade and the part-time job is a highlight of her life. “My customers are friends,” she says. “I have watched their kids grow up.”
She tried and failed at another job because of her mobility issues and lack of motor skills. “All they could see was that I couldn’t lift a box. Here, they find your strengths and don’t hold you down. You don’t feel handicapped.”
What Arc Thrift discovered in her, she said is “I’m a good people person. They liked my personality.”
Her comments are spot-on, said Lloyd Lewis, president and CEO of Arc Thrift. “With us, Lori found a place to be where people honor her and value her contributions.”
When Lewis joined Arc Thrift in 2005, the non-profit organization employed about 10 people with disabilities. The company has grown — it now has 25 retail stores in Colorado and a few more on the way – and has more than 300 employees with disabilities in its stores, warehouse and corporate office. “They are truly integrated and involved in all our efforts and that has become a very big thing for us,” said Lewis, who has a 14-year-old son with Down syndrome.
“It was something I felt was important — to support our mission of having people with intellectual and developmental disabilities gain self-respect, self-determination and independence in their communities and work place,” Lewis said.
Making a difference
Not only is Arc doing a good thing by providing work for people with…