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published September 15, 2011

New Suburban Store Helps Benefit Breakthrough

Do you have good clothes in your closet that you don’t wear anymore?  Or maybe you’ve always wanted to volunteer at Breakthrough but couldn’t spare time for the drive into the city? “There’s an exciting new opportunity for people to get involved in supporting Breakthrough-- a great way  for either individuals or  groups to serve,” says MaryBeth, one of the Breakthrough volunteers  helping to launch Community Threads, an upscale thrift store in Buffalo Grove that opens its doors in mid-August. The store will celebrate a Grand Opening on Thursday, September 1st.

Breakthrough is one of three charitable organizations that will benefit from store proceeds, and there are several ways to contribute. “All of the beneficiary organizations pledge to staff us with volunteers and encourage people to donate items to the store,” says Elizabeth, the President of  Community Threads. “Assuming each volunteer takes a three hour slot, we’ll need between 125-150 volunteers each week.”

Elizabeth also hopes people will shop the store and take advantage of great finds. “These days, an increasing number of people need thrift stores. We want to serve them with honor and dignity…letting them know that someone cares by making the  the environment clean and pleasant. We are committed to offering the best items we can possibly get for remarkably low prices,” she says. “So the more people shop, the more money we’ll earn for Breakthrough and the other organizations.”

Both Elizabeth and MaryBeth became involved in the new venture after seeking God’s direction in the midst of transitions in their lives. As both women and their families shifted some of the focus in their lives, one thing remained constant: a burden and passion to use their skills and resources to help others in God’s name.

After a 20 year career as an attorney, Elizabeth served on the leadership team of a large church in northwestern Illinois, nearly 2 ½ hours from her home in Palatine. She eventually decided to give up the long commute but decided that the thrift store model had potential to fund ministries closer to her home.  She then created the 501c3 that became Community Threads.

“My husband and I were raised as Christ-followers. As such, we believe that we are managers, not owners, of our stuff. It’s easy to think in terms of giving God a tithe, but we believe that He owns everything of ours,” says Elizabeth. “Our security is not wrapped up in our possessions, and we don’t think we should be wrapped up in material things. So then, the question becomes how can we maximize what we do have for Kingdom purposes?”

As Elizabeth and her husband prayed about how to use their gifts wisely, she thought about the success of two thrift stores whose proceeds benefited the large church she had been involved with. Her mother-in-law had volunteered in another thrift store in Michigan for several years that was also successful in supporting ministry.

“I knew I had to modify the model, but I liked the idea of a renewable funding source that would not burden an organization by endangering their revenue. I spent six months studying almost a dozen thrift stores. Some of them were successful, some had failed,” she says. “In the meantime, my husband and I prayed about how much money we should invest in this venture. How much could we afford to lose if this idea didn’t work?”

Elizabeth talked with friends about serving on the board, and a friend who had a family foundation offered funds for a safety net, if it was needed.. Elizabeth already had two beneficiary organizations in mind, and both pledged to find volunteers and donated items for the store. But more volunteers – and another organization – were needed. That’s where Breakthrough came into the picture.

One of the board members of Community Threads introduced the group to Breakthrough’s Executive Director, Arloa Sutter. The board eventually met other Breakthrough staff and volunteers, including MaryBeth. “She quickly jumped in on behalf of Breakthrough and has been a huge help to the effort since then,” says Elizabeth.

MaryBeth’s involvement at Breakthrough had slowly developed over the previous years. “I first heard about Breakthrough during the strategic planning process for the church plant we were involved in,” says MaryBeth. “The leadership wanted to better know the hearts of members. We were a new congregation in the city. When we asked members to tell us about local organizations they felt passionate about, Breakthrough made our final list of five.”

Over the next few years, MaryBeth and her husband learned more about Breakthrough. “God placed a burden on our hearts about homeless people. When we moved downtown and came directly into contact with people in need, we felt that burden even more,” she says. MaryBeth was already committed to several projects, but her husband volunteered at Breakthrough with a group for several years and attended a few annual BreakAway sessions. Eventually, they both participated in a BUILD course. “That really helped me understand the systemic issues around poverty and homelessness,” says MaryBeth. “I’ve come a long way in how I think about it.”

During a BreakAway session she attended with her husband, MaryBeth heard Arloa speak about the need for a more holistic approach to the systemic issues bearing down not only on Breakthrough’s clients, but on all the residents of their East Garfield Park neighborhood.   While Breakthrough would continue to lay the foundations for individuals and families to live more successful lives, they would also put energy and resources behind establishing public and private collaborations to address those systemic issues. “With my background in strategic planning and organizational development, that really resonated with me,” she says. She knew, however, that the move would put pressure on Breakthrough’s already stretched resources.    Identifying income generating opportunities would be key to  achieving Breakthrough’s expanded goals.  The opportunity to get involved in Community Threads is a perfect fit—it will provide  much-needed operating funds And, due to the generosity of the founding families, this new venture represents no financial risk to Breakthrough.

There are two ways you can contribute to the Breakthrough/Community Threads venture:
- Volunteer to help staff the Buffalo Grove Store.
- Donate new or gently used items.

Contact our Volunteer Coordinator at volunteer@breakthrough.org or 773.346.1771