There is a special little storefront in West Hartford. Sock Starz is sure to bring a smile to your face with all of its funky socks, but also because of its open-hearted employees.
Many have intellectual disabilities. The store has made it their mission to help people with disabilities find meaningful work.
At the store in the West Hartford Center, the door is always open, and there is a friendly face offering a greeting.
Jamie Roland walks through that door to start his shift.
“Hi Jonathan!” Roland said while entering the sore. “Hi Miss Lori!”
He sells socks.
“We have all different kinds of socks,” he said. And Roland is right. If there is a color, variety, or design you can imagine, it’s probably at the store.
“In the back, we have some holiday, yeah the holiday stuff right here,” Roland said.
However, he has his own pick, and it’s a good one!
“Favorite sock… ‘Chocolate is cheaper than therapy!’” he said.
Roland is putting smiles on customers’ faces and closing out sales.
“Thank you for coming in,” he told one customer, before letting out a hoot, the sound of a job well done being checked off the list.
The 26-year-old has been working at Sock Starz for seven months now, and takes a great deal of pride in his work.
“I love greeting the customers here, and I love saying hi to the customers,” Roland said.
He is one of four employees at Sock Starz with an intellectual disability.
“Their names are Jamie, Shauna, Kadesia, and Jordan,” Melanie Larson, Sock Starz general manager, said.
Those employees fulfill online orders, label products, handle inventory management and work the sales register.
They found their jobs through Harc, Inc., a non-profit organization in Harford.
“It’s important for us to hire people with intellectual disabilities. People with intellectual disabilities have the highest unemployment rates,” Larson said.
Harc helps people with intellectual and developmental disabilities get work at 20 sites across the greater Harford area.
“They have a need, and they want to work just like anyone else in our community,” Larson said. “They have bills and they have the right to earn a meaningful paycheck.”
Not only is Harc helping bring people with intellectual disabilities into the workforce, the non-profit organization also helping them get creative through artesian work.
At Sock Starz, some are own designs for the Hippie Dippie sock line.
“We are also creating additional employment opportunities for our folks where they have created product that we sell exclusively at our store. And they also receive payment, compensation for making this sock,” Lori Gailey, Harc senior philanthropy officer, said.
Artisans also created candles, notecards and a line of jewelry.
“We're looking at different ways of offering them to express their creativity and to create jobs and employment opportunities for them,” Gailey said.
Roland says he loves the opportunity to work independently.
“Beyond loving it here!” he said.
He is making use of his new paycheck.
“Sometimes we go to The Bushnell with Mom, and go see musicals,” he said.
Roland’s job has meant meeting new friends, and he doesn’t spare them any jokes.
“Love meeting Jonathan,” he said with a gesture and a laugh.
His positive attitude each day adds extra brightness to an already colorful space.
“Jamie you’re awesome,” Larson said.
“No, you are!” he replied.
Profits from all sales at Sock Starz go back to Harc.