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Hampden store HeARTwares goes online to offer one-of-a-kind gifts

Sales fund workforce development program for youth
Posted at 8:35 AM, Dec 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-21 12:26:28-05

BALTIMORE, Md. — Amazon and big box stores aren't the only ones counting on internet sales this holiday season.

Capacity restrictions lead many small business owners to take their stores online as well.

Last-minute shoppers looking for a one-of-a-kind gift, looking to shop local, or even looking to give back to the community can do all of that when they buy something online from a Hampden store known as HeARTwares .

HeARTwares offers many things to different people but it does more than just help customers find the right gift.

Art With a Heart/HeARTworks apprentice Matthew Smith said “Art With a Heart was, since I found out about it, has always been a way for me to not necessarily forget the things around me but tune them out for a while and just gather my thoughts.”

Art With a Heart/HeARTworks director of workforce development Christina Ralls said “we're teaching things like communication skills, coping skills, they're learning about identity, and goal setting, we do things like financial literacy, and mock interviews to prepare them for careers. And they're building a community while they're here.”

“Participants, mostly youth, 18 to 24, work on products in our store while learning job readiness skills, and then we sell their items and share the proceeds with our community partners and the artists,” Ralls said.

But then the pandemic hit, bringing emergency shutdown orders and capacity restrictions for businesses along with it.

“When things were closed down in March, that meant in person sales stopped. So, we actually immediately at the end of March, launched an online store,” Ralls said.

Ralls explains how HeARTwares is a social enterprise retail store, which helps raise money for the Art With a Heart workforce development program.

“One of our main workforce partners is Youth Empowered Society and they're a drop in center for homeless youth, so that money might go to housing resources, food security, counseling services. You name it,” Ralls said.

It makes taking HeARTwares online and maintaining sales for the non-profit more important than ever during the pandemic.

“Of course it hasn't completely replaced what we used to do last year. We also are trying our best to get as much of the online store out to the public as possible but it has really filled in that need that we really needed for the store,” Ralls said.

“We still impacted over 100 youth this year virtually, but it really doesn't replace that in-person connection that we used to have. We really are a safe space for people,” Ralls said.

People like 25-year-old Art With a Heart/HeARTworks apprentice Smith.

“They helped with job interview skills, which at the time, I hadn't really had too much experience when I first got involved. So, that definitely helped me,” Smith said.

Despite the COVID restrictions currently in place, the program already has done a lot for young people like Smith.

“I didn't tend to talk to people as much, but just being there, getting the energy that I got from the place, it allowed me to open up and talk to people more. And converse with people over art more,” Smith said.

“We really do believe in the power of art, as a way to cope and really empower individuals,” Ralls said.

People can still shop HeARTwares online but at this point, their purchases won't arrive in time for Christmas, so they’ll just have to tell their loved ones the gift is in the mail.