Soon after Sara Krikac’s high school graduation, parents Dave and Sandy began exploring opportunities for their autistic daughter. What the couple didn’t discover in their search was a job for Sara. But what they did find was a startling statistic: their child was one of nearly 800 disabled and unemployed young adults in Williamson County.
“The job my daughter could get came with no support at all,” Dave said. “It was a token thing. They didn’t work with her, they didn’t build her up—and these kids deserve the very best. They need someone to believe in them.”
In 2003, Dave found professional freedom and a fresh calling to the needs of disabled people, pulling his inspiration from that disturbing discovery. He had an idea for a non-profit organization that would equip people with disabilities with the skills necessary to be successful community participants, but he wasn’t sure how to proceed.
“I asked God, I wanted him to let me know without a shadow of a doubt that this was the right thing,” he said. “And then Proverbs 3:27 just pops off the page: ‘Do not withhold good from whom it is due, when it is in the power of your hand to do it.’”
To the former executive, that verse was a green light that eventually paved the way for the GEAR Foundation, a multi-faceted acronym that stands for “Gainful Employment And Respect,” “Greater Earnings And Rewards” and “Grateful Employees and Relatives.” That organization is now an umbrella for two multi-purpose facilities in downtown Franklin: Our Thrift Store and Our Fulfillment Center, both of which are a nucleus for training and job creation for those with special needs in the surrounding area.
“It all became clear quickly. All the stuff I had ever done—creating companies, staffing businesses, planting a church—has created jobs for others,” Krikac said. “I wanted to invest in these kids. It was a complete God calling. “
Since it’s conception more than eight years ago, the GEAR Foundation has grown by leaps and bounds. Our Thrift Store, the shop that sells furniture, appliances and clothing, began with four employees. Our Fulfillment Center spun off of that secondhand store as an eBay business and shipping and packaging shop that provides opportunities for wheelchair users. Now, thanks to that steady upward growth, Krikac’s daughter is part of a 34-person team that processes more than 600,000 items each year.
“No one’s really an overnight success, but this is our year where cool, crazy things are happening,” he said. “We’ve hit that flashpoint.”
Krikac said the community has “adopted” them, with influential individuals like Michael McDonald often stopping by the store in support.
“We’ve done what we’ve done with no federal funding, just community responsibility,” he said. “Technically, we’re God funded.”
Once a young adult begins working with the GEAR Foundation, Krikac and his crew—led by Sandy—develop personal relationships with each to help expand on their personalities and talents. They provide hands-on job coaching, create one-act plays and take social field trips. The leader said he believes the organization’s model works because it benefits both the community and those with needs—both the individuals and their families.
“If the community helps, the kids get to work. They become independent, self-reliant and tax-paying citizens, “ he said. “Our Thrift Store and Our Fulfillment Center assists in mainstreaming special needs young adults. These kids have gifts and talents. When you find out what they are, you can plug them in.”
“We’ve seen that once people start working here, they connect with people. They grow intellectually,” he said. “We don’t just give them a job. We participate in their whole life.”
For information on Krikac and the GEAR Foundation, visit www.OurThriftStore.org or visit Our Thrift Store at 1018 Columbia Avenue.