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Yes She Can: Westchester Shop Is All About Girl Empowerment

Marjorie Madfis, president, Yes She Can Inc.and founder of Girl AGain in White Plains.
Marjorie Madfis, president, Yes She Can Inc.and founder of Girl AGain in White Plains. Photo Credit: Lesli Cattan

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. -- It's not every store where someone walks in not to buy, but because they support the mission of the shop.

But that's what happens on occasion at Girl AGain in White Plains, a resale shop that's run by Yes She Can Inc ., a nonprofit that teaches and develops job skills for young women with autism.

The store, which opened in February 2014 in Hartsdale and then moved to White Plains in October of the same year, came out of an idea Marjorie Madfis had after her own daughter, who is autistic, declared her career ambition to work at American Girl Place doll hair salon.

"Mo, the head of the American Girl doll hair salon, was exceptionally accommodating," said the White Plains resident, "And had no problem teaching Isabelle and her friends how to style their dolls’ hair for Isabelle’s 11th birthday party"

The experience got Madfis thinking about the job skills her daughter would need in the future and so, the concept of a resale shop took hold. She didn't act on it until she retired from IBM and figured it was either get another marketing job or do something that would have a social benefit.

The lure of helping other girls like Isabelle was her catalyst. "GirlAGain would not exist if it weren't for her," she said.

"Since she was 11-years-old, she wanted to work at American Girl Place."

That's when the concept of a resale store designed as a job skills training experience took root.

Eighty percent of adults with autism -- regardless of academic achievement -- are unemployed, explained Madfis. There are few programs to address this, and women on the spectrum, in particular, are underserved.

Girl AGain helps develop transferable job skills by teaching trainees business processes. While they sort, clean and prepare the merchandise, price it, and display it. they are also learning about marketing, merchandising, retailing, customer service, and inventory acquisition in addition to appropriate workplace behavior, research, collaboration and decision-making. They are coached by clinical professionals who have expertise in autism and related social and learning disabilities.

About half of Yes She Can trainees are enrolled in local colleges; some have even graduated. All have an interest in employment. Each is paired with a job coach and there are “neruo-typical” volunteers that work side by side too.

"One of our goals is to change society’s expectations of people with autism," stressed Madfis.

"And to do that, we need to expose people at a young age to workers who are differently abled. Our 8-year-old customers interact with our trainees who help them select dolls and outfits.

”It helps, too, that her store looks like a fashion boutique. The store features authentic gently used American Girl dolls, clothing, furniture, accessories, and books, all of which have been cleaned and prepared for sale at fair prices. Customers will also find a host of in-store events such as American Girl book author readings, tea parties, and craft activities.

Madfis said she always gave herself three years to see if her dream could really work. Her answer is in the customers who come -- some from as far as upstate -- and in the women -- both autistic and not -- that she's helped along the way.

Isabelle, by the way, is now 21 and a student at Westchester Community College who still has a passion for American Girl dolls and the hopes of a career at American Girl Place.

Girl AGain is at 4 Martine Ave. Store 2B, (914) 358-1460, www.girlagain.com/ .

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