About six years ago, the Parenting Place, a local nonprofit that works to prevent child abuse by supporting parents through home visits, child care services and parenting classes, was on the brink of closure.
“We were just trying to survive the recession,” said Executive Director Teresa Nygaard. “We came within days of shutting our doors.”
Before that could happen, help came from an unlikely place.
Lee Cox, a local member of the Exchange Club, a nationwide service organization, had been holding garage sales to raise money for the Exchange Club’s local child abuse prevention center — the Parenting Place.
He began getting so many donations of used furniture and appliances that he had to open a store and enlist help from his son-in-law, Mark Rathbun, 32, who eventually took it over with his wife Laci, 30. Fast forward six years, and the store has expanded into 9,000-square-foot Donation Warehouse.
On average, Donation Warehouse raises $100,000 a year for the Parenting Place, which amounts to about half of its operating budget. The nonprofit not only survived the recession, but has now expanded its services to work with incarcerated parents, thanks to its new funding source.
“Not one of us thought it’d get to be what it is today,” Nygaard said. “It was life-changing.”
The store takes donations, and then sells them on behalf of the Parenting Place, which gets 50 percent of the profit for every item. Laci and Mark offer free pickup and drop off of items, sometimes cleaning out entire houses. Supporting the Parenting Place is of personal importance for the store’s owners.
“My dad has always been a very big advocate for child abuse prevention,” Laci said. “He wrote a book about his experience growing up in an abusive home, and then how he repeated that cycle and he was abusive to his partners, and a lot of that I think was due to his experience.”
Laci and Mark ran the store, just the two of them, until Laci gave birth to their son four years ago, and hired one employee out of necessity. The store is so successful that in the fall, when students are furnishing their rental houses, some patrons think it’s going out of business because it’s completely empty at the end of the day.
“Our ultimate goal is to raise money for child abuse prevention, but we also want to sell stuff affordably, and we get so much stuff in that we have a lot of incentive to keep the prices low,” Laci said.
Both Mark and Laci are Missoula natives — she went to Hellgate High, and he to Big Sky High. They met through an old friend at the Lumberjack Saloon in Lolo, and later had their wedding there.
Every donation someone makes to Donation Warehouse is technically a donation for the Parenting Place, which last year was able to serve about 650 parents and children in Missoula.
“It’s nice because, you know, I am not a social worker. I don't know how to host parenting classes. And so the Parenting Place is able to focus just on that, and they don't have to try to figure out how to also run a thrift store and repair appliances,” Laci said. “Each of us can manage our own employees, our own businesses, and we both are able to grow while mutually promoting each other.”