Allie Nicholson-Gauvin is in the second year of West Hartford’s post-secondary program.
The 19-year-old is also one of the staff members of the program’s new used bookstore, The Next Chapter, located at 13 South Main St. The store had its grand opening Monday morning.
“I really like working at The Next Chapter,” Nicholson-Gauvin, told the crowd that included her classmates, teachers, Mayor Shari Cantor, Superintendent Tom Moore and school board members. “It is a calm environment and I know where everything is. When I am here, I feel pretty confident.”
Prior to her speech that morning, Nicholson-Gauvin’s educators were busy getting things ready for opening day.
Nancy Pereau, who manages the store, said the store will be staffed by the program’s students, providing them a hands-on customer-facing work experience that can better prepare them for the working world when they graduate from the program at the age of 22.
West Hartford’s post-secondary program offers educational services for qualifying students who are 18 to 22 years old. Services focus on addressing needs in a few different areas depending on the student, including vocational skills, daily living skills, social skills.
“There are tons of skills they can learn here,” Pereau said. “There are people skills. They learn the register. The big thing is that they are all very shy, I love the fact that when they learn the register...they got really verbal after awhile once they got used to it. They were nervous at first.”
Pereau said students have impressed her in the first two days of business by walking out from behind the register to greet and welcome shoppers.
Other students who won’t be working at the store are back in their classrooms sorting books and making bookmarks they’ll be selling. No matter what their job is, though, they’re part of the store, indicated by every student wearing their Next Chapter t-shirt during the grand opening.
Ronda Merriman, the department supervisor, said it was important for them to involve the students in everything from sorting books to creating signage to organizing the store.
“This project was initiated as an effort to provide another opportunity for training,” Merriman said. “The program works on vocational skills and soft employability skills across all of the work sites. The students were involved at the ground level in terms of how to set this up. They want to learn how to be more independent and learn how to problem solve. It’s those kinds of things. The culmination here is that every student participated.”
Melissa Caballero, the director of pupil services, said the model of having their own store gives the students much more ownership over it compared to work sites they might be sent to.
“There is significant ownership,” Caballero said. “We have community work sites, and that’s something we need more of. We want them to be front and center and we want them to have opportunities post-graduation to be on the frontlines. It allows for them to see themselves in a different way and identify other skills and other attributes that they can contribute.”
And Nicholson-Gauvin represented that feeling in her speech and said she really enjoys the fact that her co-workers are all students of the post-secondary program like her.
“When thinking about the store, I feel happy knowing that I’ve worked toward something great,” she said to the crowd. “I hope that The Next Chapter becomes a big hit. I hope lots of different people come in and that they like it and come back.”
Her mom, Theresa Nicholson, was standing there proudly as her daughter, who turns 20 in October, expressed her appreciation for the bookstore.
“We are so excited,” she said. “She’s always been into reading. This is a dream come true.”
The store will be open from Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Paperbacks cost $2, hardcovers cost $5, all youth and children books are $2 and cookbooks are $4. Proceeds go into the store’s operations and other post-secondary programs.
The store is currently not taking book donations, but will resume that process at a later date.