When Our Thrift Store closed in Franklin three months ago, owner Dave Krikac said despite the end of the 15-year chapter of his life, he felt like it was Christmas Eve — he was waiting for a gift, his next venture.
It seems that gift has arrived three months before Christmas.
Krikac’s next chapter will be based not only in Williamson County with Electronics Recycling Solution’s new Franklin branch but throughout Tennessee and even beyond with Health Connect America.
For years, Krikac has been on a mission to create job opportunities for adults with disabilities in Tennessee, a cause that struck his heart after his daughter, Sara, who is now an adult, was diagnosed with autism.
Krikac founded the Gear Foundation, a parent company of Our Thrift Store, 15 years ago. At the time of the store’s closing, he employed 25 adults with disabilities along with 25 typically developed adults.
But Krikac’s ideas weren’t limited to the thrift store model. He wanted to create job opportunities throughout the business world. His new position as regional vice president of adult services with Health Connect America will allow him to run with those ideas.
“So exciting,” Krikac said. “(I’ll be) creating jobs for special needs young adults across the state instead of just in one building.”
Health Connect, which provides mental and behavioral health services to families across the Southeast, recently acquired Electronics Recycling Solutions (ERS), presenting Krikac with a starting point.
ERS, a company that recycles computer parts and other electronics, is certified by Sustainable Electronics Recycling International in Responsible Recycling (R2) practices, which allows the company to provide certificates to donating entities ensuring that all data has been safely removed from the devices. ERS was created to provide jobs for adults with autism and other disabilities and currently employs seven such adults with plans to grow a similar-sized branch in Franklin.
Part of Krikac’s job is to track down organizations and persons in the community that are getting rid of computers to take them off their hands — thus, keeping the devices out of the landfill and continuing to support jobs.
According to National Core Indicators data from 2019, 18% of adults with disabilities in Tennessee have paid jobs, just below a weighted national average of 19%. Additionally, 33% of adults with disabilities in Tennessee do not have paid jobs but would like to work.
Krikac is already meeting with additional companies to create jobs throughout the Middle Tennessee community and beyond. Once opportunities for workers with disabilities open up, Health Connect will then offer its job training services to those companies.
He has already partnered with the owners of Honest Coffee Roasters to find job opportunities within the company, taking on three adults with disabilities who used to work at Our Thrift Store for a “pilot” work day last week at the roaster in The Factory at Franklin.
“We packed and shipped almost 200 pounds of coffee,” Krikac said.
Honest Coffee co-owner Bruce Lawman said after that trial run, he and the other co-owners, Travis Anderson and Brett Henry, were dedicated to creating these employment opportunities and invested $17,000 in new equipment to make sealing bags of coffee easier and quicker.
“That’s making a pretty significant investment in something that we have high hopes for,” Lawman said, adding that the trio is also looking into hiring adults with disabilities in Nashville at Franklin Juice Company, a sister company of Honest Coffee.
Lawman explained that not only will these positions provide opportunities for the people who fill them, but by hiring new employees to focus solely on the packaging process, some of his other employees who were filling in those gaps are able to focus on new tasks and responsibilities.
Krikac said he is looking forward to continuing his mission of finding employment options for adults with disabilities, expanding his scope from Williamson County to the multiple states in which Health Connect operates, whether through ERS or other existing businesses throughout the region.
“It’s about (finding) the right kid and the right job,” he said.
To learn more about Health Connect America, visit HealthConnectAmerica.com.
More information about ERS can be found at ElectronicsRecyclingSolutions.org. The Franklin branch has a temporary drop-off location for electronics at the Health Connect America headquarters at 508 Autumn Springs Court, Suite B, in Franklin.