Puzzle Piece supports special needs

Christine Garton, owner of The Puzzle Piece, defines her store as, “a resale store and a thrift-ique.” The establishment gets its name from a renowned symbol for autism: colorful puzzle pieces.

Opening its doors on Dec. 3, 2011, the 11-year-old shop is located at 1579 Ray’s Bridge Road in Whispering Pines. Since opening, Garton’s mission has been to support individuals with special needs through Puzzle Piece.

So, what, exactly, is a thrift-ique? It’s simple: a mixture of a thrift store and a boutique. Garton made up the compound word because Puzzle Piece shares qualities with both.

The Puzzle Piece supports special needs community

The Puzzle Piece is located in Whispering Pines. Photo by Andrew Sellers/Sandhills Sentinel. 

Puzzle Piece originally opened as a consignment store, where Garton hoped to employ her son, Scott, who has autism, and others. She wanted the shop to be a safe first step into the workforce.

But Garton struggled to fulfill this goal, as consignments were too chaotic and stressful.

In January 2021, 10 years after opening, Garton decided, “It’s time to move forward with our mission.” So, she transitioned from consignment to resale. Now, the shop is a nonprofit, and monetary donations help support local charitable organizations and support special needs adults. 

The change has been a successful venture. “Success is about meeting the goals of our mission, which is to hire special needs people, and we’re doing that.” Garton continues, “We have one special needs employee. He works Wednesday and Thursday, so we’re pretty excited about that.”

That’s Khamron Jenkins, a 21-year-old man with autism, and he’s been with them for about eight months — since January.

Khamron thinks his first job is going “quite well.” His tasks include restocking, sorting, and photographing products. He tidies up the shop and greets customers at the door, too. But his favorite task of all is tagging prices on products.

He says he enjoys working because “the people there are kind.”

“For me, it’s the security, the mental peace of knowing the … Puzzle Piece,” says Khamron’s mother, Charmaine Gibson, explaining why she’s glad for Khamron’s opportunity. “They are really all about serving.”

Garton admits it’s a learning experience for the shop. “(Puzzle Piece) has to be able to adapt to fit (Khamron’s) needs. And each special needs employee is going to be different, absolutely different.” She continues, “We’re hoping to extend Khamron’s hours; that’s my first goal.”

Garton hopes that one day Scott will work at Puzzle Piece. “It’ll give (Scott) independent living skills … Developmentally, he isn’t ready for employment, but that doesn’t mean he’s not going to get there.”

“I do it because … I love thrifting,” Garton says. “I genuinely love my store. I love our mission. I love our customers that come in. I love our people that donate. I love our employees; they’re like family. And that’s success to me.”

Puzzle Piece is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m.- 4 p.m. You can donate Thursday through Saturday by simply walking through the door with donations in hand. If you want to shop locally and support disabled adults, Puzzle Piece is the thrift-ique for you.

Feature photo: Front row, left to right: Lauren, Christine Garton, and Kayla. Back row, left to right: Khamron and Brian Garton/Contributed photo.

~Written by Sandhills Sentinel reporter Andrew Sellers.

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