Karen (Rohrbach) Klepper, ’93, believes she is on this Earth to figure out ways to help children – those whom the system has failed and those who don’t have the ability to fight for themselves.
Through Reclaim It, a newly established “inspired” resale shop in downtown Tiffin, children of all ages will have an avenue to find their voice. The idea for Reclaim It stemmed from a conversation Klepper had four years ago with Tiffin businessman Bill Reineke, a former ‘Berg trustee and now a state representative, about the shortcomings of the local workforce.
“Somehow, we’ve allowed something to happen to our children that is preventing them from being successful,” Klepper said. Seated at a refurbished table inside Reclaim It, she explained how the unique retail and charitable organization got started.
To get a pulse on the struggles many local families are facing, Klepper interviewed about 50 of them. Their stories – their realities – were heart-wrenching. She discovered a system “that is not protecting
children when they don’t have anyone else to protect them.”
But “the system” didn’t seem to want help, so Klepper devised an idea that would give power back to the children who – with guidance, support and mentoring – just may have untapped potential to change their own lives. She purchased a building on a handshake and the renovations began.
“The beauty of this is that there’s no way you can’t be a part of it if you want to be,” Klepper said. Reclaim It’s creative team is amazingly talented, giving and passionate, she added. Bringing kids on board has been the key.
Reclaim It is the home to an eclectic mix of donated vintage furniture and accessories, a broad selection of artwork from local and regional artisans, and in-house upcycled housewares and merchandise offered for sale to the community. Four students from Sentinel Career Center in Tiffin, and their instructor, Aaron Thompson, helped transform the Reclaim It building. But to fulfill its mission, the key for Reclaim It is to get kids involved.
Reclaim It provides a safe environment where they can begin to find their voice and empower themselves. Through helping to refinish the items with the assistance of volunteer mentors, they find their creativity. Through story-telling and group meals, they get connected to the community and begin to feel supported. The soft and hard skills they learn through these hands-on activities are a bonus.
“Kids want just to be heard, to know that someone cares, and that happens automatically here,” Klepper said. Often, there’s a symbolic connection with the donated pieces that get flipped at Reclaim It. The ability of the donors to share the history of their item can be therapeutic, especially if the item has its own history or is attached to a particular memory. They want to know that their piece is going to a good place.
“If we can put the whole line together from the donor to the story to the item, which will need cleaned or tweaked or remade, the kids get to see themselves in the process,” she said. “And all of a sudden, something no one wanted has become something of value.”
As Reclaim It has taken shape, a board of about a dozen community educators and leaders is forging the way. But the greatest tool is the youth advisory board, according to Klepper. Currently, about 10-14 kids are Reclaim It regulars, and that number is growing. The picture is still emerging about how Reclaim It will involve them. But for now, they get to try new things without the fear of failure. And they get to shine.
The ideas are limited only by the creativity of the team of volunteers and four staff members. Klepper has found herself using some of the skills acquired from her accounting and psychology majors as she navigates the possibilities.
“The system is broken, and we hold all the power,” she said. “Slowly but surely, as this proves to be something people will be willing to have a discussion about, we have people in spaces willing to create change.”