Employment program geared toward those living with disabilities partners with South Philly grocery

IDEATE and Rowhouse Grocery recently collaborated in an effort to improve human welfare.

IDEATE Community Outreach Coordinator Michelle Reiman, George Shands, founder of incense and car freshener distributor G Fresh Emporium, and Germantown native Dwayne Boone, and IDEATE employment specialist Sarah Schimeneck outside of Rowhouse Grocery. (Grace Maiorano/SPR)

Emerging artists and entrepreneurs living with disabilities gathered on Friday afternoon at Rowhouse Grocery, a community-based fresh food supplier at 17th and McKean streets.

Among locally grown produce, the blooming merchants sold their original print illustrations and freshly spiced incense – items they’ve crafted at the Frankford-based IDEATE, a subdivision of the national Resources for Human Development corporation. 

South Philly resident George Shands, founder of incense and car freshener distributor G Fresh Emporium, and Germantown native Dwayne Boone, a Philadelphia-based artist, are two individuals who’ve flourished through the recently established business incubator of IDEATE, an employment-first program founded in 2014 that is “committed to the respect for human rights and the dignity of every individual,” by assisting, advancing and advocating job opportunities for those living with various physical and intellectual disabilities.

“It’s about accessibility and equity,” said IDEATE employment specialist Sarah Schimeneck. “So, if someone is hitting barriers with their career, we provide solutions to those barriers, so that everyone has access to a platform where they can find success, express themselves and support themselves – just like everyone else.”

Through online sales and pop-up vending at local fairs, festivals and other community events, the work of Shands and Boone has been showcased and sold around the region.

But, recently, their products have been featured in retail settings, specifically through partnerships with other community-based organizations, like Rowhouse Grocery, which opened its doors at 1713 McKean St. in November 2018.

“Corner stores are the lifeblood of Philadelphia,” said Jennifer Holman, a partner and co-owner at Rowhouse Grocery. “But the problem with a lot of corner stores is that – it’s difficult for the owners of those stores to provide fresh foods to the neighborhood because the grocery industry operates at a very small margin.”

In an effort to make healthy sustenance more accessible in Point Breeze, the store stocks produce from local farms while also selling prepared foods, which are made in an upstairs kitchen. 

A linchpin of the store, which aims to base its pricing within Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program budgets, involves community outreach and advocacy. 

“We all felt that there was no reason that a for-profit business couldn’t be community-focused, and there has to be a certain amount of responsibility, and there’s no reason businesses can’t do that,” Holman said. “They can and they should.”

Along with housing cooking classes, Rowhouse Grocery partners with several organizations promoting human welfare, including the Ardmore-based Common Space and, most recently, IDEATE.

Holman says the mission of IDEATE aligns with the cornerstones of Rowhouse Grocery. 

“If we can provide a service to the community, and that helps our bottom line, then we’re winning all around,” she said. “…It’s really valuable for us to know we’re staying involved with the community, and helping out these groups is a big part of what our mission is.”

Last month, IDEATE started vending a few of their product lines at the South Philadelphia space after the two entities connected. 

“This space is our doorway into retail sales, so to have something available in stores at all times where we don’t even have to go out to an event and we can still be selling,” Schimeneck said.

Boone, whose scope of variegated expressionism paintings and illustrations have already been showcased at coffee shops, is selling some of his celebrity portraits, including Elton John and Gritty, at Rowhouse.

Having spent three years with IDEATE, Boone says the program has further unearthed his aptitude for artmaking, a passion that sparked when he was an adolescent, by providing studio space and tools. 

“They offer me the services helping me with illustrations,” Boone said. 

While this is not Boone’s first time presenting in a retail setting, this does mark Shands’ inaugural appearance in a small business.

Bringing his passions home to South Philadelphia, Shands, who uses a wheelchair for mobility and a robotic arm provided by IDEATE to make business labels, caught some foot traffic outside of the grocery as he sold a slew of pleasantly scented products, including Sassy Cinnamon and Spring Fever incense.

“My goal is to make the world smell good and make South Philadelphia smell good,” he said. 

Even if interested customers didn’t catch Shands and Boone last week, their artwork and fresheners will continue to be sold in Rowhouse, which has stirred awareness of IDEATE in the South Philly community.

Looking ahead, both IDEATE and Rowhouse Grocery say they look forward to nourishing one another’s objectives through continued collaboration. 

We want everyone, in the most inclusive way possible, to have opportunities to grow their businesses and in a retail environment,” Schimeneck said.”…Equity, in any sense, and opportunities to support yourself in a community situation where everyone has support and everyone has each other’s back rather than focusing on capitalism  – is a more holistic and sustainable mission.”


Twitter: @gracemaiorano