A thrift store with a mission

Gemma Garcia could hardly believe the news when she first heard it. The vice president of the United States was about to visit her Little Havana thrift shop in a few hours, a surprise stop on her quick visit to Miami.

The visit held extra weight for Garcia, whose store, Dragonfly Thrift Boutique, has a special mission. They help recently incarcerated women in Miami get back on their feet after they’re released by finding housing, support and even a job at the thrift store.

Kamala Harris walked through the door and immediately bee-lined for the awed Garcia. Harris, a former prosecutor in California, said she was a fan of her work and believed the compassionate approach was the right one.

“Sometimes, some of us need a little extra support,” Harris said. “Everybody makes mistakes.”

LEAP is the only program in the state that cares for women both inside prison or jail and out, says founder Gemma Garcia. LEAP, which stands for Ladies Empowerment and Action Program, has two transitional homes, a training program and job opportunities at its thrift store, where 100% of proceeds fund the program. The program has trained over 300 women to date.

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“It’s not easy. Miami Dade County has very little to offer to women coming out of prison, especially when it comes to housing, and you still have a lot of employers who will not hire ex-offenders,” she said. “When you have people coming out with no employment options and no housing options. How are they going to make it?”

Garcia told Harris about her dream of opening a one-stop-shop re-entry center, which she recently applied for a federal grant to help finance. Harris told her she helped start a re-entry program in California to help people along the same path.

Vice President Kamala Harris, far right, talks with Cheyanne Tanner, left, Danielle Estes, center, and Laura McMurry, right, while visiting the Dragonfly Thrift Boutique, Monday, Aug. 1, 2022, in the Little Havana neighborhood of Miami. Harris stopped by the store while in Miami attending climate resilience events. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Vice President Kamala Harris, far right, talks with Cheyanne Tanner, left, Danielle Estes, center, and Laura McMurry, right, while visiting the Dragonfly Thrift Boutique, Monday, Aug. 1, 2022, in the Little Havana neighborhood of Miami. Harris stopped by the store while in Miami attending climate resilience events. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

“She said a society that functions the way that it should, you have to believe in redemption. You have to be able to welcome people back into society,” Garcia said.

Harris also met with several of the women who work at the shop, all of whom graduated from LEAP’s yearlong program to help them transition back into society.

Launa McMurry, a retail associate, had tears streaming down her face as she told Harris what the program meant to her and her family.

“I’ve accomplished much more than I ever would have expected,” she said. “It helps you to believe in yourself again.”

Vice President Kamala Harris, right, talks with Nancy Denike, manager of Dragonfly Thrift Boutique, Monday, Aug. 1, 2022, in the Little Havana neighborhood of Miami. Harris stopped by the store while in Miami attending <a href=climate resilience events. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)” src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/tKlbc6oAChW6b34PDp7ctQ–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTEyNDI7aD04Mjg-/https://s.yimg.com/uu/api/res/1.2/IgSYmGZj5U6uWHLjBryUyQ–~B/aD03NjA7dz0xMTQwO2FwcGlkPXl0YWNoeW9u/https://media.zenfs.com/en/aol_miami_herald_mcclatchy_670/f128e47814662657f3a11e26b8b7eb6d”/>

Vice President Kamala Harris, right, talks with Nancy Denike, manager of Dragonfly Thrift Boutique, Monday, Aug. 1, 2022, in the Little Havana neighborhood of Miami. Harris stopped by the store while in Miami attending climate resilience events. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Cheyanne Tanner, an assistant manager, agreed.

“No matter where our pasts may be, there’s hope for our future. They really do believe in us,” she said.

The vice president nodded as the women shared their stories.

“I believe in you guys so much,” she said.

Garcia said the experience was almost overwhelming for her, and several women at the store were fighting back tears during the visit.

“I almost started crying too. Can you imagine the vice president of the U.S. telling you, ‘I admire you for your resilience and for how well you’re doing?’ A lot of these women, that’s what they need to hear. They need to hear people saying we are here to support you and we want you to do well,” she said.

Before she left, the vice president purchased a set of decorative dessert plates from Anthropologie and a vintage white teapot. She posed for a picture with the Dragonfly employees, holding the bag in front of her proudly.

Vice President Kamala Harris visits the Dragonfly Thrift Boutique, Monday, Aug. 1, 2022, in the Little Havana neighborhood of Miami. Harris is attending climate resilience events in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Vice President Kamala Harris visits the Dragonfly Thrift Boutique, Monday, Aug. 1, 2022, in the Little Havana neighborhood of Miami. Harris is attending climate resilience events in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

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