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.
“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