Girl Again-American Girl Dolls

Yes She Can (Job Skills Development Program) at Girl Again—A Resale Boutique for American Girl Dolls
4 Martine Avenue, store 2B
White Plains, NY 10606.
Name of contacts and title:
-Marjorie Madfis, President
Office: 914-428-1258; Mobile: 914-837-1467
-Lesli S Cattan, LCSW, Director of Training Programs
(917) 880-5478

“Yes She Can is an incubator, laboratory and job skills development program at Girl Again: A Resale Boutique for American Girl Dolls Girl Again, a business around a special interest: American Girl dolls. Young women with autism and related learning and social disabilities are coached by clinical professionals and business managers in all aspects of the business. Trainees develop transferable skills including technical skills and work place social skills as well as self-advocacy and emotional regulation. .”
Founders report that 80% of adults with autism are not in the workforce despite the fact that most have a desire to have a job.

My Visit:

The Girl Again store is located on a busy street in White Plains, New York, near other stores, cafes, offices and a large city parking lot, where I parked. Marjorie, the founder, and Lesli, were generous with their time in explaining every aspect of the “incubator” and business, from how they got the space, to how they get merchandise donations, and make sales. The store receives donations of dolls and all their accessories from across the United States; they have received more than 700 donations in five years
from doll lovers and collection drives as “mitzvah projects.” They report a challenge has been attracting customers given an overall decline in the country in the purchase of toys and dolls. At one point, girls were purchasing American Dolls which looked like them and had interesting stories—and purchased clothing, accessories and books. Competition recently has been online games.

We walked through the small store with neatly arranged merchandise and I saw dolls, outfits, books beautifully displayed on shelves at various heights. We then sat in the training area where many large clear bins containing outfits and components awaiting sorting were neatly stacked. Lesli and Marjorie explained that one important aspect of the training has been helping the trainees develop perspective taking, something which is difficult for people with autism. “I know this may appeal to you, but will an 8 year old want to buy this?” Similarly, a trainee may have a hard time understanding that a customer may want to buy a doll without the necklace (which is “supposed” to be with the set)—this is part of the training in perspective taking. Similarly, it is often a challenge for trainees to “shift,” and to do tasks that were not on their assignment sheet – because priorities can change unexpectedly in a business It’s hard to anticipate a task which needs to be done.

Trainees use Chromebooks with a shared drive where everyone has access to the same information and tools. Trainees use a spreadsheet to log and track the customer “wish list”, from across the country where doll collectors are looking for specific dolls and accessories. The trainees need to check the wish list and they then work on calling or emailing the customer when an item they want becomes available.

They also conduct online research for the original components of a doll outfit or accessory that is no longer available from American Girl to determine if they have the complete set to prepare for resale.
They use guidelines to determine the price to sell the item at but then need to learn how to make decisions when the guideline does not apply. They input this data into a spreadsheet called the inventory management tool – an exercise in data entry, accuracy, and quality. Some items they input
are factual and some requiring inferencing, which can be more difficult.
An important area trainees are working on is in learning the nuances of phone calls. They are learning to make outbound calls, where they start the conversation. One area which can be challenging is in not knowing what the customer may ask i.e. item costs and shipping costs. In short, it is difficult when the conversation doesn’t follow a script. They are also learning to initiate phone calls to customers whose wish list item is now available.

Reasons for Starting the Program:

Marjorie notes that 80% of adults with autism are not in the workforce and she had her daughter, Isabelle (Izzie), who she describes as “in the ‘gray area’, in mind when she created the program. She notes, “We are a training program and incubator—we are not an employer.” Marjorie points out that
Izzie’s teachers did not believe she would be able to pass the NY Regents Exam for a high school diploma but Marjorie didn’t want Isabelle to be assigned to a life skills program.. She wanted Izzie to be in an environment with high expectations, something she didn’t find in the internships she was assigned to as part of her IEP in high school. “She further notes that they didn’t give the interns transferable skills. Marjorie’s starting point was Izsies passion for American Girl dolls. Isabelle’s declared career goal
it to work at American Girl store. “When I thought of all that she should learn, I considered resale. There are many tasks to do in a resale business that are transferable to other work environments. . g With American Girl merchandise there is enough to motive someone like my daughter to learn the skills she really needs – primarily appropriate social interactions.” At Girl Again, trainees learn data entry and importance of accuracy. They also learn to do things they don’t necessarily enjoy – because it is work.
They learn to accept and act upon critical feedback. They also learn how to talk to managers, co-workers and customers – each differently.

Brief description of business from website):

Yes She Can (job skills program) At Girl Again (A Resale Boutique for American Girl Dolls)
Yes She Can’s job skills program is delivered at Girl Again, a resale boutique for American Girl dolls and
all their accessories and books. Visit us in White Plains New York.
We sell dolls, but we’re not in the doll business, we are in the job skills development business.
Yet, we operate Girl Again just like any other business – we meet customer needs efficiently and
We have built a business around a special interest: American Girl dolls. Our customers include first time
buyers as well as long time collectors. While most are girls between 7 and 10, our customers include
boys and men as well as teen girls and women. We embrace our diverse customers. And our customers
appreciate our trainees.
While most typical girls lose interest in their dolls by the time they reach middle school, girls with autism
do not experience the social pressure to put their dolls away. Some of our trainees still have a great
passion as well as a developed expertise in their American Girl doll collection. This expertise has a
market value. And it can be used as a platform to develop other business skills that can be transferred to
jobs in the competitive work environment. While not all trainees have an affinity for AG, they all learn
from all the tasks that are involved in running the business.
Pat Rowan coaching trainees: Our goal is to enable the young women to increase their potential to get
and keep a job where they can shine.
Resale Value: The advantage of the resale business is that there are many and varied business tasks, and
employees can either specialize in what they like best or choose to expand their skills. Micro-tasks include:

-sorting through donated clothes and created complete outfits (skirt, shirt, jacket, shoes, socks for example);
-pricing products competitively by researching and comparing prices on eBay;
-cleaning dolls;
-researching the doll’s original hair style and styling the doll hair;
-price tagging the merchandise;
-taking photos for marketing;
-posting content on digital platforms;

managing and tracking inventory, book keeping, organizing and hosting events and parties, and more.
Girl Again is a first-of-a-kind incubator and laboratory where we nurture young women at work without the pressure of a for-profit business. We are applying the most effective training techniques that conventional employers as well as autism employment entrepreneurs can use as they begin to hire people on the autism spectrum.
Yes She Can focuses on vocational skills that are challenging to persons on the spectrum. And, because we operate within an authentic business, trainees gain real work experience while learning and practicing a range of skills needed in the world of work.
WHAT WE DO: Yes She Can has developed an intensive learning and training experience within an authentic business setting that has proven successful in helping young women (ages 18-28) gain the skills necessary to be successful at work. Teaching methods are used to address the challenges
associated with autism. Coaching is provided by clinical professionals with a focus on improving social, emotional and communication skills for the workplace.
OUTCOMES: Quarterly assessments enable our monitoring of the progress each trainee makes. We then adjust our interventions to help trainees move towards their personalized goals. Program outcomes include a rise in employment, an increase in participants’ independent functioning in the
community, and positive self-regard.

Lessons Learned/Observations:

  • Be attuned to overall trends. Doll (and toy) sales have declined in an age of computers and video games.
  • Find a business where the work is engaging and skills learned are transferable.
  • Use the training (in sorting, merchandising, sales, etc) to also train for perspective taking—how would the display appeal to customers of different ages?
  • A real challenge for some of the workers with disabilities is anxiety and frustration. Similarly, many have a difficult time doing things not written on their assignment sheet. Flexibility is tough.
  • Understanding the concept of TIME is often difficult for workers (i.e understanding her new glasses will arrive “maybe Thursday”)
  • Learning all aspects of initiating and sustaining a phone conversation can be challenging as it deviates from a script (i.e. when customers ask questions about item or shipping costs)
  • There is a great deal of “unlearning special education” to be done as part of the training. Trainees need to be taught “Don’t make me do your thinking.” Some things which could be taught in school but which
  • usually aren’t include: risk taking, making a recommendation, supporting your reasoning and turning to your peer for input/consultation.
  • Important tasks and skills include learning thoroughness (“what is good enough?” –is it worth it to spend 30 minutes picking lint off of an outfit?), efficiency (as above with the lint example—if we sell the item for $10, is it worth spending a few hours preparing an item for sale?), and not taking it personally (i.e. if manager questions efficiency)
  • Use various assessment tools and use them regularly (including self-assessment, employer assessment and parent assessment). -there are free legal services for nonprofits in NY, NJ and CT—Pro Bono Partnership:
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