During the dedicatory service of a new Deseret Industries building in Houston, Texas, on March 24, 2021, Elder Sean Douglas of the Seventy said that Deseret Industries is similar to the Samaritan in the Bible who crosses man-made cultural boundaries to help someone in great need.
How so? Elder Douglas said that many in the western United States know Deseret Industries as a thrift store where they can buy needed goods at affordable prices. While this nonprofit enterprise owned and operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does provide this important service, “there is more than that taking place on the inside of this operation,” he added.
Most importantly, Elder Douglas said, is Deseret Industries’ quest to effect lasting change in the life of any person who needs it through job training, skill enhancement, career counseling and assistance with job placement.
“This operation is a gift from God, created to do for others what we individually are not equipped to do for them on our own. It is, in essence, an inn for God’s children, and He is the innkeeper,” Elder Douglas said, referring to the lodging to which the Samaritan takes the injured man in chapter 10 of Luke in the New Testament. “Just as the inn on the road to Jericho [in ancient Palestine] proved to be more than a tavern to weary travelers, so does this operation offer more to those earnestly seeking essential skills that will enlarge their capacities and increase their hope to become more self-reliant.”
The new 65,000-square-foot store is located at 8625 Cypress Creek Parkway in Houston and opened to the public on April 15, 2021. It is located 15 minutes away from the Church’s Houston Texas Temple. This Deseret Industries is one of 45 stores total throughout Utah, Idaho, California, Arizona, Nevada, Washington, Oregon and now Texas. In addition to Deseret Industries, the building also houses the Church’s Development Counseling Services and Employment Services.
“This is really a spiritual place, where people’s lives are put back together again by working and getting back into the workforce,” said Alex Wathen, one of the new store’s first customers on Thursday morning. “Lives change here — that’s the main thing we’ve got to keep in mind. This is really a spiritual program. I’m so excited for the first Deseret Industries east of the Rockies. We’re so privileged and excited to have it. … This will become a very popular place very quickly.”
Skills Training Programs
Rob Golightly, a regional manager for Deseret Industries, said each store’s employees are part of a training program called “Ready for Work.” This program is a pathway to something greater, helping each person learn skills that will help them obtain jobs in other fields of their choosing.
“Deseret Industries is far more than just a thrift store, and for our associates, it is far more than just a job,” Golightly said. Each associate can access skills training programs to help pay for education to help them become a welder or a certified nursing assistant, among other things.
“It’s the worst business model in the world,” Golightly added in jest. “We bring associates in, we teach them and help them become better, and then we congratulate them when they leave from us and go somewhere else.”
Another early customer on Thursday, Geri Stanfield, said she was pleasantly surprised to know that Deseret Industries helps its associates in this way. “That’s wonderful because we need places like this,” she said. “I’m really proud. I’m glad something like this is here.”
Deseret Industries also engages in partnerships that allow its associates to be placed with local businesses. Associates can work with these businesses for a short period of time to gain on-the-job experience, make connections and network while Deseret Industries pays their wages. Often, these internship-like experiences develop into long-term employment for the associate with the partnering business.
Tonya Dixon of Community of Faith Church in Houston said this service of Deseret Industries will be a great blessing for those with whom she works in early childcare. She said she foresees collaboration through “opportunities for the persons who are being trained [at Deseret Industries] to possibly enter into the early childhood industry” and have “jobs available for them to select from. People in the industry are always looking for good, trained employees. That takes a little load off persons in the industry.”
Dixon is grateful that her church can continue to do its clothing drives with the added comfort of knowing they can feel confident in sending these donated goods to a place such as Deseret Industries. “It’s always good to know that you have someone else under the same umbrella of serving humanity,” she said.
Other faith leaders present at the March dedication of this new Deseret Industries expressed similar excitement about the partnerships that will develop thanks to this facility.
“It’s lovely when you are reaching out to people and serving them by providing clothing and household goods and other things that we all need,” said Les Cave, the leader of Northwest Assistance Ministries in Houston, an interfaith group that has helped local families in difficult economic straits since the 1980s. “And to do it in a setting like this just brings dignity to your outreach and to the clients that you serve.”
Sam Gilbert, a pastor of Mt. Sinai Baptist Church and president of the Houston Metropolitan Baptist Ministers Conference, said this new Deseret Industries will prolong a partnership with Latter-day Saints that began during the Texas deep freeze in February 2021. He and local Latter-day Saint leaders came together to provide food and water to hundreds of people.
“What I see here is an opportunity to collaborate, to be a blessing to others and to provide opportunities to... people who may need a hand up,” Pastor Gilbert said. “We need more of this kind of service in our community.”
The Houston facility already has a short but important history of helping those in need in the area. The Church purchased the building and its six-acre lot in 2017 instead of constructing something from the ground up. The timing was fortuitous — the location became a command center for relief efforts during Hurricane Harvey.
Miraculously, Elder Douglas said, the area around the building was one of only a few places in northwest Houston that did not flood during the storm. The structure served as a hub for community partners, first responders, delivery trucks, donations and recovery equipment. It was a coordination point, he said, for 17,000 volunteers who donated an estimated one million man-hours to remove muck from some 15,000 homes.
“I am grateful that this place will continue to be a place of relief and hope for many of God’s children and a place that will continue to bless this community,” said Elder Douglas, who became a General Authority Seventy at the Church’s general conference on April 3, 2021.
Before pronouncing the dedicatory prayer for the building, Elder Douglas expressed gratitude to the present community partners for spreading goodness throughout the community during the freeze.
“Some of life’s greatest learnings — God’s tender mercies, opportunities, blessings and gifts — come because of and are reserved for those who lack and those who freely give,” he said. “Today gathered here are many from this community who are spoken of by the Savior in His teaching, ‘Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me’ (Matthew 25:40). Thank you for being here. And, more importantly, thank you for the good you do in this community. Together, we are united in this labor of love for our Savior.”