Education

Teen with autism and his mom open thrift shop in Lone Tree

Working at Ayden's Closet is a chance to learn life and business skills

Ayden's Closet in Lone Tree sells secondhand items and gives namesake Ayden Ohly, 17, a chance to work on life skills. T
Ayden’s Closet in Lone Tree sells secondhand items and gives namesake Ayden Ohly, 17, a chance to work on life skills. The teenager has autism and is partially verbal. (Courtesy Michelle Ohly)
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LONE TREE — The new thrift shop in Lone Tree is stocked with clothing for kids and adults, shoes, purses and toys.

Anyone who walks in is greeted by Ayden Ohly, a 17-year-old high school senior at the school just blocks away. The namesake of Ayden’s Closet, the teenager has autism and is partially verbal, according to his mother.

“Welcome to the Closet,” he says to shoppers.

Since the store opened in the fall, Ayden has held more and more conversations, the paraprofessional who works with him every morning at school said.

“They all understand what he’s saying to them,” paraprofessional Kathy Willier said. “... He does the transaction and he talks with people. Right now, it’s mostly other classmates that come down to the Closet to shop. They converse. It’s an experience like no other.”

Ayden’s Closet is in the Lone Tree Community Center, 203 N. Devoe St. Ayden works there most afternoons, his mother Michelle Ohly said, sorting and hanging donated items priced for less than $5 each.

“He asks to go there every day,” she said. “There’s something about it he loves.”

The Ohlys opened the resale shop so Ayden could learn and practice work and life skills, Michelle Ohly said, before he graduates in the spring. The teenager was unable to participate in a phone interview with The Gazette.

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“Most of his time has been in the special education classroom,” she said. “I wanted to start something to help him work on life skills. Because he’s got some language, but not a lot, it’s hard to figure out what skills he wants to learn. I wanted to teach him some functional working skills.”

When Ayden’s Closet opened, the Ohlys had no idea how many items they would receive. But soon hundreds of donated items poured in from the Lone Tree community and from Madison, Wis., where Ayden’s dad lives.

The items are priced to sell in a previously empty room at the community center, where a dining center for senior citizens also is located.

“Our first opening, the proceeds went to dessert for the seniors’ Christmas dinner,” Michelle Ohly said. “We want to give (proceeds) back to the community, or back to special education.”

She said she is talking to parents of other special education students and some adults with disabilities about additional work opportunities at the store.

“It could be a way to branch out and get a lot of these people involved,” Michelle Ohly said. “It’s just a matter of figuring out what each person enjoys doing.”

Comments: (319) 398-8330; molly.duffy@thegazette.com

How to help Ayden’s Closet

• Donate: To learn more about donating to the thrift store, call (319) 855-8943.

• Shop: Ayden’s Closet, 203 N. Devoe St. in Lone Tree, will be open to the public from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 19

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