Sarah Whitney

Sarah Whitney was just hired at Premiere Collectibles on Oct. 21, and she is already finding ways she can contribute more .

Health Connect America, a leader in the delivery of mental and behavioral health services, has partnered with Franklin-based Premiere Collectibles to provide jobs to those with special needs.

A division of Premiere Book Group, and an online retailer of bestselling autographed books available to the world, Premiere Collectibles has already begun the hiring process of young adults. One person has been hired directly, and three more are doing employment assessment and training and have a good possibility of being hired.

“The impact of this program will be multiplied as new employers participate,” said Kristi Shain, CEO of Health Connect America, a Franklin company. “We are grateful for companies like Premiere Collectibles who have a heart for the community and an interest in supporting a group with significant unemployment and yet have valuable skillsets.”

The person spearheading these efforts is Dave Krikac, founder and owner of the former Our Thrift Store, which closed in late June after 15 years of operating on Columbia Avenue in Franklin. The store served as an operation for training and educating young adults with disabilities while also acting as a retail outlet that sells donated clothing and other items.

Though Krikac was unable to find another means for keeping the thrift store open, he remained focused on uncovering other job opportunities for those who worked in the store or other young adults with special needs. His determination eventually led him to land with Health Connect America, which provides mental and behavioral health services to children, families and adults at 56 locations across five states impacting the lives of nearly 10,000 people daily.

Krikac was hired in September to help lead the Adult Services Division as its regional vice president. 

The partnership with Premiere Collectibles is just the start. Through connections from Krikac, Health Connect America has also launched an employment pilot with Honest Roasters, a coffee shop and roaster in the Factory at Franklin.

“We’re waiting for their new equipment to come in, and will be taking a few adults over there for training and possible placement as well,” Krikac said.

Other pilots are in the works, and Krikac said more details on those will be forthcoming.

“These kids are fulfilling a dream that we just take for granted,” Krikac said. “To them it’s everything. We’re impacting that kid, their family. You need them to grow up and become independent, and having a career and a job is huge.”

That’s the case with Sarah Whitney, who has spina bifida and has been working since she was a student at Independence High School more than 10 years ago. She had had a job with an audio-visual company where she did all the electronic filing for the business, but was laid off earlier this year as the coronavirus pandemic had its way with so many companies.

Whitney bounced back in October when she was hired by Premiere Collectibles to help prepare pre-autographed books for shipping. It’s an entry-level position, and Whitney said she is already discovering ways she can contribute more.

“I’m more of a computer-type person,” Whitney said as she stuck labels on the inside of books and got them ready to pack.  

“[The warehouse manager] has asked me to eventually start with production. We’ve had some trouble with addresses, and he asked me to one day start going in and fixing addresses to help make production much more efficient. Hopefully we’ll be able to get more books out.

“It helps him to know I can do more than this. If he ever needs to put me somewhere else, he can.”

The state of Tennessee has more than 85% unemployment for adults with special needs. Health Connect America is working to tackle this problem by connecting its clients with developmental disabilities to job opportunities through partnerships with employers. 

“It’s all about finding the right job for the right young adult,” Krikac said.

Health Care America is looking for a jobs coach. Those interested can click here for more information.

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