Special Tees and Novel Tees Partner to Save Jobs

On Your Mark + Community Resources = A TEE-RIFFIC Pair!

               Staten Island is known for having a myriad of services for people with intellectual/developmental disabilities and/or mental health diagnoses.  Each organization approaches care differently, but they all operate with the same goal in mind: to provide each individual with supportive services that help them to achieve the highest level of independence possible so they may lead a rewarding, productive life.  The pandemic forced most agencies to reassess and reevaluate their programs.  Many found that what was once sustainable proved to be ineffective in this new normal.  But despite the tough decisions that had to be made, many of these organizations banded together to support one another and overcome these challenges. 

Just a few months ago, Community Resources Staten Island (CRSI) was forced to close its doors to its beloved small business, Special Tees.  Special Tees has been the “heart” of CRSI and a staple in the Staten Island community for over 20 years, providing customized tee-shirts for hundreds of businesses, families, and organizations.  It employed 12 individuals with varying diagnoses.  It was not just a business but a place of opportunity, giving people with disabilities meaningful employment experiences.

Back in November of 2020, Community Resources appointed Mary Rafferty as their new Executive Director, who was soon after followed by Anna Opsha as their CFO, and Michael DeGrottole as their COO.  Like many of their counterparts, the organization was facing many financial challenges and this new senior leadership team had to prioritize restructuring many of their programs and departments.  In order to sustain everyday programming, they had to come to terms with some difficult decisions.  “Closing Special Tees lead to a lot of broken hearts.  We had to let go of some things, all while staying true to our mission.  Unfortunately, small businesses have been affected across the map.  But we didn’t just have a small business.  We had 12 individuals that needed employment.  We had to make sure our difficult decision didn’t harm them. We had to get creative” said DeGrottole.  CRSI’s senior leadership had to brainstorm ways to salvage these individual’s positions, some of whom had been working at Special Tees for over 15 years.  CRSI found positions internally for 4 of their employees but were still at a loss for the remaining 8.  As Special Tees permanently closed in September 2021, “we had to think of who else does this? Who has the same mission and vision that we do?” asked DeGrottole. 

“We received the call from Community Resources in the beginning of September inquiring about our tee-shirt shop Novel-Tees” says John Bilotti, Executive Director of On Your Mark.  “CR expressed their concern for their individuals who were out of a job, and we knew what we had to do.”  Under the supervision of Joseph Gori, Director of Employment Initiatives at On Your Mark, Novel Tees has been in business since 2013.  The goal was to create an innovative business where individuals could learn effective work ethics and job skills that can be applied to competitive employment opportunities. In addition to the acquisition of a wide range of job skills, the individuals also gain a feeling of self-fulfillment and purpose.  Every purchase made helps support their individuals working in Novel-Tees as well as On Your Mark as a whole.  “We knew it would be a perfect fit, but we had to be sure we made it worth their while,” said DeGrottole in response to On Your Mark’s eagerness to partner.  So, in exchange for taking on 8 additional employees, CR generously provided Novel Tees with equipment, inventory, supplies, and their client list.  “We wanted to help in any way we could.  On Your Mark is taking a risk adding 8 new employees so we are trying to make this transition easier for everyone.”

Upon absorbing the 8 new employees, On Your Mark made it a priority to meet each individual separately, asking about their past experiences at Special Tees and their vision and goals for their new place of employment.  Robert Dolcimascola had been working for Special Tees for 5 years.  When he found out the store was closing, he said “It was sad because I worked there for quite a long time.  I was disappointed.”  But when he found out his job would be salvaged, he stated “I felt good because we were going to a similar business, we were happy about that.  I am looking forward to working with different colleagues.”  Levo Freeman, the Graphic Designer at Special Tees had a similar reaction. “I was very confused because we were doing so well.  We got a lot of business back,” Said Freeman.  But unfortunately, that wasn’t enough to keep the business afloat.   He states “A week or 2 after we closed, they told us there’s another company who is like CR and Special Tees and they’re looking to hire people…I felt so relieved. [I’m] looking forward to using my skills as a graphic designer to not only help On Your Mark and Novel Tees, but customers who are looking for a shirt for your events and festivities! I’m happy to be here!” 

In just 6 weeks On Your Mark got these new employees up and running. “We are so thrilled to have these 8 incredible individuals join our Novel Tees crew.  They bring an added skill set to our business and we’re excited to expand with their help!” says Gori, manager of Novel Tees. “This was the reason Novel Tees was created.  To provide job opportunities for those that may need a little extra support.  We are proud to collaborate with CR.  We’re all out for the same cause!” 

So, with the holidays coming up, be sure to get all of your customized apparel from Novel Tees!  This business needs your support now more than ever.  Located at 130 Victory Boulevard, you’ll see Levo behind the desk and the rest of the Special Tees crew in the back, making those perfect tee-shirts that you know and love. Call (917) 831-4990 to place your order today!

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