Before I begin, I want to admit that for a long time I was never really one who shopped at secondhand stores. Most of my experiences were usually unsuccessful, and over the years I’ve realized that when it comes to certain items I can be very picky about what I’m willing to purchase. But after shopping at Connections for the past three years I’ve officially, much to the benefit of my wardrobe and wallet, crossed over from the land of JC Penney's and Macy’s to the world of secondhand shoppers.

Open since 2008 and located in Lincoln Square Mall, Connections sells gently used clothes, shoes, purses, and jewelry for women, men, teens, and children ranging in sizes from petite to plus size. In addition to clothes, Connections also offers a selection of art and home good items, making it the perfect place for anyone who is looking to inexpensively refurbish or stock their living space. This fact, as someone who just recently moved from a dorm to an apartment, has been nothing short of a furniture and dishes life saver.

Connections also stands out among thrift stores because while it may be secondhand, often times they will receive donations of clothes that have never been worn or even still have the tag attached. I’ve lost track of the amount of times I found something at Connections that I’d seen at another store but passed by, only to then find it unworn and at a fraction of the price.

But for me, what makes shopping at Connections so much more important than simply a nice place to buy clothes is who they are striving to support. Started by Courage Connection, an organization in Champaign-Urbana that provides resources, shelter, and job training for survivors of homelessness and domestic violence, 100% of the proceeds from Connections goes to support the services of Courage Connection. In addition, Connections “provides their clients with free emergency training and professional clothing,” which are just two ways Connections puts the goals and philosophy of Courage Connection into action.

I stopped in one Saturday morning to speak with some of the volunteers and staff workers, and met Christa, a volunteer who preferred to not give her last name. Explaining that she's been a volunteer at Connections Retail for the past four years, she told me “I began volunteering so I could make my own connections with people in the community. I used to be a stay at home mom, and working here gave me confidence to know that I could do all of the tasks a job required.” 

For the volunteers and staff members of Connections, this position also means receiving training in Crisis Prevention Intervention and Domestic Violence training. Talking to Whitley Allen, who has been the Assistant Manager at Connections Retail since March 2017, she related that “working at Connections opens your eyes to a lot of things you’re not used to seeing.” Sadly, until the problems of domestic violence and homelessness are no longer an issue then communities will always need organizations like Courage Connection and the ability to properly support them through people, funds and consistent government support. 

As I walked around the store and looked at the different items, I noticed that in addition to typical advertisements there were also posters explaining “What A Healthy Relationship Looks Like,” and in the dressing room signs with information about how people in unhealthy relationships could find and get help. These signs, while informative and useful for every person throughout their life, is what makes each shopping trip about more than just the goal of finding a pair of shoes. By shopping at Connections it helps support Courage Connection’s mission of “providing a continuum of services so that individuals and services can achieve safety, stability and self-sufficiency,” and makes the very act of shopping a way to show compassion for survivors and stand against domestic violence and homelessness. Connections is an invaluable asset to the community, and one of the best things we can do to show support is walk in and pick up a pair of pants.

Connections Retail is located at 201 Lincoln Square, Suite 120, Urbana, IL. A list of their hours and information on donations can be found here.

For anyone who is need of help from domestic violence or homelessness please visit Courage Connections website, or call the Domestic Violence Hotline at (217) 384-4390 or (877) 384-4390.