Make a discovery | March 20, 2009 | Danville Express | |

Danville Express

Cover Story - March 20, 2009

Make a discovery

Treasures abound at thrift shop that supports counseling center

by Susan Astbury

Looking for a kimono? A mink coat? House wares to outfit a kitchen? Check out the Thrift Station, which benefits Discovery Counseling Center. It's located in the Crossroads of Danville shopping center, but shoppers travel from all over the valley for the high quality, previously owned clothing and household goods.

"We were one of the top 10 revenue producers and one of the top 25 after Costco (and other large stores) moved into Danville. Not bad for a little ol' thrift store," said longtime volunteer Shirley Jacks.

Tax deductible donations to the Station range from clothing and house wares to wedding dresses, jewelry, antiques and even a spinning wheel. "We've seen it all," Jacks said.

"If people didn't give us good donations, we couldn't do what we do," said Julie Liu, another volunteer, who lives in Danville. "We get new things every day. Some people shop every day because they know that we're going to put new things out."

"All the money from the Station goes to Discovery and it's a significant amount considering that there's nickel and dime stuff on the floor," explained auxiliary member Lil DeBernardi. "Our rent is $10,000 per month and we still make money. I think as the economy gets worse we're going to do more business and get a lot more shoppers."

Nothing that is donated to the Thrift Station is wasted. What cannot be used or sold is donated to other charities.

"We're like a little filtering community," said Liu. Unsold bedding is donated to Tony La Russa's Animal Rescue Foundation, and children's books go to Books for the Barrios.

The first Wednesday of the month at the Station is Seniors Day when folks 62 and older pay half price for clothing and accessories. A traditional event is the Christmas Preview that takes place the Sunday after Thanksgiving. When the doors to the Thrift Station open at noon, a line has already formed.

"All the things that we've saved throughout the year are put out on that day. Last year, we made $5,200 in four hours," said Liu.

The reasons for joining the Friends of Discovery Auxiliary are as diverse as the women who volunteer.

Liu likes to help because she realizes what an impact Discovery Counseling Center makes on people's lives.

"Last year a friend of ours died of breast cancer and she had kids in elementary school. A couple days later her son was getting ready to go to school and his dad questioned why he wanted to return so soon," said Liu. His son replied that he was going to school because he wanted to talk to the Discovery counselor who was called to be on site that day.

"In some small way we helped a father deal with losing his wife and being left with small children. I thought something I have done impacted their life," Liu said.

She also said she used to shop there before picking up her daughter from high school and noticed how much fun the women were having.

"The day my daughter moved into the dorm at college, I scheduled myself to work here the following Monday," she said.

Janie Mohr started volunteering in 1986 because her grandson was having difficulties after his father died.

"He went to Discovery because he was going to high school here and they really helped him," said Mohr. "So that's when I wanted to find out where they got their money, where they got their funding, and I began working here and have been here ever since. My grandson is doing great now."

"The Thrift Station is one of the best retail organizations in Danville," said Thom Martin, president and CEO of the Discovery Center. "There are 150 volunteers that run an efficient retail operation. They are really good at what they do; they're phenomenal."

"The volunteers have so much fun doing what they do. The Station is a cheerful fun place to be," he added.

Discovery Counseling Center, the oldest nonprofit organization in the San Ramon Valley, was started in 1969 with one counselor, Peter Strauss, counseling kids after school in the Foster Freeze parking lot in Danville.

"It was a time similar to ours when people were worried about war and community leaders were concerned about kids in our area," said Martin. "It started with one counselor and now there is a counselor in every school in the San Ramon Valley school system. There are 18 counselors at the counseling center and clinic located in Danville."

Friends of Discovery was founded in 1973 to promote the services of Discovery Counseling Center and provide.

A group of concerned community leaders asked a community-minded mother, Marge Early, to develop a fundraising base for this grassroots counseling service.

"I got some people together to find out what to do," recalled Early. "We decided to do a thrift shop even though none of us had any merchandising experience. Thirty-five women showed up to the meeting and the doors opened to the first Station in April 1972 in the back of the Danville Hotel."

Early borrowed $600 from her mother and with the help of her friends started the Friends of Discovery Auxiliary.

"Everyone thought a thrift store in Danville was the craziest idea ever. We just came in at the right time," she said. "We started right off with a boom. I thought I'd be reading a book but we were so busy that never happened."

Within a month, they not only repaid the loan but a month later presented the Discovery Center with a check for $500. Today, with 150 volunteers, the auxiliary has raised more than $5.6 million for the center and a quarter of a million dollars last year alone.

Today, in addition to offering counseling services, the Discovery Center provides services to the students and their families with its on-site internship program offered at all of the schools.

Also importantly, the Thrift Station serves as a community gathering place where people visit while bringing in donations, volunteering as workers, or making purchases. Volunteers provide support for each other and in many cases develop lifetime friendships.

"We get so involved in each other's lives. It's a safe place to be," said Joan Galletly, one of the original members.

"We've formed long-lasting friendships and bonds. It's a very special community of women who are hard workers and have the luxury of time to donate," said Jacks. "We are connected in so many ways."

After working for 30 years, Lil DeBernardi wanted to get involved in the community. She started volunteering because her friend was working at the Thrift Station.

"I think that there are a lot of people who really want to donate their time and their experience and this is a great environment," she said. "There are people who come here every day. It's their social event and they all know each other."

"My neighbor used to invite me to the very famous salad luncheons," said Jacks. "Then I started shopping at the Thrift Station and complained about the toy selection. That's when you learn never to complain - because I've been the head of the toy department for 27 years."

Some unexpected relationships have developed. Years ago Susan Battaglini met Judy Nauman, one of the original members, while donating an antique to the Station.

"I asked if they needed help and she said that we are always looking for volunteers and we got to be friends," recalled Battaglini. "After a while I noticed that she had a nice young daughter who came to the shop. Eventually, I asked her if my son could call her and she said OK. I suggested that my son give her a call. And he did and they have now been married for eight years and have two children."

Friends of Discovery Thrift Station was chosen for the first Charitable Organization of the Year for 2008 award, which was presented by the Danville Weekly at the Danville Area Chamber of Commerce Installation and Awards Dinner in February.

"The Chamber asks for nominations and a committee of 10-12 people gets together and makes the decision based on the criteria and history of the organization," said Melony Newman, president and CEO of the Chamber.

"The significant amount of money raised each year for kids to get the help they need, the cause which they raise it for, and their 35 years of history makes the Friends of Discovery a worthy recipient of this inaugural award," said Thom Martin.

Nita Parsons has been a volunteer at the Station for 35 years.

"One of our customers came in today and said it was great that we received this award," Parsons said. "It should be enlarged, framed and put into our window because it is quite an honor and accomplishment."

"Our auxiliary, with its group of hard-working volunteers, is the glue that holds our organization together," said Jacks. "It has been rewarding to see Discovery grow from a little house on Rose Street to the vital center that it is today."

Friends of Discovery Thrift Station

The Thrift Station is located at the Crossroads of Danville, 486 San Ramon Valley Blvd. The Station accepts quality donations of household items and clothing. All donations are tax deductible. Store hours are 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Saturday. Call 820-1988.

Discovery Counseling Center is located at 115-A Town and Country Drive, Danville. Call 837-0505 or visit


Like this comment
Posted by Joy Perkins
a resident of San Ramon
on Oct 19, 2009 at 2:33 pm

I'm a Professional Organizer so visit frequently to donate items for clients. The volunteers here are AWESOME. Always cheerful and helpful. My clients feel great knowing their unwanted items will become useful to someone else and help a great cause along the way.
Keep up the great work - you are a real resource for our community.
Joy Perkins, owner
Omnibus Organizing