Love.Craft, an Athens-based nonprofit organization that provides vocational training to adults with disabilities, celebrated its first anniversary at its building on Oneta Street on Nov. 13.

The organization, founded by two former Clarke Middle School special education teachers, aims to provide its trainees with opportunities to find employment by teaching local businesses to effectively work with its trainees.

Love.Craft’s vocational training focuses on the creation of pottery. Its trainees shape, bake and paint pottery products for use in the home and garden, as well as jewelry products. The products are then sold on the organization’s website to fund the program. The organization also occasionally sells these products at West Broad Farmers Market, said Susan Fontaine, the organization’s co-founder.

Fontaine, a University of Georgia graduate, spent seven years at Clarke Middle teaching students in the special education department and trying to help them succeed beyond middle school with “individualized transition planning.” However, she said she wasn’t seeing her students succeed in finding employment after graduating high school.

“It was frustrating seeing students make it through high school and then just stop,” Fontaine said. “It felt like the school system wasn’t enough to help them succeed in getting jobs after graduating.”

Fontaine also said that while a few other organizations in Athens, such as Hope Haven and Georgia Options, provide similar services to adults with disabilities, none of them are “specifically focused” on providing vocational training.

Fontaine said this inspired her and the organization’s other co-founder, Ariel Levy, to start the nonprofit. The two called the families of former students to recruit trainees for the program and created a Kickstarter campaign to obtain funding. The initial funding goal of the Kickstarter was $6,500.

“People donated over $10,000, and $5,000 of it was in the first 12 hours,” Fontaine said. “It was great to see that people were interested and willing to donate to the project.”

By Nov. 1, 2018, Love.Craft’s Kickstarter had raised a total of $10,716.

The organization has partnered with small businesses in Normaltown, including Chispa House, which now includes marketing company DTproductions, and other local retail stores to find work for their trainees. One of Love.Craft’s trainees, Adnan Curry, 29, has worked with Chispa House for three years and has worked as a teaching assistant at Howard B. Stroud Elementary School.

Love.Craft currently has eight trainees, each of whom works one shift per week at the pottery facility. Fontaine said the organization aims to increase the trainees to two shifts per week in 2020.

Two UGA students currently volunteer with the organization and work with its trainees.

“It’s good to see how much passion [the trainees] have,” said Hannah Boran, a senior health promotion major and one of Love.Craft’s volunteers. “They want to do everything themselves and want to put their own artistic spin on everything. For me, [working with them] is the best part of every week.”

Love.Craft is currently trying to raise donations for its operations in 2020, Fontaine said. The organization hopes to reach a goal of $40,000 by Dec. 3. The organization has currently raised around $15,000.

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