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Local nonprofit serves community through thrift store and more
Pathfinders Family thrift store
The Pathfinders Family nonprofit runs a thrift store at 1132 Ga. 53 to raise money to help local families in need. - photo by Julia Fechter

Painted bright red with a rustic dark brown water wheel, one building on Dawson County’s Ga. 53 serves as much more than just a landmark. 

Since 2019, the nonprofit organization Pathfinders Family, founded by Dawson-area individuals, has made it their mission to give to those in need across the community. 

The nonprofit held a Christmastime grand opening for its Pathfinders Family Thrift Store last month. During the event, about $6,000 was raised and used for helping 11-12 families get gifts for the holiday. The store is open on weekends. 

Pathfinders President Joe Mele and Vice President Stanley Gunter expanded on the group’s origin, purpose and impact. 

“Many people in the organization have had issues with drugs or been in trouble in the past,” Mele said. “After we got sober, we just wanted to start something and give back to the community.”

Pathfinders has done benefit motorcycle rides for families in need and fundraised through clothing, barbecue and large yard sales. They’ve also worked with the drug court in Dawson County to sponsor people getting into rehab. 

The thrift store is stocked through donations and staffed by volunteers, a number of whom come to do community service hours as participants from Dawson, Forsyth or Hall counties’ drug courts.

Volunteering at the store is also a way for people to stay accountable after finishing their drug court or treatment programs, Mele added. 

Though the store opened in October, its building has existed for a much longer period of time. The structure existed at its current spot, also with a red exterior, for the past 50 years, Mele and Gunter said. Over the years, it’s served as the premises for an antique store and a furniture finish store. 

“It’s been a godsend,” Gunter said on finding the building. “We’d been looking at places…and this just fell in our lap, like it was meant to be.”

Of course, it took the elbow grease of 30-plus volunteers to get the property to its current state. The outside slats were given fresh coats of the bold red paint. They also removed trash, repaired floors, renovated the parking lot and added fencing. 

Typically, four to five people will staff the store and sort through donations during a given weekend, Mele said. Others may also help with picking up items from people or dropping them off to customers. 

“Everybody does their part…one hundred percent, all the time,” Gunter said. We also have a special thing too, where say somebody comes in and they just don’t have anything [and] they’re trying to get on their feet…[then] we’ll give them stuff. We’ll give them a bag and a box and say, ‘Here, get what you need.’” 

In past months, Pathfinders has done Facebook raffles to pay some people’s bills. They’ve also gotten other requests for help and want to be able to expand how they help people in the future. 

“A lot of us have been in the [same] position as the people we’re helping are in now…so we know exactly how they feel,” Gunter said. 

For them, being in the position to lend a helping hand to others warms their hearts. 

“It’s fulfilling,” Mele said. “It’s something in your heart where you have a need to do something for others…it’s really what the Holy Spirit leads us to do.”