SLIPPERY ROCK – Patty Bicehouse is passionate about serving individuals with intellectual disabilities.
“People with special needs are angels here on earth,” she said.
Bicehouse is very excited about her latest project – Our Angels Attic, a clothing boutique in downtown Slippery Rock that is run by volunteers; most of them are local residents with intellectual disabilities.
“To me, this belongs to the community,” she said on Monday afternoon at the shop, 140 A S. Main St., which has vintage decor and angels in every room.
Our Angels Attic is a nonprofit entity funded by donations and managed by an all-volunteer group. A grand opening was held on Sunday, and Bicehouse couldn’t be happier with how things have turned out.
“It’s still surreal,” said Bicehouse, who lives just up the street with her husband Vaughn, who teaches in the special education department at Slippery Rock University.
Her desire to serve the community really took off while she was studying special education at SRU and was inspired by one of her professors, Dr. Bob Berner.
During one class, he asked his students to select an instrument, then dance to music. Bicehouse recalls having a good time while several of her classmates declined to participate.
“You have to be yourself and let loose and dream,” she said of working in special education.
While she enjoyed the time she spent working in the vocational development program for the Arc of Butler County, she knew she wanted to do something on a larger scale.
That has materialized into Our Angels Attic, which sells new and gently-used clothing for men, women and children, plus accessories and small housewares. All of the items are donated.
“This to me is my dance floor,” Bicehouse said of the building, which in years past has housed a hardware store, travel agency, and real estate offices.
The organization is her way of giving back, and a chance to help the volunteers focus on vocational and social skills like handling money, working with the public, tracking inventory, following directions, gaining independence, and more.
“I love the pride that they exuded,” she said of the volunteers’ first day at the shop.
Bicehouse and her husband, who have two daughters, are Butler natives, but they have always loved Slippery Rock and recent efforts to revitalize the town.
Word has been spreading quickly about Our Angels Attic, and Sunday’s turnout was “magical.”
“God’s hand was in every detail,” she said.
Bicehouse wants the volunteers to move on to paid employment, and she aims for them to leave the shop with a cover letter, resume and references, as well as confidence in sharing the skills they learn at Our Angels Attic.
She has met some of the volunteers’ families, and their positive feedback along with the community’s response so far has been wonderful.
She thanked the volunteers and community members for pitching in, pointing out their handiwork as she gave a tour of the shop and noting that more volunteers are needed.
Clothing racks are spread out among several rooms, and there’s a large dressing room. She wants shoppers to be able to get an entire outfit for $10.
Bicehouse favors what she calls “the Paris room” – there are special-occasion dresses and accessories, comfortable seating, a dresser covered in knick-knacks, a small chandelier, and a mirror with inspirational phrases.
“I want people to feel relaxed and comfortable,” she said.
She had fun putting together the children’s area, the “Little Angels” section, which features some toys and a photo backdrop of angel wings plus a few props.
Following the “angel” theme, there are quite a few paintings of angels hanging from the walls. They were created by artist Sami Turberville in honor of the shop’s major donors.
And as shoppers leave the building, a phrase and bell above the door catch their eye: “Every time a little bell rings another angel earns their wings.”
“We tell people on their way out that they’ve done something,” Bicehouse said.
Purchases are placed into recycled paper bags that have been decorated by students at the Merakey Allegheny Valley School, which has a program center in Slippery Rock for people with disabilities.
Donations of new and gently-used clothing items are accepted, preferably suits, dress pants, polo shirts, dresses, shoes and similar pieces.
Nothing will be turned away; Bicehouse and the volunteers always find another agency in need of a variety of clothing items.
She promises that more fun is on the way. A turntable will play oldies records – they love to dance and sing – and the shop is raffling off gift baskets this week.
Our Angels Attic is also collecting donations in a red lantern next to the old-fashioned cash register; it will fund a limo trip to Pittsburgh to see a sensory-friendly version of a play.
Bicehouse hopes that will be the first of many activities she can help organize. She’s also interested in starting a book club and movie night.
“It’s kind of an adventure to come here,” she said.
Our Angels Attic is at 140 A S. Main St., Slippery Rock. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Online: “Our Angels Attic” on Facebook or ourangelsattic.org or call 585-360-3336. Donation boxes have been set up at Giant Eagle and Edward Jones in Slippery Rock, and monetary contributions can be sent to the shop or made online.