The Cottage celebrates 10 years serving PSNI

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(Photo by DAVE GUNTER) Volunteer Amelia Boyd, left, and founder Lois Miller stand in one of the many rooms filled with treasure at The Cottage, which celebrates its 10th anniversary of providing funding for Panhandle Special Needs, Inc., this Saturday, May 25.

SANDPOINT – Hard to believe, when you see this dolled up old home that’s filled with both activity and treasure, that the location for The Cottage sat empty only 10 years ago.

Over the past decade, the building has become the epicenter of one of the strongest fundraising vehicles in town, raising money to support the operations of Panhandle Special Needs, Inc.

Sitting side-by-side on North Boyer, the two associated businesses work together to support vocational rehab, training and job placement for developmentally disabled adults in the community.

On Saturday, May 25, The Cottage will celebrate that anniversary with an open house event.

If you ask Cottage founder Lois Miller for a tour of the place, she will usually insist that you also follow her through the PSNI location next door to see what’s up over there, meet the staff and clients and have a look at the numerous renovations and improvements that have turned a former industrial warehouse into a comfortable, efficient work space.

Averaging sales of about $6,000 a month, some of which goes to pay rent and utilities, the thrift store next door increasingly acts as an important source of funds for PSNI.

“I think people need to see why The Cottage is there,” Miller said as she led a quick walk-through of the PSNI buildings. “I love to give people the tour to see what we’re doing around here, because so many people have no idea.”

What they’re doing includes services such as offering affordable shredding services to local businesses, packaging fire-starter chips for Lignetics, Inc., growing and selling plants from the on-site greenhouse and training workers for jobs at employers throughout the area.

Rounding a corner, Miller points with pride at a series of connected, modular buildings that were donated by the National Guard and now serve as the adult day care facility for PSNI. It’s a beehive of activity, serving more than 30 clients and offering activities that range from movement classes and exercise sessions to music, crafts and reading. The mood is convivial and the friends gathered there welcome visitors with an open spirit.

“We have a lot of fun and we meet a lot of wonderful people,” said Miller.

After the PSNI tour, she stands outside the adult day care entrance to chat with one of the clients spending part of his day there. It’s obvious she loves this work – a passion she comes by honestly, having previously spent 15 years working at a shelter workshop in Grass Valley, Calif.

“This has always been my happiness,” she said. “You can’t resist the joy of this work.”

Looping back around to The Cottage, the founder explained that the thrift store has eight distinctly themed rooms; each organized to feature a certain kind of merchandise.

“It’s a quality thrift store,” she said. “We don’t carry clothing and we don’t sell electronics or appliances.”

Everything else, it seems, is pretty well represented in the store. The parlor is filled with antiques, while the craft room is stocked with material and sewing patterns.

The kitchen has the sweet vibe of grandma’s farmhouse and looks every inch an actual, working kitchen. Don’t be fooled, because every drawer and cabinet is overflowing with cool, sometimes kitschy, kitchen items for sale.

A hallway known as the Man Cave contains a variety of items that defied more precise classification; the Shed is filled with gardening implements; the Dining Room features furniture, flatware and carefully chosen dishes. Upstairs, the Library is loaded with books – all of them at half-price on Fridays – and elsewhere the Kids’ Room features toys and games.

“The volunteers are so creative,” said Miller when asked how the various layouts come together. “What one doesn’t think of, another does.

“We have about 25 volunteers who work three-hour shifts at The Cottage,” she added. “That’s what has kept this place alive.”

Built in the early 1900s on land that was first used as an experimental farm by the University of Idaho, the sturdy, old home regularly attracts former residents who stop by to ramble around and share memories of living there. With more than a century under its belt, Miller suspects the structure also has its share of stories yet untold.

“It has its own, wonderful history,” she said. “If these walls could talk.”

The Cottage anniversary will be held throughout the day this Saturday, May 25, at 1410 N. Boyer, in Sandpoint. The thrift store will be offering special discounts and selling raffle tickets for gift certificates during the event.

For more information about The Cottage or to inquire about volunteering, call 208-255-7800.

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