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Charity & Thrift Store Centre Peace Helping Incarcerated

A few gas stations and houses populate Benner Pike heading into Bellefonte.

To the right, there’s a Sheetz and a Rutter’s. To the left, there’s a Giant grocery store. An Amish furniture store sits a little further down the road.

Then, blending in with the storefronts sits a two-story building with a red roof. Turning into the parking lot, a sign points those wishing to donate goods down a driveway toward the back of the building. Those driving down Benner Pike to make a purchase turn to the left, where they’re greeted by an assortment of chairs placed in front of see-through garage doors.

Upon entering the shop, a room full of enough couches and furniture to fill a dozen houses sits to the left while several tables and a single squat rack sit in the room to the right.

The store serves as the headquarters for Centre Peace, a thrift store and charity that serves the incarcerated at the Centre County Correctional Facility, a jail just down the road from Centre Peace.

The model of Centre Peace is unique but simple: take in donations in the forms of household items, sell the donations at a little under half of the market price, and then put the money from the profits toward various charitable causes benefiting the incarcerated and formerly incarcerated of Centre County.

Initially, Centre Peace started as a yard sale 30 years ago. Now, the store services anyone searching for discount furniture.

The charity is run by Barbara Squires, its executive director, who took over it after years of working with a drug and alcohol rehab center, a mental health facility, and an emergency medical training organization. Its staff is wide-ranging, including around 45 volunteers and a handful of paid employees.

Centre Peace also employs a various number of “trainees,” formerly incarcerated folks the charity hires for a short period to give the trainees a chance to have a job while they put their lives back together after their jail sentence. In 2023, Squires said Centre Peace employed more than 30 trainees.

Trainees spend 90 days with Centre Peace, manning the store. Squires said Centre Peace doesn’t have an exact methodology for following what happens to trainees after they leave the store. However, she said she felt that Centre Peace is “100% successful with 100% of the people that want to change.”

“Sometimes we’ve invested in somebody, and then we find out that they’ve been re-incarcerated and we feel like we have failed,” Squires said. “But…sometimes the system has failed.”

Oftentimes, Squires said, she and the staff become attached to the trainees who work at Centre Peace and treat them like family. It’s sad when somebody leaves the shop but it’s like a family reunion when they come back to visit.

Centre Peace also does plenty more than just employ formerly incarcerated people — it provides resources to people currently in and just leaving jail.

The charity takes in people serving time at the correctional facility for them to work for store credit. It will also supply them with money, car rides, gasoline, and even pre-paid cell phones if needed once they leave jail.

All of what Centre Peace does is to give those it takes care of a second chance. Squires said she isn’t worried about what somebody did in their past, just about how the charity can work to secure their future.

“If they make a mistake, it’s not a failure unless you don’t try again,” Squires said. “That, to me, is the importance, is helping them understand we all make mistakes, some of us on grander scales, but nobody makes it through life without making mistakes.”

Centre Peace also teaches classes to inmates, some of whom latch on to what they learn. Woodworking classes aren’t uncommon, and Squires said one participant is using what they learned with Centre Peace and turning it into a business.

The charity will also set up current inmates with pen pals, get children to write Christmas cards to jails, and write birthday wishes to individuals on death row. It gives classes on leadership and financial literacy and teaches people leaving prison how to follow any orders given to them by a judge. Anything that an inmate needs when they get out of jail, Centre Peace will try to provide it.

The goal of Centre Peace isn’t just to help formerly and currently incarcerated people directly, Squires said. She believes the reach of the charity stretches deep into communities and families.

“Have we been successful if we’ve changed one life? It’s not really one life,” Squires said. “It’s their mom and dad. It’s their kids. It’s their potential future employer. It’s their neighbors. It’s their aunt and their uncle and their kids, and the importance is just making a difference in one life.”

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About the Author

Joe Lister

Joe is a junior journalism major at Penn State and an associate editor at Onward State. He covers Penn State football and enjoys yelling on Twitter about Philadelphia/Penn State sports. He also listens to Mac Miller more than you. If you want to find him, Joe's usually watching soccer with his shirt off or at the gym with his shirt on. Please send all positive affirmations and/or hate mail toward him on Twitter (iamjoelister) or via email ([email protected]).

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