Made by Hand to Lend a HandSep 01, 2023 09:00AM ● By Nancy Hesser
Forget the temperature—autumn is just around the corner and as near as Blossburg, this year’s host to A Just Cause Arts and Crafts Show, September 9 and 10 at Island Park. This annual event offers a chance to enjoy a seasonal whiff of pumpkin-spiced candles, music in the air, and goodies to spare, not to mention pony rides for the youngsters, one-of-a-kind gifts for early holiday shoppers, and drawings. And who doesn’t welcome a chance to buy local? A Just Cause promises a pleasurable way to spend a late summer day, but there’s much more to it.
The brainchild of event planner and jewelry maker Barb Sargent, A Just Cause is a proven fundraiser for Partners In Progress, a nonprofit serving Tioga County teens and adults with physical and/or mental disabilities. Founded in 1997, PIP’s reach extends well beyond its Mansfield facility to include partnering businesses that share its goal “to eliminate barriers to employment and bridge the gap between job seekers with disabilities and the employers who want to hire them.”
Many know PIP through its local enterprises staffed with vocational trainees and employees in sheltered workshops. My Neighbor’s Closet, in Mansfield, serves as a handy donation center for items on one’s decluttering hit list. Shoppers with limited means, as well as incurable bargain hunters, can cull through an assortment of inexpensive (new and gently used) clothing, housewares, toys, books, and collectibles. Proceeds from the sales support PIP’s retail training program.
Even more Tioga residents and visitors may know PIP through Highland Chocolates, a nonprofit enterprise that operates a candy store in downtown Wellsboro and factory on Route 6 staffed by disabled employees. The Main Street store stocks a staggering selection of unique confections, including chocolates in innovative forms such as tree stumps, animals, motorcycles, and souvenir medallions. The factory accepts custom, corporate, and wholesale orders for its preservative-free chocolates, promoted as “handmade, hand packaged and hand labeled with great care and attention.” A widely recognized resource for fundraising initiatives, Highland Chocolates plays a significant role in A Just Cause Arts and Crafts Show.
While some of PIP’s initiatives catch the public’s attention, many of its success stories play out quietly behind the scenes, in private and group homes, where volunteers counsel individuals and help with household tasks such as shopping, meal planning, finances, and other activities meant to boost an individual’s independence. There are also those who work tirelessly as liaisons to other nonprofits, government agencies, advocacy groups, and employers to advance PIP’s goals.
For Barb, raising PIP’s profile springs from deep commitments. When she launched A Just Cause in 2018, she envisioned it as more than a platform for doing good by vending goods (although her inaugural event generated $3,000 for PIP). She imagined a community-wide event that would help exhibitors gain a feeling of personal involvement in PIP’s mission. A Just Cause commemorates her late father, Clifford M. Slater (1929-2012), who co-founded PIP to help individuals like his son Danny (diagnosed with Down syndrome) overcome barriers and lead fulfilling lives. Danny would eventually benefit from PIP’s vocational training and enjoy years of steady employment in the organization’s pipe-fitting facility.
While Barb remains brother Danny’s devoted pal and champion, her commitment touches other family members as well. She credits her son Steve for suggesting A Just Cause for the show’s title, and she sets siblings to work on some of the arrangements. The call to family is just one of countless steps—perhaps a thousand?—needed to put the show on the road.
In fact, preparing A Just Cause takes tasks to a new level. Imagine cutting up a thousand tiny squares from an enormous paper grid to make tickets for a mega drawing to take place at the show. The numbered squares are then delivered to Highland Chocolates and inserted between the double wrapping around each of the thousand goodies (this year, shortbread cookies) custom-crafted in the factory to support A Just Cause. The tickets, packaged with the treats, are sent to sponsoring businesses to sell. These distributors benefit from radio publicity citing them as PIP-supporting purchase points for the raffle tickets. Players can hope to net cash prizes ($101, $300, and $500), as well as various items provided by the exhibitors (including ten pieces of handcrafted jewelry from Barb’s own enterprise, Classy Glass). Follow-up drawings after the main raffle offer more chances to score a win.
If their number doesn’t come up after the lottery cookie is a long-gone scrumptious memory, visitors may purchase their own consolation prizes from a wide variety of exhibitors: Blossburg Company Store, KnitWits, Loomis Lane Trading, Gramps Tiny Trees, Yorkshire Meadows, Cornell Creations, Blackwell Crafts, Staggering Unicorn Winery, Dancing Heifer Art, and CBJ Collective, among others. In any case, visitors, volunteers, and exhibitors alike stand to come away with more than they imagined.
A Just Cause has continued to build on its initial success, generating donations and raising PIP’s profile in 2019 and 2022 (the show did not take place in 2020 or 2021 due to the pandemic). Barb describes the turnout and support at the previous events as “humbling.” At this year’s show as well, winners will far outnumber the tally of tickets taken, and the rewards will be lasting.
Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on September 9, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on September 10. Check for updates on Facebook or call (607) 425-5277.