Karen Nicola: 'Littles' still a part of her life

You may not often see Karen Nicola in the ReStore, but she’s there, working hard four days each week. She’s kept busy in the Washington County ReStore warehouse pricing "littles’"- hardware and basically anything that isn’t large like furniture. That’s a whole lot of inventory to cycle through!

Karen has a lot of experience with “littles.” She taught second and fourth grade students at Lenox Elementary School in Hillsboro for 35 years before retiring three years ago.

Originally from Hood River, Karen studied at Portland State then Lewis and Clark before doing her first student teaching in the Parkrose School District.

“When I started teaching there were 18 [students in a class] in the fourth grade. When I retired I had 32,” she said.

You can plainly see that Karen loved teaching, but in recent years there had been a shift in expectations and some of the joy left behind.

“We couldn’t integrate different subjects anymore,” she explained. “When you read a story, why not get up and dance it or paint it or sing it? No, there’s writing to do, there’s comprehension to do. It had taken all the fun out.” She still volunteers at Lenox one day each week.

It was through a friend that Karen discovered The ReStore.

“He talked about the wonderful things that came in, and I thought, well, I need to check it out,” Karen recalls. “When I came here there was popcorn, Alex [former store manager Alex Bertolucci] had his big dog laying by the front door. There was music playing. I thought this is where I need to be.”

Karen has been volunteering at the Washington County ReStore for two years. Some days she trains other volunteers, letting them shadow her through the store, other times she works on special projects for ReStore Manager Brieana Weaver— like painting signs, organizing and sorting merchandise, planting or upcycling terrariums from old light fixtures.

Some days can be a challenge. “You pull out a box of I-don’t-know-what-this-is, and hunt for somebody that can tell you what exactly it’s a part of,” Karen says.

The best part? “Oh my gosh, the people!” she exclaims. “The people are great, and their stories are fascinating. And I have to know their stories, I just have to. I’ve talked to some of the nicest people. We have recurring clients that come in to shop, and to talk to them and to find out their stories…just fascinating!”

Twice a year Karen takes a vaca away from The ReStore life. She boards a plane with her daughter and heads to Paris, France for two weeks. It’s a tradition she devised based on her grandmother’s travels.

“I have her letters from 1957 when they went to Paris,” Karen explains. “She talked a lot about what she saw and the history. And I found a spot where we can rent the same little apartment every time!”

Karen describes the locale in the 12th arrondissement in Vincennes across the street from a castle that King Henry once used as a hunting lodge.< /p>  

Favorite Paris traditions:
  • Sitting in a little corner cafe across from Notre Dame and ordering an expensive and wonderful cafe Crème and a croissant (naturally!) while you people-watch
  • Walking the Seine when all the booksellers are open
  • Shopping the 350+ antique and second-hand dealers at the annual  Antiquités Brocante on the Place de la Bastille each May
Advice for Paris travelers:
  • Don’t talk in the metro
  • Don’t carry on conversations on the street (“It just doesn’t happen!”)
Advice for someone thinking of volunteering at The ReStore:

“Oh, gosh, do it! Absolutely do it!” Karen exclaims. “You’re so welcome and you know is such a nice family, too. Everybody helps everybody, and cares about everybody. It’s a great family!”
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