Imagine a treasure chest full of all kinds of surprises — that’s Creations, a quaint gift shop in downtown Madison, CT selling a unique collection of items made by independent artisans from around the United States. Here, there’s something for everyone, all perfectly curated and beautifully displayed in a gallery-like setting. There are one-of-a-kind items at every turn, yet you’ll discover that the store’s hidden gem is its people.
Owned and operated by Vista Life Innovations, an organization dedicated to supporting adults on the autism spectrum and other neurological disabilities, this store celebrates uniqueness. Self-expression and just being “you” is embraced, whether you’re a Vista member employee on the Creations’ retail team, an artisan who’s making something different, or a child from the community creating something distinctly his/her own during a Kids’ Creations art class. Because of this, there’s a good vibe from the moment you walk through the door. Look around and you’ll not only see that amazing things are happening here, you’ll feel it.
Connor Wood, 25, is one of three Vista members who works at Creations. On Tuesdays, he works in the store and on the weekends he helps Elizabeth Borgnis, who teaches kids’ painting and mixed media classes. “I get the paint ready, refill paint, empty water buckets, set up easels, and clean up afterwards too,” says Wood, who previously was a receptionist at Vista’s Madison location.
When an opportunity for paid employment opened at the shop, Connor applied. “I knew he would be great for the job having already known him from his last position,” says Lisa Allen, store manager of Creations, where all proceeds support the programs and services of Vista. “Community interaction is so valuable. It’s important to integrate our world with their world. Many people don’t think about what happens when a child with special needs grows up. Where do they go? Who takes care of them? How can they test just how far their independence can take them while still having a safety net of supports?”
At Vista every member, like each unique and beautiful butterfly, undergoes his/her own metamorphosis to become their full self. “The organization does so much good in providing a supportive environment for each member to find their own personal success and independence,” notes Allen.
When she first came to Vista, Amanda Lawler, 24, was nervous. Now, she is confident, and Creations, where she’s worked for the past few years, has played a large role in her success story. “I’m building up my life skills,” she says. “It makes me feel great and I’m very proud of myself.”
“It’s the people who make the difference,” says Alan Winick, who sells Timepieces, precision tide clocks combined with a mechanically animated display that shows the local tide actually moving. “When you first enter the shop, there’s no indication that there is this wonderful tie to Vista. Once you meet the team, you see that there’s so much heart in it and you feel the community.”
“My tide clocks are in about 70 to 80 stores around the country,” continues Winick. “However, it was an honor and more special to be part of this shop’s fantastic collection once I found out who they were.”
The selection of items by the Creations team is determined based on a variety of factors. “There’s an application process,” says Allen. “The product has to be something unique that can’t be found in a big box store. We also want to align with artisans who have an impactful mission, a hopeful story or have overcome some kind of obstacle in their lives.”
For Winick, Creations found him at a New England Made Giftware & Specialty Food Show. A long-standing supplier, Timepieces are “the world’s most unusual tide clocks,” says its website. “They are very popular with customers because they are so different,” notes Allen.
Phil Gautreau sells his locally-sourced, repurposed cutting boards at Creations. After a successful career in healthcare management, he followed his passion and started his own woodworking business from his Brooklyn-based co-op wood studio.
“My creative process starts with sourcing the wood,” he says. “What makes this so gratifying is reimagining the wood, whether from a large tree limb or pieces of discarded floor planks from a residential renovation, and transforming it into an artistic and functional piece.”
Allen met him last winter at NY Now, a wholesale products and innovative designs tradeshow. “I walked into his booth and saw his beautiful work,” she says. “I gave him a business card and he called us after learning more about our mission.”
“I was excited about the store’s purpose to provide services to individuals with special needs and how it does so in a very innovative and embracing way,” says Gautreau, who was diagnosed with adult on-set epilepsy at the age of 25, yet keeps it well-controlled with medication. “I was brought up in a family where volunteering and providing special services to people is something that you just do as your own mission in life.”
As Gautreau carves away layers of wood to reveal the unique character in each of his designs, he’s happy to do his part in helping Creations celebrate each person’s uniqueness. His hope is that every person will take the challenge to stand up in making other people’s lives better.