St. Louis Park business, nonprofit celebrate a partnership

This may not be prime sunburn season in Minnesota, but the topic is still on the minds of workers associated with Partnership Resources Inc.

A Jan. 29 luncheon celebrated 10 years of a partnership between the Partnership Resources, which has offices in St. Louis Park and Minneapolis, and St. Louis Park-based Coolibar, a company that sells clothing with a high Ultraviolet Protection Factor rating designed to protect its wearers from sunburn and melanoma.

The partnership between Partnership Resources and Coolibar began about a decade ago when the two entities existed as neighbors two doors from each other in St. Louis Park. Partnership Resources arranges jobs for people with developmental disabilities while Coolibar needed employees to help process returned apparel as the company began to grow.

“They appreciated having diversity in their workforce,” said Terri Bauernfeind, program director for Partnership Resources. “They’re a supportive employer.”

Partnership Resources currently serves 235 clients with varying cognitive abilities at more than 50 job sites. In the early days of Coolibar, workers at the Partnership Resources building actually transported clothing protected from dust by bedsheets from the nonprofit’s St. Louis Park site to Coolibar’s 1,500-square-foot space via an alley.

Now, four to 10 employees associated with Partnership Resources help sort, steam clean and repackage returned merchandise in a carpeted section of a spacious 40,000-square-foot warehouse on Edgewood Avenue South. A job coach from Partnership Resources supervises their work for quality assurance.

“They’re really good workers,” said Tonka Bay resident John Barrow, the Australian-raised founder and president of Coolibar. “They do very good work and are very dedicated and concerned about the quality of what they’re doing.”

He said helping to provide jobs for individuals associated with Partnership Resources is one way in which Coolibar seeks to be a good corporate citizen. The aim, he said, is to help the individuals transition into the work environment, feel proud of their work and earn money so that they can have a better quality of life.

“We love having them here,” said Jennifer Annett, integrated marketing manager for Coolibar. “They bring a really positive attitude.”

Other employees backed up that assessment.

“I feel our system is pretty slick,” said Coolibar employee Azalea Fricke while demonstrating the company’s processes.

The team repackages up to 200 clothing items per day and about 20,000 merchandise returns annually. Fricke said the employees from Partnership Resources often help other Coolibar employees out.

“They are fantastic,” Fricke said. “They have to show us how to do it sometimes…. We’ll get through it, but their (clothing) is immaculate.”

Added longtime Coolibar employee Jan Henning, “We learn from them, too.”

Beth Amlicke, one of the Partnership Resources clients, confided that her favorite part of the job is the roasted decaffeinated coffee — though she added that the pay is a plus, too.

“Coolibar is a cool place to work,” she said. “I like the staff.”

Kathy Donahue and Cheng Yang have worked for Coolibar since Partnership Resources began its relationship with the company.

“I really like it here,” Donahue said during an enthusiastic conversation in which she showed off pictures of her with members of the Twins baseball team at TwinsFest.

She said she appreciated that many other Coolibar employees joined them for the party to celebrate the 10-year collaboration. She said she hoped the event helped make the other employees of the company happy.

Of her work, Donahue said, “It’s relaxing and you enjoy people here, and people really like us.”

The work is also vital for Partnership Resources’ clients, Bauernfeind said. Everyone wants to have a purpose and to perform meaningful work, she said.

“It’s important for people working here to do the best job they can,” Bauernfeind said.

To learn more about Partnership Resources and its partnerships between businesses and clients with developmental disabilities, visit partnershipresources.org.

To learn more about Coolibar – named for an Australian term for the shade-providing eucalyptus tree – and to learn about the company’s line of sun protective clothing, hats and swimwear, visit coolibar.com.

Contact Seth Rowe at seth.rowe@ecm-inc.com

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