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Julian Cavazos often found himself staring at a large building he loved, entranced.

First as a Mexican restaurant in the ‘90s, then as Boomerangs, and now, finally, he can call it his own: Wilton Collective, a work-study program part of his non-profit Julian’s Fountain of Youth.

Cavazos said he “always knew” he wanted to build a work-study program for LGBT teens to work.

“They get to see themselves within the workspace, from the top all the way down,” he said. “That to me was very, very important.”

Wilton Collective employs LGBT teens to train them for the workforce in a welcoming environment. It’s part learning about business and part learning about themselves.

“I would say the biggest way it's changed my perception is it made it so that I can understand what it's really like to have a passion to work somewhere,” Gage Sheffield, a student in the manager-in-training program, said.

On their first day of work, Sheffield strapped on a backpack vacuum cleaner to help dust off a chandelier before putting it together for the shop. They said they “didn’t know what to expect.”  As someone who was promoted to youth manager in November and then the manager-in-training in June, Sheffield embraces the Wilton Collective.

“It's kind of like the perfect first job,” they said.

Part of what makes the job “perfect” is the diversity in the store; Sheffield said their coworkers come from “completely different backgrounds.”

“Having a place like this, where you can come to work and you can just be who you are with no reservations about that,” Sheffield said. “It's something I don't think a lot of us expected.”

This welcoming atmosphere is exactly what Cavazos imagined when he first started the work-study program. He based it on a program in Louisville, KY for senior citizens and adapted it for LGBT teens. The Louisville program that helped him plan the work program was a thrift shop like Cavazos’ first work-study program, Julian’s Fountain of Treasures, also on Wilton Drive.

“I call it the collective because it's a collective of individuals that make this all happen and look the way it does,” Cavazos explained. “If we are ever in need of something, whatever that looks like, all I have to do is go on social media and ask, and it's here.”

Cavazos said Wilton Collective’s following on social media garners attention from people out of Florida, helping the collective receives donations from out-of-state supporters. Locally, Wilton Collective also is supported by its volunteers. Some volunteers, like Kyle Turner, see their work as an educational venture.

“White, privileged, older men have gotten very comfortable in their life and it's nice to see many of us stepping outside of our comfort zone to learn from our youth,” Turner said. “They get to learn from us, and we get to learn from them to be better older citizens of the United States.”

Ultimately, all parties involved — including patrons of the store — gain or give knowledge at Wilton Collective.

“Even if [patrons] don't buy or spend a dime, they're supporting [the safe space] by coming in and interacting,” Cavazos said. “Everyone that walks through the door has the opportunity to teach.”

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