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Secrets revealed: The Peachtree T-shirt secret keepers

11:32 AM, Jun 11, 2012   |    comments
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ATLANTA -- A khaki building in an Atlanta office park houses the city's best secret keepers.

"As soon as the T-shirts get here, we get started," vocational director Rachel Miller said.

She keeps a close eye on me as she tightly closed a door with windows covered in colorful paper. It's the hub of the big secret and the place where the AJC Peachtree Road Race T-shirts are folded into 63,000 plastic bags.

PHOTOS | Possible Peachtree T-shirt designs

The origin of the relationship between the Atlanta Track Club and Tools for Independence WORKS is a mystery. It's been going on for more than 20 years, and no one at either organization can remember how it all started. But they know it works.

Tools for Independence WORKS is a branch of Jewish Family Services, supporting 30,000 adults with disabilities every year.

"Typically, individuals with developmental disabilities have much higher rates of unemployment. It's about 80 percent," Eve Bogan, Director for Tools for Independence WORKS, said. "And this kind of project is really helping them get ready for work."

From Memorial Day all the way up to July 3, adults with disabilities will pack 63,000 T-shirts into plastic bags with other post-race paraphernalia.

"They work Monday through Friday," Miller said. "We do a time study, so they're paid on their production."

The bags are loaded into boxes, taken to a warehouse in an undisclosed location and will stay sealed until race morning.

The legacy of secrecy is passed down to every worker.

"They remind each other, don't talk about the shirts, don't talk about the shirts," Miller said. She admitted to me, she had seen the design for the 2012 Peachtree T-shirt, but would not share any details.

So I turned my attention to the other workers.

"We can't talk about what the shirts look like," Trevor Smith said. "And they told me not to, so I'm not going to."

"It has a design," Heather Porter told me. When she said "design", everyone in the room issued a loud "SHHH!" afraid she was giving away some vital information.

In fact, after all that questioning, the only descriptions I gleaned about the Peachtree T-shirt are that it has a "design", is "pretty", and "nice". Clearly, any real answers will come from that secret room with the door closed. But anytime a stranger is in the building, it remains tightly closed. They are extra vigilant with cameras around.

When one of the top-level secret keepers comes out of the room, I ask her. Andrea Taylor told me she likes the Peachtree job and considers all that packing fun.

"Can you tell me what's on the T-shirt?"

"No."

"What color is the T-shirt?"

"No."

"What is it like keeping this big ..."

She interrupts me with a big smile and a loud, "No! I can't tell you, I'm sorry!"

The secret of the T-shirt has become part of race traditions. And, here, the secret is safe with them.

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