Nurturing HOME Made Success
This story originally appeared in our fall edition of News from HOME.
Samuel, a resident of 1515 Fairmount Avenue, knits his brow in concentration as he lifts the newly crafted candle from its mold. As artisan instructor Patty Burns looks on, he inspects the craftsmanship—the smooth curves, the even colors, the well-placed wick. He breaks into a smile of pride. This one, he knows, is well done and will go for sale, earning him a well-deserved bit of income as well as a sense of accomplishment.
Employment and income are critical components in overcoming homelessness and poverty. They are also essential to human dignity and self-respect. From our earliest days, as the O in our names suggests, Project HOME has been committed to and worked to create Opportunities for Employment for our residents and community members. Our Employment Services program has had many permutations and initiatives over the years. We are now entering a promising new phase in our employment services.
This fall we are launching a more expansive, multifaceted Social Enterprise program. The goal of our Social Enterprise program is to create meaningful employment opportunities and occupational training for low-income and formerly homeless adults and teenagers. Through an informal workshop environment, residents will create handmade crafts at a self-directed pace, while supported by artisan volunteers, and art and sales staff. Residents earn income piecemeal by producing goods for sale online, as well as at Project HOME locations and events. The entrepreneurial spirit has long been alive in Project HOME.
Shortly after moving into 1515 Fairmount, we started two businesses, Back Home Café and Our Daily Threads Thrift Store. For a short time we operated a progressive bookstore and community center, Cornerstone Books. Our Harold A. Honickman Young Entrepreneur Program nurtures teens in small business skills. The Restroom Attendant program at the Free Library of Philadelphia is an innovative partnership, as is the HOME Page Café. But the impetus for a more full-fledged social enterprise program came during a visit to Los Angeles by several staff members. There, they learned from the community at Homeboy Industries, the nationally recognized program founded by Father Greg Boyle that has had tremendous success in providing employment to former gang members.
Our crew returned to Philadelphia filled with vision and excitement. In addition to the already existing Restroom Attendant program and HOME Page Cafe at the Free Library of Philadelphia, a key part of our social enterprises is the newly opened HOME Spun Resale Boutique, a “Fashionable Jobs Initiative” located at 1523 Fairmount Avenue. As we go to press, we are launching HOME Made products, a brand of handmade cards, jewelry, candles and soaps, created in workshops by residents.
Another very special HOME Made offering is “Sister Mary’s Sinfully Delicious Cranberry Sauce,” a seasonal relish, which residents will help in cooking, packaging, and selling during the holiday season. The social enterprise model we are developing represents a significant evolution in our employment services. We will have greater flexibility in providing jobs and training opportunities for residents who are initially lacking in employment-ready skills.
The “continuum” model—from piecework workshops to seasonal employment, to internships to full-time employment—creates possibilities for residents at different levels of employability, to both enter the system and move within it. The workshops are designed to allow residents to work at their own pace – those who are more ambitious and able can make more money crafting more items, others can work at a slower pace as needed. The workshops are fluid and resident-driven, accommodating those residents whose motivation and productivity increase or decrease over time.
Our hope is that we can tap the motivation of residents who will create their own products that are an expression of their skills as well as being income producing. “We are excited about this new direction,” said Scarlet McCahill, manager of our Social Enterprise. “We will be able to engage residents across a spectrum of confidence, skills for employability, and independence. The program aims to embrace and expand upon each person’s gifts and abilities by offering employment for a variety of skills and interests.”
"’I'm excited for a new experience,” says Darlene Allen, a resident of James Widener Ray Homes, who will work packing cranberry sauce. “I am proud that I have a little part-time job keeping me going. This is opening me up to new experiences. This is the first work I’ve had in five years.”
We have high hopes for this new direction for Project HOME, but like any business venture, it comes with risks. As with so much of our mission, the success of our new social enterprises depends in large part on our community of friends and supporters. You can support our residents by purchasing HOME Made products – an especially good idea with the upcoming holidays. (We can even make available large quantities of any of our products if your business wants to use them for holiday gifts.)
If you are a retailer, consider selling our products at your store. But for now we are certain that, with these new employment and income opportunities, the future will burn more brightly for many of our residents. Not unlike, say, the bright flame of a beautiful handmade artisan candle. For more information on our Social Enterprise program, contact Scarlet McCahill, 215-232-7272, ext. 3075 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks to many companies and persons who have played an important role in launching our new Social Enterprise initiatives: Janet and John Haas; Klehr, Harrison, Harvey and Branzburg, LLP; Di Bruno Brothers, New York & Florida; Sue and Natalie Darr; Kathe Scullion; Neil Patterson; Patty Burns; Shan Cerrone; John Connors; Chris Robinson; Bill Binder, President, Candlewic Company; and Amy Turk, Chief Program Officer, Downtown Women’s Center, Los Angeles.