A Year of Economic Growth
The U.S. economy is still in the doldrums, and the job market is frustratingly stingy for millions of Americans needing work and income. For those on the bottom rung of the economic ladder, prospects are slim. But Project HOME has sought innovative solutions to create work opportunities for our residents– and our own mini-economy is flourishing.
A year ago, we launched a new initiative, our Social Enterprise Program. Building on the success of our HOME Page Café at the Parkway Branch of the Free Library, which started in 2008, the Social Enterprise Program now comprises a group of five small businesses designed to employ residents in a supportive environment. Each enterprise provides an opportunity for residents to access self-esteem and empowerment through an encouraging community, skill-building,and earned income.
In addition to the Café, in September 2013 we opened the HOME Spun Resale Boutique as a retail business that sells new and like-new high-quality designer men’s and women’s apparel at affordable prices. At the same time, we launched the new HOME Made gift line, in which residents earn income making and selling hand-made products, such as candles, jewelry, cards, and soap. We have also incorporated our Art Program into Social Enterprise, so that the amazing beauty created by our resident artists also provides outlets for income.
“We didn’t know what to expect,” says Social Enterpriseprogram manager Scarlett McCahill, reflecting on the launch of the program a year ago. But the program has far exceeded expectations. Almost 90 residentshave participated in Social Enterprise, tapping new-found skills and self-worth in addition to income.
We have engaged more than 100 volunteers and technical advisors, who have supported us in a range of ways, from artisans helping in the workshops to business consultants and marketers. Among our important partners has been Drexel University,through its Lebow College of Business and its Westphal School of Design and Merchandising.
It hasn’t been without its growing pains. We have had to develop greater business acumen, including quality control, efficiency in production, managing stock, as well as working together as a team of staff, residents, and volunteers. In the spring, the resident workshops were able to fulfill an order for 3,000 candles for Project HOME’s 25th Anniversary gala. Through that success , we feel we are positioned for important growth by managing large-scale custom orders for special events. (Let us know if you have any interest or leads!)
One particularly exciting development in our rookie year was the evolution of resident leadership.
It was not uncommon at the beginning for residents to come into social enterprise with much uncertainty and timidity about their capacity. But over time, many of them have not only manifested great skills, they have taken over quality control measures and engaged in peer-to-peer coaching with other residents . We have created a new position, HOME Made Workshop Leader, which is rotated monthly among resident participants. Kate’s Place resident Orlando Cumming has been involved in candle making, and sees the value of the Social Enterprise program. He sees the program as a stepping stone, both for himself and others.
“It helps people develop skills, learn to work with others, and eventually get jobs.” In fact, Orlando himself has been accepted this fall to move into our Employment Services Internship Program. Going into its seventh year at the Parkway Branch of the Free Library, the HOME Page Café continues to thrive and grow. The past year has seen new offerings, including ice cream, healthier and more locally sourced menu options, and expanded catering. (Be sure and think of using the HOME Page Café for your catering needs!) Meanwhile,the Library Restroom Attendant program, which was started as a partnership between Project HOME and the Free Library in 2005, currently employs nine of our residents at the same Parkway branch.
Our HOME Spun Resale Boutique recently celebrated its first birthday with a big bash and a fashion show. And there was much to celebrate – sales were successful in the first year, and resident employees were growing in their skills and confidence. HOME Spun is primed for growth,with an eye to greater online presence, including marketing through eBay and Etsy.
Already, the staff is gearing up for the holiday season, including rolling out another batch of the much sought-after “Sister Mary’s Sinfully Delicious Cranberry Sauce,” which sold out quickly last year. And they are considering new possibilities for growth and new challenges in the future. The goal will always be to create good jobs and income opportunities for residents in ways that are financially solvent. At Project HOME, we believe in and work for an economy where there is a place for everyone.
With your support, we are creating places in the economy for many people who for too long have been economic refugee s in a society that deems some of its citizens disposable. When you see one of the beautiful candles created by a resident in our HOME Made workshops, you know that the light of a new society is shining.
Grateful thanks to Social Enterprise funders the Otto Haas Charitable Trust, Klehr Harrison HarveyBranzburg LLP, Bank of America, Pam Estadt and Ira Lubert. Learn more about our small businesses here.