I’ve always noticed opportunity in places that others tend to overlook. I love repurposing things that can be put together in new ways… like my Grandfather’s suede coat. It hung in my closet, much past its useful life and too big to wear, until I took it apart and used the suede pieces to make a bag.
Several years ago, I had the privilege of being involved in a job training program in a Federal Prison working to prepare inmates for employment after their release. I was amazed by the talent and capability of the individuals who were incarcerated. They had great potential for longterm success if their tenacity, creativity, and problem solving skills could be channeled in a positive direction.
Since that experience, I’ve been paying close attention to models that unearth the confidence and talent in people who feel defeated, and that help them find ways to succeed and believe in themselves. Several social enterprises inspired me to find a way to help people who need to move past their former lives and find new purpose.
First, I read about Brenda Palms Barber and the story of Sweet Beginnings and the beelove™ company. Brenda believes in second chances and created a way to employ people with a criminal record in inner city Chicago. She found that an apprenticeship model was necessary because that population was unlikely to seek a four year college education, so they needed a trade they could learn working alongside someone. Brenda has had great success and Sweet Beginnings has reduced the recidivism rate for their employees to below 4% compared to the national average of 65%*.
Next, I read about Catherine Hoke and the story of Defy Ventures. Catherine, a former venture capitalist, put her skills to work to create redemption stories through an MBA-like program for former felons with entrepreneurial potential. After completing their business training, they compete for funding to begin their own companies. Defy Ventures has also had great success and has reduced the recidivism rate for their clients to less than 5%.
My life changed in December of 2012 when I heard a women speak who was in recovery at the Hoving Home. Emily shared her story of addiction which began at 8 years old. She was from a broken home, her mother was ill, and Emily was taking care of herself and her mom. She was offered pot by a friend's 15 year old brother who thought it would be funny to get an 8 year old high. Within 10 years Emily was a homeless, IV drug addict.
Emily's story changed my judgmental perspective on addiction. I went from thinking people should just "be more responsible, stop sticking a needle in your arm, and get a job" to understanding that the story of addiction is always paired with significant pain and frequently trauma. Emily's addiction began at 8 years old, how could I have expected her story to go any other way?
I fell in love with the women doing the hard work and emotional labor of recovery at the Hoving Home. This program serves women whose lives have been shattered by their addictions to drugs and alcohol. But the women there have found hope! They are overcoming the realities of trauma, the pressures of life’s responsibilities, and the hopelessness of feeling beyond love. They are transforming the stories that pushed them to make choices that destroyed their lives and have decided that destruction won’t be the end of their story.
As the ideas were gathering in my mind about ways I could help contribute to the Hoving Home, a friend of mine fell ill with cancer. I could describe him as the physically strongest human being I ever met, but I’d rather describe him as the biggest hearted person I ever met. He himself was a story of redemption and he was working to build an organization to reach back and help kids at risk make better choices than he had. Jedidiah lost his battle with cancer, but I don’t think he lost his opportunity help others. His name means “beloved of God” and that became my reason.
Initially Unshattered was about fundraising for the Hoving Home. I was teaching the women how to sew, and we were selling handbags made from repurposed, upcycled materials like discarded fabrics and leather coats. It quickly became apparent that the women were learning job skills and gaining confidence. They felt good when they made something beautiful and someone purchased what they made. But then I started to recognize the challenge women had after completing the program. Often they were lacking job skills, an education, and most importantly a safe community to return home to.
In January, 2015, I left my corporate career to focus on Unshattered and we began providing 6 month apprenticeships, offering job skills training and a runway to help women in recovery become more employable. After awhile, I recognized that job readiness wasn't the main issue for women in recovery. Due to the fact that they didn't have savings, they couldn't move to a new community. They didn't have the money for a security deposit for an apartment and they didn't have transportation.
These barriers meant they couldn't access employment unless they went back to where they came from. They only support network they had was often a destructive one. Too many women were relapsing. Several women I knew overdosed and died. It became clear that the core issue was access to employment and so in 2016 Unshattered created full time jobs for women in recovery. Since then we have seen 100% of the women employed on our team choose to remain sober. It's been a beautiful journey of watching women succeed by giving them an environment that honors the had work they've already done to attain sobriety.
We're so glad to have your support. Thank you for investing in these women!
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