As we look back on 2016, our hearts are filled with gratitude. The Lord has given us favor in so many ways as we help hurting women overcome the obstacles of poverty, abuse, unemployment and homelessness by providing spiritual guidance, work opportunities and training. We are thankful for our many customers and volunteers who give hope and a hand up to women in need.
American women are more likely than men to be poor. (See statistics, The Shriver Report 2014). Many of the roadblocks our women face seem insurmountable. For example, a $200 traffic fine may as well be $2,000 or $20,000 for someone with no job or resources. The fine may prevent her from getting a driver’s license which hinders her ability to find and keep a job because she can’t drive. More than likely, she doesn’t have reliable transportation either. Lack of stable, affordable housing is another issue for the poor. It’s no wonder to me that many people just give up and live a life of despair and desperation, always on the edge.
That’s where we, as Christians, intervene, as Christ intervened for us. James 2:15-17 tells us to combine our faith and actions to help those in need. Our view is a long one, discipling and teaching, so that our ministry grows up women who mirror the words of Paul in I Thessalonians 4:11-12. Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.
While our primary work emphasis has been the Christmas holiday season with our gift baskets, we are developing a strong Special Occasion business as well as corporate basket sales. We also have a small batch bakery that operates out of a certified, health inspected kitchen at Chef’s Workshop in Hoover. Our gourmet teacakes are sold at Pepper Place and Lee Branch Markets, and we have plans to expand our sales outlets. Currently we have five flavors — Brandied Apple Spice, Blueberry Citrus, Chocolate Gingerbread, Pumpkin, and Cranberry Orange Nut. The year 2016 was a year of learning the ropes of small batch baking and local markets.
We have partnered with several shelters over the years to provide jobs for their residents. Currently we are working with a local women’s shelter and Clerestory ministry and its Jobs for Life program. Clerestory provides a comprehensive approach to helping people get back on their feet by offering employment training, job opportunities, free legal services, cars and matching savings program for people who are hard to place because of addictions, poor job skills, spotty employment records, inappropriate work behavior and lack of motivation. We participated in their job preparation classes and have employed graduates of their classes.
In November of 2016 we began a 3 month pilot paid internship program at Community Presbyterian Church in Moody. The Church has been so warm and welcoming to us, and we appreciate their hospitality and generosity. The curriculum includes Bible Study, Basket Making, Employment Readiness Skills, Counseling, Smart Shopping, Healthy Living, Community Work, Baking and Inventory Processing for Ebay sales.
The program started with the focus on our Christmas Season basket orders. We’re now moving into other work opportunities to include a catering internship, ministry service, employment readiness and budgeting. The program is funded by donations, our small batch bakery and basket businesses. In addition, we are starting an Ebay business to generate additional income to support more paid internships.
Our long-term vision is a one-to-two year sheltered work program in a Christ-centered environment coupled with employment readiness classes, mentoring, group therapy and counseling. Many, if not most women coming out of traumatic situations cannot successfully transition into a full-time job without a strong support system and long-term supervision.
Going forward, we will continue to explore collaborations with other ministries who have a heart to help women in need. Our goal is to more effectively prepare women for a successful transition from darkness to light, from hopelessness to hope, from despair to victory. We are looking for partners who have the same foundation in Christ with a strong, spiritual component in their programs; who believe that work is essential to a person’s well being, and that a hand up rather than a hand out is most beneficial for those able to work.
We have exciting expansion plans for 2017. More to come later!