Sprouting hope

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Posted Thu, Oct 14, 2010

DENVER – Jossy Eyre, a retired social worker and a volunteer at a homeless shelter, purchased $500 worth of beans. With those beans, she created “10 Bean Soup” and employed two homeless women to sell it locally.   Over the course of the year, over 50 packages of the soup were sold in the Denver area.

The year was 1989.

Twenty years later, Eyre’s plan to help women break the cycle of poverty and become self- sufficient is now a growing social enterprise having sold over 10,000 packages last year alone.  The “Women’s Bean Project” now has an annual operating budget of close to $2 million and on average employs 60 women a year.   The Project currently sells handmade designer jewelry, cornbread mix, cookie and brownie mix, jelly beans, chocolate covered espresso beans, various dips, salsa mixes, spice rubs, instant ice tea, organic fair trade coffee, chili, and of course, 10 Bean Soup. 

Seventy  percent of the Women’s Bean Project budget comes from sales, the other 30 percent from donations and grants. The numbers correlate with the amount of time the employees spend working says development director Diana Lachiondo.  Employees spend 70 percent of their 40-hour workweeks making jewelry or at the bean production line, and 30 percent of their time in life skills classes taught by volunteers.  The life skills classes are designed to increase employability and self -confidence, and also to help women identify and locate basic needs resources.

Money management, health promotion, goal setting, job search techniques and resume preparation are a few kinds of the classes that are taught. An employment case manager also works directly with each employee to help with job placement.  Lachiondo says that there is a mind shift that occurs with the women in the program.  “[For the women] it’s not am I going to work, it where am I going to work.”  Lachiondo says.

Employment at the Women’s Bean Project is not just a job. It’s a 6-month program. The latest group of women hired was from an applicant pool of 300. Qualified applicants are chronically unemployed or low income women who are drug free and willing to work hard for change. The hiring process is a hard multi-step process. Lachiondo describes it as “squishy.” At the Project, four out of  five                                                               women don’t get hired because of business restraints. The jewelry line, with over 25 styles of bracelets, necklaces, and earrings, was launched last year in October as another way to employ women.
             Lachiondo explains that if the company were to receive a large grant, it would not be used to hire more women, but instead to expand the business. Employing more women is the goal, but ensuring that the business can sustain increased employment is vital.

   “We don’t hire women to sell beans, we sell beans to hire women,” Lachiondo says. 

six months, the women graduate from the program, get a certificate, and go out to find a long term job.  A call back program has recently been implemented to help the company keep tabs on the graduates.  Lachiondo says it has been successful due to the $50 incentive they provide.  

The Project is such a successful model for a social enterprise, that Lachiondo receives calls from people around the country who want to start their own bean projects.

Women’s Bean Project products are sold nationally. King Soopers was the first grocery store to sell them in 1993.  The products, which can be purchased individually or in gift baskets, and gift packages, are available for purchase in almost all 50 states, online, and at their head quarters at the old Fire Station No. 10 at 3201 Curtis Street, across the street from Curtis Park.

Fundraising and volunteer opportunities are offered by the Project, and tours are available from 12 p.m. to 1p.m. the first Friday of every month.

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