In early 2014, Alice Nichols, our rector at Grace Church, was exploring what outreach project we might develop that would be different from anything already being done well by other churches and would also address needs in our community that are most devastating and difficult to address. Her belief was that poverty (23.3%) and unemployment were those particular needs in our area. The idea of creating a Social Enterprise (SE) arose, an SE being a non-profit business established only for the purpose of benefiting those served. A group from Grace Church visited the Thistle Farms program in Nashville and became very enthused about the possibility of emulating that program.
In July of 2014, Grace acquired an assistant priest, Benjamin Hart, who had recently graduated from seminary and could be with us for two years, at most. We were fortunate to find out that he had an undergraduate degree in in printmaking and was expert in screen-printing. We quickly acquired the basic equipment to set up a print shop, which he designed, and, with the help of volunteers, produced several Christmas cards, which were easily marketed and sold, mostly locally. This was followed by the development of other original hand-made quality products such as candles using recycled wine bottles, jewelry-making (using the expertise of a master jewelry maker), and large array of greeting cards.
In September 2014, we had our first annual Picnic at the Labyrinth--our largest yearly fundraiser for GraceWorks--with hosts for tables inviting friends and providing delicious food, and musical entertainment provided by local musicians. It was a great success, and we were very encouraged. Shortly after that, several, several members attended the Thistle Farms Convention in Nashville and were more enthused about the potential for GraceWorks. We also participated in the annual entrepreneurial competition through the Chamber of Commerce. We were not winners, but our preparation (business plan, etc.) was very helpful process to go through.
The GraceWorks mission statement is: "Providing jobs and hope for those in need." The population to be served includes persons who struggle to find and maintain employment due to diagnosed disability conditions such as PTSD, substance abuse, autism, learning disabilities, depression, lack of basic education, court system troubles, homelessness and growing up in poverty. GraceWorks is not residential program as persons come and go each day, facilitating their development of skills to real life transitioning in their home community. They learn job skills as they produce the handmade items in a safe and supportive working environment and obtain part-time employment with GraceWorks. In 2015 the first part-time employee was hired. This was a young woman with three children who was homeless.
In 2016 we hired a second part-time employee, a young man diagnosed with Autism and various other developmental issues. Referrals for participants in Grace Works come from the salvation Army, Sanctuary, Grace and Mercy, and other community programs. the goal of GraceWorks is to grow from these initial participants to FIFTY over the next few years. Poverty and unemployment continue to plague our community and we believe GraceWorks has the potential to successfully address these issues.