Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Transitions programs examine program/enterprise options to teach marketable skills

the Inland Register

(From the July 5, 2007 edition of the Inland Register)

Sale of handcrafts and other items are just one possibility as the Transitions programs examine ways to teach marketable job skills to women. (IR photo from Catholic Charities)

The women of Transitions may be hanging out a shingle in a neighborhood near you soon.

Thanks in part to a planning grant from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), the low-income women served by Transitions – including the Women’s Hearth, Miryam’s House, and the Transitional Living Center – are moving forward with plans to open a bakery/café social enterprise business.

Dominican Sister Mary Rathert, who runs the Women’s Hearth, explained that this is part of an effort to shift perspective from social service to entrepreneurial projects that will increase the ability of the women who come to Transitions to move successfully into self-sustaining roles in the community. Such a vision is also in keeping with the philosophy and goals of the organization, she said.

A steering committee made up of women from all of Transitions’ programs decided to focus on training in the culinary arts, with a whole range of additional skills also required, from marketing and management to bookkeeping and serving. This model will recognize the different gifts and skills of each woman, maintaining a sense of community and nurturing relationships.

In addition to a bakery and café, the enterprise will also feature sale of the women’s original artwork and handcrafts.

Sister Mary visited similar social enterprise programs in Seattle and Denver that teach skills leading to permanent employment. In addition to job training and practical experience, the Transitions’ model would include job coaching, with individual attention, particularly for women dealing with mental illness or multiple barriers to self-sufficiency that prevent them from working a standard eight-hour shift. With a commitment of even 15 hours each week, Transitions’ bakery/café will give them the chance to earn money and stabilize their lives.

The Transitions’ plan is part of a national movement toward more social enterprise projects to assist marginalized people to gain marketable skills and work experience. Sister Mary acknowledged that the seeds of the idea were planted long ago by the City of Spokane’s Community Development office.

The $10,000 CCHD planning grant is intended to help Transitions create a successful business plan, culminating in a project that will eventually be able to sustain itself. Possible names and locations are still up in the air, although they envision opening the doors of a new bakery/café/art gallery sometime in 2008.

The greatest challenge, said Sister Mary, is bringing together the culture of social service with the culture of business. Business culture is needed to produce a high-quality product. The social service culture is needed in order to retain the spirit and philosophy of community and relationship.

For more information, contact Transitions at (509) 455-4249. For more information about the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, which is funded by an annual collection in the Spokane Diocese (taken this summer), call (509) 358-4273.

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