Spreading Holiday Cheer…HHR Style

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What is one way to spread cheer through the holiday season? How about giving a gift that also gives back to someone else?

This year we are producing a socially responsible greeting card selection. Instead of giving a standard corporate gift, our cards allow the recipient to choose which gift they want. Each card has a selection of gifts that the recipient chooses from for redemption. They then fill out a corresponding response card selecting their gift and simply mailing in what they want. Pretty simple right?

The great part about this is not the simplicity of the process. It’s what the process helps.

Each gift is produced by one of our partner social enterprise groups. The products and profits made from each of these groups goes to help someone in need with job training, life skills training, and better life sustainability for those caught up in a poverty and/or prison cycle. See more about our partners here.

It’s really neat to see how someone’s normal gift giving can be used in a socially responsible purpose. Learn more!

A Dreambean Saturday Afternoon

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Drinks. Cookies. A live pianist. Of course it wouldn’t be a Bright Endeavors open house without its large assortment of Dreambean candles out on display.

Recycled Bottle Candles

This past Saturday, Bright Endeavors opened its doors  to the public showcasing their great variety of candles handmade by women in their program. For those who may not already know, Bright Endeavors is a nonprofit social enterprise committed to helping inner city, homeless and at-risk young women, between the ages of 16 – 25, gain the necessary skills to become self-sufficient, successful adults. The money made from producing candles goes towards life and job skills training to help improve the self-sufficiency of these women.

Sure the candles help support a great cause but there are also some great ideas behind the candles!

One selection offered by Bright Endeavors were candles made in recycled wine, beer and soda bottles. Each candle was made with a soy wax inside of the bottom halves of these recycled bottles. The soy wax is water soluble so once you are finished with the candle, you can wash out the glass and use it as a drinking glass. Talk about recyclable!

Flower Pot Candles

While on the topic of recyclable goods, one other candle promoted green usage. These candles were held in flower pots made from recycled rice hulls. Not only were the pots made from something recyclable but after the candle was finished, they could be used as normal flower pots. If you chose to throw it away instead, the pots were completely bio-degradable, which also made it that much more green-friendly.

As a result of the open house, Bright Endeavors sold enough product to support 90 hours of quality training and mentoring for their homeless/at-risk women. It was a Saturday afternoon well spent.

Check out Bright Endeavors at www.brightendeavors.org or follow @brightendeavors on Twitter!

Cecilia’s Story: Divine Chocolate

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Cecilia’s Story

[tweetmeme] My name is Cecilia Appianim. I am 47 years old. I have three kids. One female, two male. My village is Asemtem in the Central Region. Fair Trade has helped us a lot. Because of Fair Trade, women can come out boldly and take part in Ceciliaevery event. Before it was not like that. Before we would stay at home and watch the men. And we would work with our husbands and they would take the money, put it in their pockets, and when it came time to buy food or pay school fees they would say the money is gone. But Kuapa has opened our eyes to see that everything should be 50-50. So if a man has one vote a woman has one as well. If the men come together to make a decision then the women are there to take part as well. So now we are empowered and the men they can not cheat us again. Today, as I am here, I am the national finance secretary of Kuapa Kokoo and also I am a village recorder. I buy the cocoa in my village. I show the farmers how much they will get paid, check their beans to make sure they are fine quality, and I make sure they know that the scale is free and they are not being cheated. I am the first woman in my village to be a recorder. When I was elected only the men ran against men. But now that I am the recorder more people bring their cocoa to Kuapa because I tell the women and they tell their husbands and the women know how much Kuapa does for them so they bring us their cocoa. Also because of Fair Trade we have some many projects for women. We make soap, tshirts, batik, we grow other food stuffs and sell in the market and then put some money into the credit union for hardship times or to pay our children’s school fees. My appeal to the women in the US is to support Fair Trade and to support Divine. Then we can get more premium to do even more projects for women in Ghana.”

From a Cardboard Shack to a Sustainable Life: Dona’s Story

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Dona

Dona’s Story: World of Good Inc

Dona, a lively, energetic woman, becomes solemn as she begins her story. Tears melt into her weathered face as she talks about her five children and abusive husband.

With very little income, her family lived in a makeshift cardboard shack on the streets in the Zona Roja. She was unable to work and was reliant on her alcoholic husband to bring home food for her family. On numerous occasions, she found herself lying awake at night, hungry because her husband never came home and fearful that once he did come home, she would have to take her children and flee to avoid his abuse.

One morning, Dona awoke to find her daughter sick and needing immediate medical attention. She had heard of a free clinic in the Zona Roja run by a non-profit called UPAVIM or “United for a Better Life,” and immediately set out on foot in search for help.

While waiting for her daughter at the clinic, Dona learned of a program at UPAVIM that employed women to produce fair trade crafts for the local and export markets. As the woman from UPAVIM rattled off all the services provided to the members of the cooperative, including childcare and education for their children, hope slowly started to flow through Dona’s tired and desperate heart. She knew that UPAVIM was her only escape.

After completing 32 hours of required volunteer service, Dona’s membership into UPAVIM was accepted. She started working for their crafts program and immediately her life began to change. With her new found income, Dona was able to free herself from her dependency on her violent and unreliable husband. She became the sole provider for her family and was able to break the cycle of hunger and abuse, which had plagued her children since birth. Today, in her sixties, Dona lives in a cinderblock house near the UPAVIM headquarters. Through her work, Dona has been able to provide her children with an education so that they may further their lives. One of her daughters has decided to follow in her footsteps and is being trained on craft production. Dona spends her free time helping Angela, UPAVIM’s craft director, maintain her rooftop garden.

She is proud of her accomplishments and even though it has been years since she lived on the streets, she still becomes emotional when she shares her story with others. I am inspired by Dona’s courage and determination.

She is just one of hundreds of thousands of Guatemalan women faced with the constant threats of poverty, domestic abuse and hunger. UPAVIM in partnership with World of Good, Inc. provides a way out of this cycle of poverty for thousands of women in Guatemala City.

Established in 1988, today the cooperative has nearly 70 members; their craft sales, soymilk production and newly developed internet center support a dental and medical clinic, pharmacy, as well as tutoring, alternative learning, day-care and nutrition centers, all on site. UPAVIM is an outstanding example of what a community can accomplish and is making sustainable and influential changes where Guatemala City needs it most.

World of Good has been partnering with UPAVIM since 2007 to transform the lives of women in Guatemala City by offering them consistent orders and financial stability.header_logo

Michelle’s Story: Women’s Bean Project

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As seen in earlier posts, the true stories of the people involved with our partner organizations reminds us why we make the effort to do business with these social enterprises. The following story is from Michelle, a woman who was able to make a positive turnaround in her life with help from Women’s Bean Project, one of our partner groups.

Michelle’s Story

I lost my mom when I was 17. I managed to at least graduate from high school living on my own. But my older brother introduced me to drugs. I was in and out of jail starting at 18 because of criminal acts and abusive relationships. For 16 years I felt alone. I was distant from my family because of my drug use.

I was married in 2004. My husband had melanoma cancer and it was his dying wish to be married. We were only married 3 months when he died. Other than losing my mother that was the most painful thing I had ever been through. After he passed away, I was working as a personal care provider but that wasn’t enough money to pay the bills. So I started selling crack cocaine. In 2005 I was arrested and went back to jail.

A year ago, I completed probation. I never really had figured out what I wanted to do with my life. I didn’t have any Michellegoals. I became pregnant with my first child. I was 37. I decided I needed to be a mother and to find a career that would support me and my son. I didn’t want to be a mother on welfare.

My son was 3 weeks old when I applied for the Bean Project in February of 2008. They called me in July to come in for an interview. I finally figured out that there was a chance for me to have work skills and a goal for long term employment.

After the interview I was on pins and needles. I didn’t wait to be called, I called the Bean Project the next day! I was so excited when they said, yes you are hired. I hadn’t worked for 3 years.

I came and was willing to learn all the skills and the production line because I was so eager to have a job. I’ve learned you have to be organized in your life. You have to have a schedule and you have to be compatible. The Women’s Bean Project is a wonderful opportunity for women to learn skills, stability and flexibility. I feel extremely lucky to be a part of the program.

When I leave the Bean Project, I would like to pursue a career in the grocery business. I worked at King Soopers years ago and had a great experience. I would also like to get my CNA license because I have a passion for helping people. And may some day get a CDL and drive a truck.

My family is back in my life. My sister is more accepting of me now that I am clean and sober. And of course they love my son. I want to thank my coworkers here, the staff and the organization. I wish we could open a bigger facility for more women to have an opportunity to be a part of Women’s Bean Project and gain all of the knowledge and skills that I have been able to receive.

I thank the Women’s Bean Project for giving me an opportunity!

(This story, along with others, can also be found at our home website. Check it out here!)

Social Responsibility at the Motivation Show

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A Snapshot of the Helping Hand Rewards Booth
A Snapshot of the Helping Hand Rewards Booth

To most attendees, the Motivation Show saw a decrease in attendance and overall size. For us at Helping Hand Rewards, it was quite the opposite.

The HHR booth at last year’s Motivation Show displayed six partners in a 40×10 space. However, this year’s show saw nine partners all having their own individual displays shared in a 60×10 booth space.

It’s safe to say that we’ve grown a bit in a year.

The show was more than just an excuse to taste test Greyston Bakery’s brownies, WHOWomen’s fruitcake, Divine Chocolate’s samples and Women’s Bean Project’s chocolate covered coffee beans. With a larger megaphone this year, we were able to meet several new people and talk with them about social responsibility in our industry. It was great seeing how several show participants knew of some of our partner organizations and had even done some sort of business with them. Many other people we spoke with were also engaged with other organizations outside of ours that also worked towards some sort of social purpose or socially responsible goal.IMG_0113

The show also provided a great opportunity for representatives from all of our partner organizations to connect personally. Many of us had only made contact via email or Twitter, so three days of interaction at the show and at the HHR dinner on Tuesday night gave us all a chance to connect, share ideas, and genuinely enjoy the week!

All nine of our partner organizations all have different social purposes and missions. They all seek to fill a need in whatever capacity they are able to reach. However, the main underlying goal with all of our partner organizations (and HHR of course) is to do business in such a way that makes our world a better place to live in by helping others.

Social Enterprise: What is it?

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[youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dMOxfW5bLK8]

The term “social enterprise” is becoming an ever popular buzz word in the world of social responsibility gurus and aspiring world changers.

What exactly is a social enterprise?

Many individuals group social enterprises in the same cluster as non-profit organizations. While it is true that many social enterprises operate under a non-profit status, many more are actually generating revenue. Social enterprises are becoming an increasingly popular business model and provide more financial flexibility for doing good than a traditional non-profit model.

So what separates a for-profit social enterprise from any other money making company?

One huge difference…and this may be a shocker…social entrepreneurs aren’t necessarily in it for the money. They design a business model to make profits but aren’t obligated to serve the interest of share holders or investors looking for a large ROI. Most social enterprise groups reinvest those profits into their business or into the community around them. For example, Helping Hand Rewards partners like Greyston Bakery, Bright Endeavors and The Enterprising Kitchen use the profits generated from their products to teach life skills training, job skills training, and help find more permanent employment situations for individuals in their programs.

In a nutshell, social enterprises are fulfilling a need. According to an article in the Telegraph:

 “Wherever there is a social or environmental need, social enterprises will be working on solutions- whether that’s saving the local village post office or shop, tackling global warming, combating homelessness or providing better health and social care services.”

For-profit social enterprises believe that being a competitive and profitable business is the best methodology for attaining socially responsible goals. What do you think?

Ending the Prison Cycle with Social Enterprises

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Social enterprises

After an individual has paid their debt to society, all there’s left to do is get a job and get on with life, right? Sounds easy enough.

Then how come so many people who’ve been to prison once keep going back?

Some may be surprised by this but as it turns out around 60% of employers, upon initial consideration would not hire an individual released from prison or jail. This doesn’t bode well for recent inmates in a time when even those with college degrees and unscathed backgrounds are having trouble finding employment. In California, between 60-80% of parolees were still unemployed after a release from prison and over 89% of parole violators were unemployed at the time. Just in California the annual cost of re-incarcerating individuals on parole is around $2 billion. Not million, BILLION. That’s a solid chunk of change to have to do something over again. Reincarcerating individuals is costing us all a lot of money. It seems to me that employment would solve a lot of these problems and cut costs. But where to begin?

This is where social enterprises come in. Several social enterprises will focus on hiring those who have recently come out of incarceration, teach them job and some life skills during employment, so eventually they will become more “hire-able” to other employers, ultimately be able to create more sustainable lives for themselves and break the prison cycle. The state of New York is a big proponent of this, using social enterprises to cut down the number of inmates by 9,000 over the last ten years and cutting re-incarceration rates by 40% (while inmate populations in most other states continue to increase).

Helping Hand Rewards partner The Enterprising Kitchen (TEK) is a social enterprise with the same sort of mission as the ones mentioned above. They give recently incarcerated women employment opportunities while teaching them job/life skills and producing high quality soap and spa products along the way.

Among individuals interviewed two years after hire into a social enterprise, 74% were working and 12 percent more were in vocational education. Just as many people have stayed out of jail through social enterprise employment as people going back into prison while being unemployed. Corporations and individuals can support these causes by doing business with these different social enterprises. For example, an individual can purchase soap and spa products from a company like TEK, brownies from Greyston Bakery, or even eco-friendly candles from Bright Endeavors. Corporations can use these social enterprise groups when assembling corporate gifts to clients and/or employees. Most of these types of items are purchased normally, why not do it and help someone in need along the way?

Doing business with these companies and supporting their efforts keeps everything growing and helps break this costly prison cycle. Can you think of any social enterprises like these in your area?

WHOWomen: Heather’s Story

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Apricot Fruitcake

Helping Hand Rewards partner Women Helping Other Women has been aiding women in making better lives for themselves. The North Carolina-based company offers a variety of gourmet holiday cakes, special order gift baskets and other products made by women eager for a new opportunity. While under the employ of WHOWomen, women learn life skills that will better enable them to build new lives. Profits generated go back to the community in the form of scholarships for women who may otherwise find it difficult to finance an education.  Scholarships are awarded to women who come to work in the bakery who want to improve their life and the lives of their children or to high school graduating young ladies who may not otherwise be able to attend college.

One of the best things about social enterprises is seeing how they change people’s lives. The following is the story of a woman named Heather, whose life was truly changed as a result of her time with WHOWomen.

 Heather’s Story

“I was born the youngest of three into a abusive and alcoholic home. The saving force for us children was our grandmother Clara Wilson. She taught us to survive in a hard world with love and the example of her life. I was nine years old when my parents divorced and my sister and I went to live with our mother. By the time I was fourteen I was on my own working and paying bills. I lived with friends until at sixteen I found out my mother had given birth to my little brother, Thomas. She intended to give him up for adoption, but I couldn’t see giving away my little brother. My older brother, sister and I were very close growing up and Thomas was one of us. I moved back in with my mother, worked full time and cared for Thomas. At nineteen I couldn’t live with my mother any longer so Thomas and I got our first home. I was married at twenty-one and lived peacefully for six years. In 1999 I developed cancer and underwent six months of chemotherapy. At the end of the chemo I began having severe headaches and a brain tumor was discovered. I had surgery in January of 2000, then another six months of recovery time.

During this year I lost my brother to my mother and my marriage to adultery. I worked as a restaurant manager for four years and assumed I would never have children of my own. HeatherHowever, in 2004 I discovered I was pregnant! I was excited, but scared because it was the pregnancy hormone that had made the tumor grow to a dangerous size. I made it through the pregnancy without any major problems and gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, Hollie Clara named after my grandmother. I tried to make things work with her father but he became abusive and I couldn’t put Hollie through the pain that I had gone through, so with a bag of clothes and $20 we came to Burnsville N.C. to the women’s shelter. My strength and self esteem was gone and I didn’t know how I was going to care for myself and my daughter.

The Lord led me to WHO WOMEN and they gave me a chance that I couldn’t see at the time. I cried almost every day for a month and Mat James (the founder of WHO WOMEN) gave me a shoulder to cry on, but after a month she showed me that the time for tears was over and the time to begin building my new life was at hand. WHO WOMEN provided me with transportation to work and school where I got my GED. I was able to get enough money for a car and enough to get our own apartment. I however didn’t have enough to pay the deposit on electric service. WHO WOMEN came through yet again with a loan of the $200.00 which was paid back in installments.

I worked in the kitchen of WHO WOMEN for four months baking, packaging, and shipping the wonderful products all around the country. I was given the responsibility of working food shows with Earthfare, managing the kitchen, and shipments which helped me regain my confidence.

My job with WHO WOMEN was a seasonal one and with the encouragement I received, I was able to get a job with a local grocery store as the produce manager. In the last year I have helped to increase sales by nearly fifty percent, and have received all the bonuses available. WHO WOMEN, however, was not out of my life. They honored me with their first scholarship to begin a degree in computer technology. The scholarship included a computer which I never could have afforded on my own. I now have a bright future to look forward to and more importantly, my daughter has opportunities that I never had.

The love and support I have received from WHO WOMEN has not only taught me the meaning of giving to others who need a helping hand, but this experience has taught my daughter the same lesson of love. I now look for ways to give back whenever I can I still work with WHO WOMEN in any way they need, I also serve on the Board of Directors of the Family Violence Coalition, and recently donated fourteen inches of my hair to Locks of Love. I was taught as a child by my grandmother that even though life can be cold and cruel, sometimes it is the people with the strength of love in their hearts that bring the warmth back to those that need it the most. Through certain hardships that I have faced I almost forgot that important lesson, but the wonderful women at WHO WOMEN have reminded me of it by the example of their lives and unwavering devotion to all those who come in contact with them.”

(This story, along with others, can also be found at our home website. Check it out here!)

Harry Potter and the Fair Trade Chocolate

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Harry Potter Chocolate Frogs

The title of this blog isn’t likely to become the title of a new post-addition to the Harry Potter series. However, what does the world’s most famous wizard this side of Merlin and chocolate have in common?

The Harry Potter name, along with books and movies, is branded on countless forms of merchandise including chocolate frogs, fudge flies, and cockroach clusters (treats also used in the stories). Chocolate used in these merchandise items most likely comes from Africa’s Ivory Coast, the epicenter of a large debate over fair trade chocolate. The company producing the chocolate for these Harry Potter items is part of the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF), an organization who’s mission statement includes “promotes a sustainable cocoa economy through economic and social development and environmental conservation in cocoa growing communities.” It sounds like a great organization, however other large brands associated with this foundation have pending lawsuits involving child labor laws.

So how can Harry Potter help improve Fair Trade practices in the chocolate industry?

Using its astronomically huge fan base, Harry Potter fans have formed a group called “The Harry Potter Alliance” that is using that fan base to promote social change. One change is the usage of Fair Trade chocolates within the merchandising efforts of the Harry Potter brand. The theory is that if enough voices are raised (and there are plenty of voices in the Harry Potter fandom) that real social change could be enacted.

A good example of a company involved in the fair trade of chocolate is Helping Hand Rewards partner Divine Chocolate. The mission of Divine Chocolate is to improve the livelihood of smallholder cocoa producers in West Africa by establishing their own  chocolate brand, putting farmers higher up the value chain. These cocoa farmers receive a Fair Trade price for their cocoa and use that money to be able to reinvest in their own communities. Divine Chocolate also seeks to raise awareness of Fair Trade issues to retailers and consumers of all types. 

Can Harry wave his wand and help increase Fair Trade practices even further? What do you think?