Participant Spotlight: Sherri Thornton, Women’s Bean Project

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Sometimes the past stays in the past – and sometimes it follows you. Sherri Thornton, a 2011 Women’s Bean Project graduate, knows that your past stays with you, but with hard work and perseverance one can achieve despite those setbacks.

Sherri moved to Colorado from Texas in 2009 in order to be close to family. She hoped to gain employment as a Certified Nurse’s Assistant as she had in her home state. However, she was unable to land a job because of felony records that were more than 20 years old. Sherri came to Women’s Bean Project in May of 2010 and quickly established herself as a hard worker and leader on the production floor. She worked tirelessly to re-establish herself and and set a goal to regain her CNA license in the state of Colorado. With the support of our generous donors, Women’s Bean Project was able to pay for Sherri to go to CNA school and gave her continuous employment while she worked toward this goal.

“Sherri has been a great example for other program participants. She has modeled our philosophy of doing anything we can to help women who are willing to help themselves,” says Bob Macdonald, Program Director.

Now, Sherri has set new goals for herself and her children. She wants to eventually open up a group home for people with disabilities, like her son Rashad. As for advice for new program participants, Sherri says, “If you have a positive outlook and do what you need to do to change your life, the Women’s Bean Project will help you achieve your goals.”


(Sherri’s story was originally told in the newsletter of the Women’s Bean Project, Beanstalk. Since 1989, the Women’s Bean Project has been helping women break the cycle of poverty and unemployment. They are a nonprofit organization that teaches job readiness and life skills for entry-level jobs through employment in gourmet food production and handmade jewelry manufacturing businesses.)

Chicago Lighthouse Profile: Rita McCabe

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She estimates that she has made nearly one million clocks.

One of her proudest moments was presenting her mom with one of those clocks that has lasted more than 25 years.

She has been quoted nationally about her work in the Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times.

Meet Rita McCabe, one of the employees on the assembly line at Lighthouse Industries, a program of The Chicago Lighthouse that holds the official contract for manufacturing clocks for the U.S. government.  Indeed, clocks made at the Lighthouse are displayed in federal offices across the country and around the globe.

A native of Minnesota, Rita, who is totally blind, first came to the Lighthouse in the mid 70s while a member of the Salvation Army.  She joined the agency in 1979 and has been an employee there ever since.

“I enjoy my job,” she smiles.  “I appreciate being able to support myself plus have an opportunity to work with so many wonderful people!”

Rita goes about her daily tasks with much precision a she assembles the clock from components that include the body, movement, dial, hour and minute hands.  She assembles clocks of various sizes and styles, and then places the sub-assembly on the assembly line where the remaining components are assembled.  The end product is fully tested for accuracy, boxed and shipped to destinations far and wide.

In a given year, the Lighthouse, which will celebrate its 105th anniversary in 2011, manufactures between 160,000 and 200,000 clocks per year.

For employees like Rita, this program has provided steady employment at a time when people who are blind cope with a jobless rate that hovers near 70%.

“She is a fantastic member of our team,” states Jean Claude Kappler, vice president of Lighthouse Industries who oversees the clock-making operation.

“Like so many of our employees who are blind or visually impaired, Rita has a strong work ethic and brings a craftsmanship-like quality to her job.”

He adds that the quality of Lighthouse clocks is one of the reasons the program has been able to thrive for the past 30 years.

When Rita checks out of the factory for the day, she turns her attention to her other interests including volunteer work at her church and rooting for her favorite teams, the Minnesota Vikings, Dallas Cowboys and her beloved Chicago White Sox.

A resident of the city’s south side, she makes no bones about being a big White Sox fan.

Asked about her resolutions for the coming new year, Rita responds with a chuckle, “I never make resolutions because I know I can’t keep them!”

Though, she looks forward to making even more clocks in 2011.

Cristiana’s Story

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During the Motivation Show, Helping Hand Rewards founder Michael Arkes had the opportunity to give a presentation on the benefits of corporate social responsibility for business growth. As part of that presentation, a program participant from Bright Endeavors named Cristiana was able to get up and talk about how her experience with Bright Endeavors (an HHR partner) helped her turn her life around.

The video below is part of that story. Part presentation and part interview. It’s definitely worth taking five minutes out of your day for!


Greyston Bakery Featured on Good Morning America

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This morning, one of our own partners got a national shout-out thanks to the people at Good Morning America.

As part of their “Countdown to Christmas” series, the theme for today was gifts that gave back. Each set of items featured products whose sales ultimately contributed to either a charity or other social good initiative. What was the first set of products shown in the segment? Do-Goodie brownies from our friends at Greyston Bakery.

The segment explains how Greyston Bakery doesn’t hire people to bake brownies but instead bake brownies to hire people. Greyston employs homeless, recently incarcerated or other impoverished individuals to help make the brownies in their factory. This business model uses the profits to help teach theses individuals job and life skills in order that they may experience a more sustainable lifestyle.

Want to see the Good Morning America clip? Click here or simply follow the link below for the full segment!

Women’s Bean Project Gives New Hope To Those In Need

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Helping Hand Rewards partner Women’s Bean Project (based in Denver, CO) has recently released a new catalog that shows how the organization is spreading their interests…and helping more people in the process. Through sales of items that primarily consist of beans, soup and cookie mixes, Women’s Bean Project helps aid their mission:

“Our mission is to change women’s lives by providing stepping-stones to self-sufficiency through social enterprise. Our goal is to change the world at large by helping women in the program see themselves and their world in a whole new way. They are women who have made the choice to change their lives.”

Part of the new catalog involves two new initiatives. The first being the organization’s expansion into school

Pearls of Wisdom necklace from WBP

fundraising programs. WBP helps track all web orders and offers 35% of all sales to the organizations using their fundraising services. It’s an initiative that not only helps fundraising efforts but also serves the dual purpose of helping women in WBP’s organization.

Women’s Bean is also expanding their catalog assortment from simply homemade food products to jewelry. They are working in conjunction with female jewelry designers to help employ even more women and change even more lives, helping these women learn more life and job-readiness skills to move toward self-sufficiency.

Learn more about Women’s Bean by visiting our site here or directly at their home website

How Mary Fisher’s ABATAKA Program Changed Tamanya’s Life

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Tamanya Luhana was barely 20 years old when she was raped and became pregnant. She says police didn’t believe her and some relatives didn’t support her. But her mother helped her learn to love her baby girl, Twambo, born in 1998 – and then, within months, her mother was dead, and her father not long after. Tamanya was left to care for her five younger siblings as well as her baby.

After the rape, Tamanya says, “I never felt that I mattered” – until she fell in love with Kegwin, the man she married in 2002. “I didn’t have knowledge of HIV so was not aware of the need to be tested,” she says now. “I got married with no testing” – and in two years of marriage she endured three miscarriages and one child dying at birth. In 2004, Kegwin died; after death, he was confirmed HIV-positive.

After Kegwin’s death, Tamanya says, his relatives took her money and property; she moved in with a sister. The next two years brought a tuberculosis diagnosis, treatment that left her still feeling ill – and, in 2006, a positive HIV test. When her sister left town and Tamanya became homeless, she sold family heirlooms – including her late father’s chairs – to get rent money. The windowless, one-room house she could afford flooded when it rained. Tamanya tried to stay on her antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) but often had no food to take them with, or to feed Twambo.

Since early 2007 when she learned to make jewelry, Tamanya says she has never had to skip a meal. She has money to support Twambo, who’s living with an aunt an hour from Lusaka so she can attend a good school. Tamanya says being part of The ABATAKA Collection project “makes me feel that I can live, that I can provide for my family – that I am able to do things without asking other people for help.” She works now as a peer educator, going into the community to counsel HIV-positive children. “I love the job,” she says – helping children ages 7-17 deal with their illness “and making them feel that they are loved.”

How the ABATAKA Collection is Helping One AIDS Victim Better Her Life

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Sometimes Florence is self-conscious: She did not attend school and cannot read, so on some ABATAKA Collection jewelry tags she writes different spellings for her name — Syachibe, Shachibe, or Siachibe.

But when Florence needs to be, she’s strong – as when she finally resolved what to do about being HIV-positive.

Their two daughters were ages one and four when Florence’s husband became very ill, despite the tuberculosis medicines she got for him at the clinic. One day as she picked up medicines, she talked with a counselor about HIV testing. Her husband refused, but she got tested – and then would not believe the diagnosis “positive.” She went to a second clinic, then a third, each time disbelieving the test results. Finally she agreed to get treatment, took home the antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) and showed them to her husband. He told her there was danger in taking them – and because he was more educated, she believed him. When Florence skipped her follow-up appointment, clinic counselors came to her home. She chased them away and the next day, she went to the clinic, dumped her unused medicines on the table and fled.

As Florence’s husband’s health declined, one of her daughters also became ill. Fearing she would get sick and be unable to care for family, Florence went to the clinic and pleaded: “I have come to get my drugs back.” Though her husband again objected, Florence started on the drugs. Her husband finally agreed to get tested and was scheduled to begin HIV treatment, but died before his appointment. As soon as Florence completed the traditional days of homebound mourning, she took her daughters to be tested; both had TB, and the elder girl also is HIV-positive.

Florence says that when she went to the HIV-positive support group and saw all the people living openly with HIV, “that’s where I started my happiness.” When her husband died, the family had very little. But with the money she earns making jewelry, she has repaired the family’s broken furniture, can pay the rent, and even is helping support her widowed mother.

Learning a bit more about Women’s Bean Project

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One of our domestic social enterprise partners is Women’s Bean Project. Located out in Denver Colorado, Women’s Bean helps homeless, recently incarcerated and other at-risk women develop job skills to better their lives and potentially break out of the poverty cycle they have been trapped in.

There are is another great Women’s Bean video found on our Helping Hand Rewards YouTube channel. It is a slightly more in-depth look at this great organization!

Another Artisan Story from Mary Fisher: Gertrude Banda

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When Gertrude Banda began making jewelry for The ABATAKA Collection project, she used her pay to buy medicine to ease her mother’s pain from cancer. Last year, her mother died, and Gertrude’s jewelry earnings paid for the funeral. The loss hit especially hard: Her mother had helped single-parent Gertrude raise the children she has taken in when others were unable to care for them.

“When my mother died, I started thinking it would be important to know my HIV status so I could plan for my health and my children’s future,” says Gertrude, 34. She rejoiced when her HIV test came back negative – and she is committed to being a “good helper” to her many relatives and friends who are HIV-positive. Gertrude cares for her two older sisters’ children, her own two children and an orphan she has taken in.

Gertrude got to know The ABATAKA Collection project through its artisans at Chikumbuso, a Lusaka-area community that’s a haven for widows, orphans and others touched by HIV/AIDS. The mothers and grandmothers at Chikumbuso pool some of their earnings to fund a school for the compound’s children; Gertrude is an instructor there, teaching a class of 50 first-graders. Gertrude wants to get further teacher training and is saving some of her pay for that — but for now, she is proud that her earnings pay school costs for the children she is raising, plus household expenses such as bedding and clothes.

Gertrude is convinced that “God is a God of miracles,” because much has happened in her life that she considers miraculous. “I never thought I could teach,” she says. “I never thought I could be a person that mattered. I never thought I would shake hands with a muzungu” (an African term for a white person) – and yet, she has hugged and danced and learned to bead with Mary Fisher and her assistants. With her fellow beaders, Gertrude believes it is “important to take time to listen to all the stories of people, because it will change your life.” She is grateful for how her earnings enable her to help not only her own family but others, both in The ABATAKA Collection project and beyond.

A New Video From TEK (and other YouTube Additions)

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Over at the Helping Hand Rewards YouTube channel, we’ve had a few recent additions!

In the last week we have added another participant testimonial story from The Enterprising Kitchen (shown above). In addition to the new story, we have also tagged several other videos from our partner organizations on our channel’s home page. There is a really good one for the Women’s Bean Project that you should definitely check out.

Click here to see our channel and what’s new!