A Social Enterprise Helps Lift Young Moms out of Poverty

By Caitlin C. Schnur, Workforce Research and Policy Fellow, NTJN

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In honor of Mother’s Day, the National Transitional Jobs Network (NTJN) recently caught up with Bright Endeavors, a social enterprise that’s hard at work selling first-rate candles and bath products and changing young mothers’ lives. Bright Endeavors is a part of New Moms, Inc., a Chicago-based social service agency that helps adolescent mothers experiencing or at risk of homelessness move toward economic independence.  Employment is an essential part of this formula.

Through transitional jobs at Bright Endeavors, young women develop critical skills such as teamwork, leadership, and conflict management while working for a real business that is supported by sales revenue.  John Guido, Bright Endeavors’ Manager of Sales and Business Development, agrees that offering employment training in a social enterprise setting raises the stakes for staff and participants, but he’s confident Bright Endeavors’ young moms are on-track to succeed.  “Our participants continually amaze all of us at Bright Endeavors,” says John. “The steps they’re taking to improve their futures speak to the strength of the human spirit.”  Read on to learn more about this mom-friendly (and eco-friendly!) social enterprise that’s dedicated to transforming the lives of at-risk young women and their children.

NTJN: Bright Endeavors serves an especially vulnerable population—adolescent mothers experiencing or at high-risk of homelessness.  Why is it important that these young women receive employment training?  

John Guido: Our participants come from severely impoverished communities and have experienced a lot of challenges early on that can make it difficult to secure and retain employment.  For example, Bright Endeavors’ participants may have dropped out of high school at a young age, possibly as a result of a pregnancy, and may not have a GED.  Some of our participants have never had a job—they have no resume or professional support in their lives, and may have never seen anyone they’ve lived with model a positive relationship to work by getting up and going to a job each day.

It’s important that these young women receive employment training so that they can cultivate the skills necessary to choose and achieve professional and personal success.  Bright Endeavors works with our participants to help them develop a sense of responsibility, accountability, and the confidence necessary to secure quality employment and move into a life of independence and economic stability.

NTJN:
Why do you believe the transitional jobs model is an effective strategy for preparing at-risk young women to succeed in employment?

John Guido: The transitional jobs (TJ) model is effective for a variety of reasons.  With TJ, we’re able to create a real workplace for our participants while also being able to anticipate and address the challenges and obstacles our young women may face as they become ready for employment.  Using the TJ model, we have the ability to provide a lot of coaching and guidance on overcoming the barriers to employment that our population is likely to face, such as childcare issues.  Because Bright Endeavors is a real workplace, we can’t tolerate if our participants are consistently late because they don’t have reliable childcare.  At the same time, since we’re a TJ program, we’re going to help our participants find childcare and facilitate learning around the expectations of unsubsidized employers in regard to punctuality.  TJ lets us transform these types of employment barriers from cause for termination into a positive learning experience that will help our participants stay employed in the future.

NTJN: What strengths do your participants bring to their transitional jobs at Bright Endeavors?  Do you see any of these strengths as being unique to women or mothers?

John Guido:  Three of the top strengths that I see among the women at Bright Endeavors are motivation, humility, and resilience.  Of course I’m not saying that guys aren’t capable of having these strengths, but I do think that being a mother plays a role in cultivating these strengths.  Take motivation.  The majority of the young women that we serve are single mothers, and they are incredibly motivated to succeed in employment because they want to be able to provide for their children.  I think the type of motivation it takes to come to Bright Endeavors, to work hard on self-improvement, and to get a job is indicative of the strong bond between a mother and her children.  In fact, when we ask women what their long term goals are, many say that their dream is to own a home so that their kids can grow up in a safe space.  I really think these types of maternal goals drive our participants to succeed on a deep level.

NTJN: Bright Endeavors is a social enterprise, meaning that it’s a real business and that its sales revenue is used to support programming and place participants into quality, permanent employment.  What are the challenges and benefits of providing employment training through a social enterprise?

John Guido: As a social enterprise, we need to balance the relationship between being a sustainable business and providing quality programming to participants.  I think that can be a difficult balance for any social enterprise.   On the one hand, we know that driving up sales and revenues so that we can expand our business will create more opportunities to serve participants.  At the same time, we need to negotiate how we make business decisions because Bright Endeavors’ goal is not simply to generate sales but also to provide a space where young mothers can grow their skills and overcome barriers to employment.  That process isn’t always easy, and a part of Bright Endeavors’ role is to catch our participants when they stumble and to help them work through issues related to childcare, housing, or punctuality.  Aligning our business objectives with our social objectives is part of the classic give-and-take of any social enterprise.

As for benefits, I think that the social enterprise setting is fertile grounds for our participants to learn and use the skills we’re trying to impart, such as leadership, accountability, conflict management, and effective communication.  Because we’re a real business, participants learn and practice these skills in a real world, real time setting with real stakes.  For example, we do have very intense periods where we need to provide superior customer service—and if we are behind schedule, it falls on our participants to come through on behalf of Bright Endeavors and ramp up production.  Or, if someone ships back a product that doesn’t fit their standards, that’s a learning opportunity.  We’ll ask our participants, “What are the repercussions to our business if customers are dissatisfied with our product?  How do quality control issues impact our ability to serve future participants?”  Being a social enterprise definitely adds to the pressure that we put on participants—Bright Endeavors is their community, and the accountability to keep that community alive and thriving rests more with them than it does with us.

NTJN:
Mother’s Day is coming up on Sunday, May 11.  Any great Bright Endeavors gifts you can suggest for our readers?  

John Guido: Sure!  Our Dreambean Signature Glass is our hallmark product.  The Signature Glass is an 11 ounce soy candle housed in an elegant glass votive.  It comes in a gift box that tells Bright Endeavors’ story, has a picture our participants, and is signed by the participant who produced the candle.  I think it’s an amazing product and an amazing story.  There’s also our Dreambean Scent Suite, which includes an 8 ounce candle, soaking salts, and bath tea.  You can pick out whatever scent you want and try out all of these products in one gift set.  When you check out these two great gifts for your mom, remember that 100 percent of proceeds go back into Bright Endeavors’ programming for moms, too!

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About National Initiatives on Poverty & Economic Opportunity

Heartland Alliance’s National Initiatives on Poverty & Economic Opportunity is dedicated to ending chronic unemployment and poverty. We believe that every person deserves the opportunity to succeed in work and support themselves and their families. Through our field building, we provide support and guidance that fosters more effective and sustainable employment efforts. Our policy and advocacy work advances solutions to the systemic issues that drive chronic unemployment.

One response to “A Social Enterprise Helps Lift Young Moms out of Poverty”

  1. JobFavs.com says :

    insipiring interview indeed!

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