Social Enterprise Businesses Take Flight
How can your gently used books, or clothing items make a difference in the life of someone you haven’t even met? Well, bring them to a store at 1523 Fairmount Avenue where you can leave your items, shop for something new, or purchase beautiful gifts made by Project HOME residents. If you’re wondering what this one-stop shop is, it was called HOME Spun Resale Boutique, but it’s being relaunched as Project HOME Thrift.
The thrift store, run by Project HOME for nearly a decade, is one of three social enterprise businesses. Your books will go to a newly established business venture called Project HOME Books - an online bookstore with an inventory of over 25,000 books for sale through Amazon and other online marketplaces. The beautiful smelling candles in the store are resident made, as is the artwork. Both are part of another social enterprise business called Project HOMEmade.
What’s a nonprofit doing running a business, let alone three? Well, part of Project HOME’s mission is to provide opportunities for employment. “Our social enterprise programs create community, income, and a steppingstone in recovery from homelessness,” said Barb Hadley, Vice President of Employment and Education. Right now, the various businesses have eight employees. Five more are brought on for the holidays. Last year they provided seven internship opportunities, and about fifty residents have earned income from candlemaking.
Kai Oceans is one staff member offering candle-making workshops for Project HOMEmade. “After being through the shelter system, it’s nice to have the stability of employment” said Kai. “But more importantly, I’ve seen residents bonding over this process.” Before COVID, residents would gather to craft candles with creative names like Pomp Up Your Life or When Life Gives You Lemons. Nowadays, Kai has been doing all that work himself and has picked up some new skills like the packaging and logistics of delivery. “Packing the products is truly a very intimate and important part of having a business and interacting with your clients,” said Kai. “What they open up and see will directly tie back to you.” It’s one of the things that has brought him a sense of normalcy during the pandemic.
Last year, Project HOMEmade received a huge boost of support from Philadelphia culinary giant, Di Bruno Bros. when they offered to redesign and sell their gift boxes. The boxes include mugs featuring resident artwork; specialty food items; a resident-made candle; beautiful stoneware coasters; and other products. The partnership tripled holiday sales for Project HOMEmade.
“Packing the products is truly a very intimate and important part of having a business and interacting with your clients,” said Kai. “What they open up and see will directly tie back to you.”
This year Di Bruno Bros. is working with the social enterprise team again to develop a mobile kiosk featuring Project HOME’s gifts and specially designed items as a partnership that can be placed in their stores and at other retail outlets across the city and state. “We are incredibly grateful to Di Bruno Bros. for lending their creative skills and expert retail knowledge to help us share our residents’ stories and talents with a larger audience,” said Nic Watson, Director of Social Enterprise. “These kiosks also provide Project HOME with an opportunity to educate the community about homelessness in Philadelphia and its solutions.”
When a resident is part of a social enterprise business, they can do their work within Project HOME surrounded by services, housing, medical care, and further educational opportunities. For David Brown, the Senior Sales Associate at Project HOME Thrift, it was the education piece that he needed the most. “Project HOME opened a door to the quality education I deserved and wasn’t able to access as a kid,” said David. “Now I’ve got all the tools I need.” Allen Turner, who works for Project HOME Books, also tapped into Project HOME’s educational resources at the Honickman Learning Center and Comcast Technology Labs (HLCCTL). He took some computer certification exams and once, after failing, Allen struggled. But an HLCCTL instructor encouraged him to keep fighting and said he believed in Allen. “And honestly,” said Allen, “that’s the first time anybody actually said that.”
That kind of support is integral to Project HOME and its Social Enterprise department. With that support, Allen’s leadership has blossomed. “Allen’s passion for the work, optimism, and dedication to finding solutions are key to the success that we’ve had in launching this business,” said Nic Watson.
Project HOME Books needs that kind of leadership because this newest social enterprise business has perhaps some of the most ambitious goals of the three ventures. It’s designed from the ground up to be scalable. “If we can maintain the stream of book donations at all times, then we can really take off and reach new heights,” said Barb Hadley. Project HOME Books aims to keep an inventory of at least 30,000 books, drawn entirely from donations. With that amount, the business can not only sustain itself, but it can grow to add more staff beyond the five employees it already has. “By sorting through the donations and selling the books online, we can get these books into the hands of book lovers, and the money from the sales supports jobs at Project HOME,” said Nic Watson. “It’s really a win for everyone!”
So, the next time you step into Project HOME Thrift with your clothing items or box of books to donate to Project HOME Books, and as you shop for gifts from Project HOMEmade, you’ll know just how much of an impact your donation or purchase can have on an entire community of residents at Project HOME.