Over the weekend before Thanksgiving, four women talked to potential customers about their handmade products at a Wallingford church festival.
Lisa pointed to mason jars filled with dry ingredients as she explained her cranberry hootycreeks cookie recipe. Susan showed another how her cuff wallets fit snugly on the wearer’s wrist. While Laura and Janis smiled as they talked about the dozens of earrings they crafted out of sterling silver, Venetian glass and freshwater pearls. (The women declined to share their last names.)
The tag on each product reads “made with hope, dreams and a vision for a new beginning by women emerging from their past and creating a better future.”
The women live at Jubilee Women’s Center and are there to rebuild their lives and gain stability. The center focuses on assisting women experiencing poverty. They’re taking part in the Chrysalis Project, a nine-month pilot program that began in January.
“It allows women experiencing homelessness to develop and market their own items for sale,” Lisa said. “It was a huge learning experience.”
Executive Director Cheryl Sesnon said the women staying at the center are on two tracks. One group is in school, looking for jobs or already working. Sesnon refers to the second group of women as being on the healing track. They face challenging barriers to gaining employment.
“The Chrysalis project came out of the thought, how do we offer something for the healing track women? Gets them out of their room and out of isolation,” Sesnon said. “That’s when the concept, well let’s create a place where they can make something and then sell it.”
In the first quarter, the women follow a curriculum that includes defining your business and showcasing your product. They work together to create a food product and at the end of the term sell it. In the second and third quarter, the women branch out and come up with their own ideas for a product to sell. Sesnon said the end goal is for the women to be productive, create and earn extra money.
“I had two sewing classes provided by Chrysalis. Then a lot of work on designing,” Susan said. “I’m still figuring things out like some materials I have people aren’t interested in. They seem to be liking heavier materials. They seem to be liking Seahawks colors.”
Susan used money from dog sitting and jury duty to buy a sewing machine for herself.
“Each of us have been able to fit our craft to our personality,” Lucy said. She makes “altered books,” which are similar to scrap books.
Jubilee provides the supplies and keeps 20 percent of the profit, which is reinvested back into the program. So far sales are going well for the ladies. At one festival, Susan sold 75 cuffs.
“I’m most proud of the teamwork that I’ve seen with the women,” Sesnon said. “Their ability to really support each other through it, work together, see themselves as a group that’s all committed to the same thing and on each other’s side.”
Sesnon said the unexpected benefit of the project is the level of confidence the women have gained.
“They have grown themselves and developed themselves so that they’re out there selling. Their skills and their confidence have skyrocketed,” Sesnon said. “The before and after is dramatic.”
The change the women have undergone mirrors the meaning of the term “chrysalis.” It’s the stage of growth when a pupa is turning into a butterfly.
With time and hard work it soon breaks free of its hard shell and begins to soar.