She's back; she's almost gone

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Hi granola friends,

April’s got the Blues first walked through the early morning Providence fog about 3 years ago, making her way along the East Side and over the Point street bridge, Friendship, Elmwood, then cutting over to Potters, and down Cranston.  She stopped in at a few coffee shops.  Then she was gone.  We never quite knew if she’d make it back through here again until the soulful Allysen Callery wrote a song about her.

Sure enough, a year later she ambled through again. She takes her time.  Still, you almost have to run to catch up. If you’re not a granola-of-the month subscriber you might not have known she stopped back in.  It wouldn’t be fair to say she’s shy.  Independent, certainly. A little surreptitious.  Maybe she just doesn’t need any of us.

I know I’ve been so caught up in the craziness of getting our new non-profit, Beautiful Day, started that I almost missed my chance to let you know.  But she’s been here.  As beautiful as ever, with even more of those bright California apricots complimenting her deep husky blues.

I confess I’m a little in love.

____

Speaking of our new non-profit, Ben Thorp (owner of Abyssinia restaurant) and I incorporated it at the end of last month, and have been figuring out legal structures and design.  We’ve now started the process of applying for tax-exempt status.

I’m enclosing part of an introduction to our business plan:

Vision: To mobilize refugee employment through on-the-job training and business incubation.

 Over the last six years, Keith Cooper and Ben Thorp have invested deeply in the lives of refugees settling in Providence.  As an employee at the International Institute of Rhode Island (RI’s primary resettlement agency), Keith coordinated and designed ESL, work-readiness, and welfare-to-work programs for refugees.  Ben’s entry point was housing, when he renovated rental property with the help of several Eritrean refugees and subsequently rented several apartments to other new-arrivals. Ultimately, both independently started small businesses:  The Providence Granola Project and Abyssinia Restaurant.

The journey towards business felt necessitated by a conviction that refugees bring and

are

great gifts to our community.  However, if refugees do not stabilize or integrate, those gifts can be lost.  Not surprisingly, the fundamental obstacles preventing refugees from becoming self-sufficient are employment related.  They need a way to make money and support families, confidence to apply for jobs, understanding of the job market, a way to get off welfare, a way to use hidden skills.  Ultimately, employment is key to integration as it provides refugees with the sense of pride and accomplishment that enables them to become active contributors to their adopted community.

Job opportunities for people who lack English, literacy, and are strangers to American culture and job market expectations are not plentiful, especially during a recession.  Even with wonderful job placement and education services for newly-arrived refugees, few businesses have a vision to employ or accommodate these needs.  Recognizing this gap gave Ben and Keith an idea:  what if Rhode Island’s great need—job creation—could align with refugees’ needs?  Then perhaps the most efficient way to make a positive difference would be to start businesses that hired refugees. 

By starting businesses with a mission to almost exclusively hire refugees, Keith and Ben made three important discoveries:  a) For-profit small businesses, especially those engaged with their local community, are positioned to make a dramatic impact in ways that are unavailable to non-profits focusing on social service and education; b) the cost efficiency of this impact is remarkably robust, particularly as it aligns business needs (such as sales, or demand for ethnic food) with refugee needs (such as building relationships with native born Americans); c) despite this efficiency and impact, small business cannot shoulder the costs of this mission on their own without damaging their competitive advantage.

You are sure to hear much more about it all.  In the meantime, don’t miss your chance to order April’s Got the Blues before we move on to May.

Yours,

Keith (and Geoff)

Ingredients: Oats (org), honey (pesticide-free from Aquidneck Island), apricots (CA sulphured), granulated cane juice), canola oil (org), coconut (org), sesame seeds (org), barley (org), cranberries (w/ sugar, safflower oil), almonds, oat bran (org), pecans, wheat germ, sunflower seeds (org), flax seeds (org), walnuts, dried blueberries (w/ sugar safflower oil), oat fiber, vanilla, cinnamon, sea salt, nutmeg, almond ext

ract.

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