By: AIF Staff
In 2023, the American Idea Foundation provided grants and support to 7 amazing organizations that are making a difference in their communities through evidence-based programs and strategies aimed at reducing poverty and promoting opportunity. One of those organizations is the Women’s Bean Project, located in Denver, Colorado.
The Women’s Bean Project started with one relentless volunteer, Jossy Eyre, who recognized a need in her community and who possessed an innovative and determined spirit. In 1989, Jossy observed that homeless shelters in Colorado were providing temporary housing for women in-need, but they lacked programs and services to help women turn their lives around. So, Jossy went out and bought $500 worth of beans, gave these women a job of turning beans into soup, and then sold it commercially. With that simple act, the Women’s Bean Project was born.
Because of Jossy’s leadership and determination, the $500 purchase of beans has grown into a nationally-recognized program which has helped over 1,000 women change the trajectory of their lives. In the 35 years since its founding, the Women’s Bean Project never lost sight of Jossy’s founding principle: It is possible to change women’s lives by providing a pathway to self-sufficiency through work.
The approach of the Women’s Bean Project is straightforward: Participants – many of whom are battling substance abuse, chronic employment, or reentering society following interactions with the criminal justice system — complete a 6-9 month vocational and educational program.
This program utilizes a wrap-around care model whereby the women complete 60 hours of classroom work with instruction on topics like financial literacy, computer skills, and dressing for success. The Women’s Bean Project also offers supplemental courses on health and wellness practices, navigating workplaces, and job-coaching to assist those trying to regain a foothold in the workforce. This accounts for 30% of the women’s time and the other 70% is spent working on the production, packaging, shipping, and other processes required to manufacture the food products produced by the Women’s Bean’s project. These women are paid for their time and effort in the program and upon graduation, the women receive a full-time job as a production assistant in the Women’s Bean Project’s food manufacturing business.
From its humble beginnings in 1989, the Women’s Bean Project has grown substantially and it now sells products in 1,000 stores nationwide. Equally impressive, the products made by the Women’s Bean Project generated over $2 million in revenue last year.
The anecdotal stories of success are backed up by the Women’s Bean Project’s internal data: Their historic employment rate is 92% and the average wage for graduates is nearly $15 per hour. Of those who complete the post-program survey, 95% report having remained employed (and not re-incarcerated) a year after the program.
The Women’s Bean Project has found an innovative and sustainable way to help chronically employed women achieve self-respect and long-term success. They are providing a heavy battery of services and combining it with practical work experience, and it’s having a massive impact in people’s lives. As the Women’s Bean Project looks to develop additional evidence in support of their wrap-around service model, the American Idea Foundation is proud to partner with an organization with such a rich history and impressive track-record of success.