Giving Women a Hand Up

The women's bean project is celebrating 30 years of training women to enter, and succeed in, the job market.

Courtesy Women’s Bean Project

We all know that soup is good for the soul—the Denver-based Women’s Bean Project proves that it’s good for more than that. The organization, celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, hires chronically unemployed women to help it package soups and other culinary mixes. The goal: to get the women, who also receive training in job-related skills, permanently back into the working world. “We’re unique in that we are a sales-driven organization; it is through the sales of our products that we are able to hire women who are chronically unemployed and impoverished and teach them the skills they need to get employment,” says Tamra Ryan, CEO of Women’s Bean Project. “Even though we are 30 years old, we are nimble; we test new ideas constantly and listen to the women we serve to understand what they want and need.” What makes Ryan proudest is seeing her graduates living full lives—“like when I talk to a woman who graduated from the Bean Project years ago and she is now thriving, her children are thriving, and she wants nothing more than to find a way to give back, or when I meet a grown child of one of these women and the child tells me how the program totally changed her life.”

Photo by Frances Photography

Background

“The Women’s Bean Project was founded in 1989 by a woman named Jossy Eyre,” says Annie Carruthers, marketing and e-commerce manager. “Jossy was working at a women’s shelter in Denver and noticed that she would help these women get a job and move out of the shelter, but typically within a year or so, they’d be back at the shelter. She knew something was missing, so one winter, she took $500 of her own money and bought a bunch of beans. She employed three women that season to make what is still our 10 Bean Soup.”

How it works

“We hire women who are chronically unemployed, meaning they have not held a job for longer than a year in their entire life,” says Carruthers. “They have to be at least 21 years old. Our program manager has a conversation with each candidate asking them what they hope to get out of the program to make sure they’re a good fit. We’re working mostly with people who are in active recovery or are suffering from substance abuse. The women work on our production floor doing packaging or making mixes, in our retail store, and in our gift basket-making area. We produce more than 50 food products, from our original bean soups to baking mixes to popcorns and other treats. The women rotate into different jobs. They are paid minimum wage but part of the program involves time in a classroom learning a variety of skills like financial and computer literacy, résumé building, and job readiness.”

Who it helps

“At any given time, we have eight to 20 women working for us at our facility north of Curtis Park, which is a decommissioned firehouse; it’s a total of about 60 to 65 women a year,” Carruthers says. “Each works for six to nine months and then graduates to a job elsewhere. Ninety-three percent of the women who graduate are still employed a year later.”

How you can help

You can buy Women’s Bean Project products online (womensbeanproject.com/shop/, amazon. com, or walmart.com), at the retail store (3201 Curtis St.), as well as in Safeway, King Soopers, and Whole Foods in Colorado. An open house at the facility on Oct. 24 will be both a celebration of the 30-year anniversary and a fundraiser for the project

More info

Mark your calendars for an open house on Oct. 24 to celebrate the Women’s Bean Project’s 30th anniversary.

Women’s Bean Project
Fresh starts for unemployed women