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Colo. Project Teaches Job, Life Skills to Help Women Combat Poverty

Armed with $500 worth of beans, two women founded a non-profit group in Denver to empower impoverished women by teaching them workplace skills and providing jobs to the chronically homeless and unemployed. Spencer Michels reports.

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  • SPENCER MICHELS:

    With few skills or options, she was sent here by social services to the Women's Bean Project, a unique job-training program in Denver, Colorado.

  • ROSE ROBINSON:

    That was my last resort, because it's a place where women that can't find jobs and, when they hired me, you know, I did cry, because I felt good.

  • SPENCER MICHELS:

    Now in its 20th year, the program employs 40 women each year who have been chronically unemployed and living in poverty. They make and package products such as soup, brownie mix, jelly beans, and salsas that are available in grocery stores in 40 states and over the Internet.

    TAMARA RYAN, executive director, Women's Bean Project: So what we're trying to do is make the basket seem overflowing.

  • SPENCER MICHELS:

    But it's not the food that makes this program a complete package, says executive director Tamara Ryan.

  • TAMARA RYAN:

    We're not trying to make the best bean soup makers of America. What we're trying to do is create an environment where we can teach basic job readiness skills, the idea that you have to come to work every day, and on time, and manage conflict in the workplace, and dress appropriately, and take direction.

    But then also we find that that alone isn't what helps women become successful. They're lacking basic life skills — problem-solving, goal-setting, the ability to, when your child care falls apart, to fix that and then continue to go to work.

    And then, also, about 60 percent of the time when a woman comes here for a job, she's homeless. So she has to — we have to help her find regular housing.