SEA’s storytelling initiative is all about individuals impacted by social enterprises across the United States, and how social enterprise can change lives.

Social enterprises work to create opportunity for all, develop the skills and abilities of underserved communities and create solutions to the world’s most intractable problems. By bringing social enterprises from all across the U.S. together, SEA hopes to shine a light on the collective impact that social enterprises have on people every day. Here are just a few of the stories of opportunity made possible by SEA members.

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    JoAnn

    TNB-Fitness
    JoAnn

    : “For some time, I’d noticed a decrease in my strength and mobility – physical things weren’t as easy to do as they once were. Also, as a heart attack survivor on a variety of medications, my cardiologist had recently recommended, as a result of my blood work results, the addition of another medication that I would self-inject daily – for the rest of my life. It was time for a lifestyle change. I learned of The New Beginnings Center from a Facebook friend, whose praise of the strength she gained piqued my interest. Since joining the program in fall of 2016, my unfavorable levels have dropped significantly, that new medication is no longer needed, I can do strenuous physical activities again, and as a super-bonus, my weight is down nearly 35 pounds! Aside from these measurable improvements, through this program I’ve learned to care for myself spiritually, mentally, and physically – AND gained a network of caring staff and wonderful, new friends.”

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    Story

    Ignacio

    The Lighthouse for the Blind, Inc.
    Ignacio

    : “When I was first diagnosed with the eye disease Macular Degeneration in my late twenties, I didn’t think much about how it would really affect my future. It’s a disease that deteriorates the center of the retina. Little by little, my eyesight diminished. Over time, I couldn’t read without magnification, I couldn’t drive, and tripped over obstacles when walking. I managed until age 50 when I found myself unemployed and facing the stigma against my age and vision. Determined to work, I attended a job fair where I learned about The Lighthouse for the Blind, Inc. in Seattle. They had a job opening for a Sales Clerk at one of their supply stores. My hope was renewed! With my sales background, I was a perfect fit. Their mission is to create job opportunities and independence for people who are blind. The mission means more than just a job. Working allows me support my family, my community, and gives meaning to my life. It helps me feel like I belong.” Ignacio, affectionately nicknamed “Nacho”, earned the prestigious Employee of the Year award from The Lighthouse for the Blind, Inc. He, along with other agency winners nationwide, will compete for the Peter J. Salmon Award presented at the annual National Industries for the Blind conference this fall.

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    Jill

    Project Return
    Jill

    : “At first, I didn’t want to get out.” That’s how Jill felt about being released from prison. Jill wanted her freedom, but she also recognized the challenges before her. After some further reflection, Jill left the prison determined and motivated to move forward. She didn’t wait long before coming to Project Return. “I had to do it for myself first,” Jill said. “But my daughter was always a top priority.” PROe – Project Return’s social enterprise – gave Jill the opportunity to get a job right away, contributing to the new beginning she was building for herself. After a few months, she was hired by Project Return’s employment partner onto their staff in a full-time position. “[PROe] made me realize that I’m capable,” Jill said. “I can do an honest day’s work, and it feels good.”

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    Story

    Beth

    Poverty & the Arts
    Beth

    : “When I started doing visual art, I started seeing the world for the first time instead of feeling like I was being watched or that everyone was looking at me. I’m a human sex trafficking survivor and a domestic violence survivor. Something heinous happened to me in 2013. Right now I’m working on this rag doll, which is giving me perspective on objectification, especially of women. This doll helps me to remember my body and myself as alive. Before, I didn’t believe I was seen as a person of agency, that I had an opinion, or experience, or even that I had an inner life, a life of the mind. So it makes me feel like a person of value and worth to see the thoughts from my head come to fruition in a visual and tactile sense, in something I can hold in my hand. I’ve done a lot of stitching and re-stitching on her, which is actually what rag dolls are for, in part: to work on your work. They’re easy to mend. Endlessly creating, endlessly created.” Beth is one of the artists at Poverty & the Arts, a creative community transforming homelessness in Nashville.

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    Story

    Brittany

    Civicorps
    Brittany

    : “Sometimes I think that when people look at me, all they can see is my tattoos. What they may not see is a driven young woman who wants to go to college and become a doctor so she can help others. As a child, I would play doctor all the time. One day my grandmother bought me a real stethoscope and for weeks I would go around listening to everyone’s heart beat. I dream of learning the secrets of the human body, but for years I kept my dream hidden because I was afraid that people might say I couldn’t do it. When I got to Civicorps, I finally felt like I had the courage to speak about my dreams. Nobody looked at me differently because of my tattoos. The teachers here pushed me to do my best – to chase my dreams. They believed in me. Now, I’m heading off to community college for a couple of years until I transfer to San Jose State University. After that, it’s on to medical school. Civicorps gave me the confidence to dream and provided me with the tools and opportunities I needed to chase my dream.”

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    Story

    Charlotte

    Women's Bean Project
    Charlotte

    : “My name is Charlotte and I am Women’s Bean Project. I come from a hard background. I was born a full blown heroin baby and was on Methadone until I was 8 years old. By about 10, I was off of Methadone and started smoking pot and drinking. That’s when my uncle began shooting me up with cocaine so that he and other family members could have power over me to do as they pleased. I never told anyone because telling could have your life taken from you, and giving myself up to them kept my younger sister and cousin from being hurt.

    At 11, I got involved with meth, which I’ve been on for the last 19 years. Today I am serving a 3 year sentence at a halfway house and have been sober for one year and two months. It’s hard to not give up because every day is a continuous struggle. I never had a choice to grow up. I never had schooling and most importantly, I’ve never been given a chance. When I heard about Women’s Bean Project I didn’t think anything of it. I was just hard up for a job. However, now that I am here and involved, I realize it is more than just a job. They are helping me with my education, job skills, computer skills, and training that I didn’t know I needed in order to get a steady job.

    Women’s Bean Project is giving me the opportunity to make positive choices and to figure out what I like doing, where I want to go in life, and who I want to be. The way they make this happen is by caring. All I ever wanted is to be cared for. I don’t want to feel alone or unloved or to have no self-worth. I’m judged all the time because of my background. Every day when I’m at work, I’m safe.”

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    Story

    Ida

    Primavera Works
    Ida

    : A year after here release from prison, Ida came to Primavera Works for employment assistance. She was temporarily staying with her sister, and was struggling with seemingly insurmountable barriers to finding a job – a history of drug abuse, criminal history and lack of job experience.

    At Primavera Works, Ida found the support she needed. She was placed on a janitorial assignment, where she received on the job training and support services. More importantly, she found the motivation to succeed. “Primavera helped me stay focused, pushed me to get out there and get a real job and not give up”.

    Today Ida has her own apartment and is working part time while she goes to school. She is now focused on the future – raising her kids, working to obtain her GED, and getting her civil rights restored.

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    Story

    Tevin

    Liberty's Kitchen
    Tevin

    : Sometimes, all a young dreamer needs is a boost. Tevin graduated from Liberty’s Kitchen‘s training program in 2011, one of their first trainees to enter the workforce. He enjoyed cooking, but dreamed of a career in the arts. While he built security for himself through a series of culinary jobs, Liberty’s Kitchen staff worked with him on his dream. They connected him with a mentor in graphic design, and he did the rest. Five years later, Tevin is pursuing an art degree at Delgado Community College and working as a youth design mentor with the Youth Empowerment Project. He stopped by Liberty’s Kitchen recently with a big smile on his face and an invitation he’d designed, saying “Now, everything I do is something I’m proud of.”

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    Vanessa

    Soles4Souls
    Vanessa

    : 25 years old, Vanessa has two children, ages 5 and 8. They live in a struggling village in Honduras called Monte de los Olivos.

    Just a few years ago, the community was living in shacks made of old aluminum siding and tarps on the river banks of El Progreso, the more populated city just 10 miles away. The local government considered them an eyesore and wanted them removed. They were soon relocated to a small palm plantation where they now live. Here, they were left with no access to clean water, housing or means to make a living.

    Over the next four years, various nonprofits came to their aid, building new homes, a school, and installing a water well. Despite this progress, one key element was missing: a long-term, sustainable way to provide for themselves and their families.

    “I never thought I’d see myself like this,” said Vanessa. “I see myself as a hard worker, I don’t see myself as a failure because I’m always looking towards that better future.”

    That hope for a “better future” is exactly what motivates Soles4Souls to provide an opportunity for Vanessa. She’s a hard worker. She’s resourceful. She just needs a chance.

    Today Vanessa is involved in Soles4Souls micro-enterprise program, a unique, sustainable solution to poverty that repurposes new and gently used shoes to help entrepreneurs start small businesses. Vanessa and community members have organized a co-op and now have a small location to sell shoes from.

    “If we are going to do this, we want to do it together,” says Vanessa. “It doesn’t help if I’m the only one in the village who is being prosperous. But it does help if all of us are being prosperous. We want to set an example, and grow together, so that we’re ALL successful!”

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    Ebonee

    Pioneer Human Services
    Ebonee

    : By the age of 12, Ebonee was living independently on the streets of Seattle. The need for money, food and shelter drove her into learning the street trade of hustling and surviving.

    After being incarcerated, she was sent to a Pioneer Human Services work release and learned that Pioneer Industries hired and trained formerly incarcerated individuals. Ebonee was hired and learned every machine she could get her hands on in the plant. She then applied and was accepted into the aerospace manufacturing apprenticeship.

    “I figured if I committed myself to a life of self-destruction in the past, I could now commit myself to a positive lifestyle and conquer this program. When I graduate, I will be the first journeywoman from Pioneer. I feel very blessed to have such an opportunity, and I am really focusing so I can excel.”

    In addition to Pioneer’s aerospace manufacturing apprenticeship, Ebonee is in college getting her Bachelor of Applied Science in Marketing and Entrepreneurship. She has a 4.0 grade point so far.

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    Willie

    St. Patrick Center
    Willie

    : “I was the class clown in school, but that led me to hang out with the wrong crowd.” Willie was a happy kid, but he was introduced to drugs and dropped out of school at 17. Willie also lost his sister and father. For several years, Willie worked a fast food job but it became a dead end. He bounced around after that between jobs. All of this led to Willie’s homelessness. “I went from couch to couch and spent some nights on the streets and in bus stops.” Willie eventually came to St. Patrick Center for help. “My case manager helped me with my resume and I was hired by the McMurphy’s employment training program, one of the best days of my life.” He learned a lot of food industry skills and was promoted to assistant manager at McMurphy’s Café. St. Patrick Center also helped Willie find a nice apartment. Willie is hopeful about his future. With his Serv-Safe license, he may help friends run their new restaurant or open his own barbeque stand. “I’m going to do something productive with my life.”

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    Abram

    Pioneer Human Services
    Abram

    : “In prison I started to recondition my brain that I needed to study, find an apprenticeship and earn legal money. My past life was done – I couldn’t do it anymore.”

    In the federal reentry center, Abram heard about Pioneer Human Services’ job training and aerospace manufacturing academy. After being accepted and graduating from the programs, Pioneer Industries hired him on the manufacturing floor and he was selected for the four-year aerospace manufacturing apprenticeship program that he will be graduating from as a master machinist/journeyman.

    “Several people went out of their way to mentor me and help me along. When Pioneer offered to give me a shot at the aerospace apprenticeship it all clicked – this is what I had been planning for when I was in prison. Now I had the chance to earn good money and move up in my life using my brains.”

     

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    Katie

    Women's Bean Project
    Katie

    : Born into a family of untreated mental illness, at Katie 17 ran away with the first man who showed her affection. After giving birth to a little boy, her husband’s sole control of their income left them homeless. She found the courage to make changes and found work at Women’s Bean Project. “When I felt there was no hope and I had no strength left, the amazing people at Women’s Bean Project picked me up off the floor. The incredible support and compassion shown to me by every colleague and member of staff was powerful enough to keep me staggering forward. They cheered me on every step of the way to getting housing, taught me to love myself enough to not let an unhealthy relationship exist in my life, and prepared me to find employment elsewhere. Pushing me to always dream bigger. I have never had a truer family than the one that I have at Women’s Bean Project.”

    A 2015-2016 graduate of Women’s Bean Project’s transitional employment program, Katie learned so much more than professional skills. “At Women’s Bean Project I learned that, sometimes when you find yourself in a dark place you feel like you’ve been buried, but in reality you’ve been planted. A dark place is nothing but an opportunity to grow, and this is exactly what I’ve done.”

     

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    Jahenda

    Digital Divide Data
    Jahenda

    : After joining Digital Divide Data’s work-study program in Kenya, Jahenda was, for the first time in her life, making some money to support herself as well as her mother and brother, when they were in a bind.

    “I learned how to manage my salary,” she said. This was very important to her, because she wanted to learn how to live on her own, how to be independent. “Our work as women is often viewed as looking after our children or looking after our husbands. But if we women stand up and say ‘yes we can,’ then we can do anything. What a man can do, I can do it even better,” she added, determined. “Even the presidential seat—we can do it.”

    Since September 2014, Jahenda has been studying for her Bachelors of Education Science in Chemistry/ Biology at Kenyatta University. After she graduates in 2018, she wants to earn her Master’s degree. Her plan is to teach at high school and eventually at the university level—and maybe, who knows!—go after that presidential seat.

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    Robert

    Chrysalis
    Robert

    : Though Robert was determined to find work after being released from prison for a first-time offense, a string of rejections from potential employers threatened to derail him. Homeless, unemployed, and ready for a change, Robert came to Chrysalis in search of a second chance.

    The path to a new life started after Robert completed Chysalis’ series of job preparation classes and worked closely with volunteers to develop a resume and improve his interview skills. His diverse work history made him a great candidate for the transitional jobs program with Chrysalis Enterprises, and he quickly landed a temporary front desk position with SRO Housing. During this time, he continued his job search and, today, Robert is working full-time as a welder.

    Being given a second chance and a renewed sense of hope means that Robert can finally envision a future that isn’t determined by his past. In his own words: “Chrysalis gave me a chance when nobody else would. You just have to keep trying. No matter how many times you get turned down, you can’t give up.”

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    Ray

    ACHIEVE Human Services
    Ray

    : “If I had not started working at ACHIEVE Human Services, I would not be the man who stands before you today. Through this Agency, I have been provided a chance to exhibit my good qualities, and I have also been given a chance to express my knowledge in certain areas – writing, reading, working on computers, etc. ACHIEVE demonstrated, and continues to demonstrate, that there are always options for the temporarily incapacitated. ACHIEVE has provided me with an opportunity to believe that the only opinion I should care about is my own, and that belief is what led me to finally become a published author.”

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    Gary

    Greyston
    Gary

    : Employers would not look past Gary’s 10 years in prison to realize what a hardworking employee he could be. He spent years looking for a job to no avail, so he was overjoyed to be offered an opportunity – no questions asked – at Greyston through Open Hiring. Gary is proud to be a part of a team producing brownies for Ben & Jerry’s and Whole Foods Market and feels that he’s become a true team player, learning how to communicate well. Gary feels working at Greyston has also helped him with emotional, spiritual and physical stability and to overcome his fear of failing. “The opportunity has changed my life. I highly recommend that people who are looking for a chance look up Greyston and see how you, too, can become a team player!”

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    Larry

    Cleanslate
    Larry

    : Arrested for driving without a license, Larry had hit a few bumps in the road. He struggled with identifying his strengths and feeling like he wasn’t enough. He knew he was a hard worker, having spent years in the landscaping industry, yet wasn’t whole. As Larry says, “my wings were clipped.” After coming to Cleanslate, looking for a second chance, he got his wings again. He gained experience in graffiti removal and power washing, which fits neatly in his wheelhouse of skills. When asked what song describes his journey, there is no surprise that it is Fly like an Eagle by Seal. Spread your wings, Larry!

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    E

    BRANDED Collective
    E

    : As a survivor of human trafficking, E reflects on her work at Branded Collective: “We want people to understand where we’ve been. I try to balance everything I have to do and it’s not easy. Trying to find the balance between being the house mom, everything I have to do for myself, therapy, time with my loved ones and people who need support… It’s a lot – I get overwhelmed a lot. However, I’ve learned faith and patience. I found my faith in jail and I was taught a whole lot of patience. Now I know that everything happens at exactly the right time. Quit trying to rush it, just chill out.”

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    Nichole

    Human Technologies
    Nichole

    : Before Human Technologies, Nichole described herself as vulnerable, in pieces and unsure. Now, working in Human Technologies‘ Environmental Services division, Nichole feels much stronger having a foundation of steady work. She happily describes herself as determined, happy and grateful. “There was a time when I didn’t know where my life laid ahead of me. I had to learn who I really was, set goals and learn what I wanted in life.” And her life is definitely much brighter and fulfilled these days.

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    Geneva

    Bright Endeavors
    Geneva

    : “I had just completed a Certified Nurses Assistant certification, but I learned I was pregnant and I felt like I couldn’t go anywhere. I felt like I couldn’t find a job…I just couldn’t do it.”

    Since coming to Bright Endeavors, Geneva says that she has changed: “I’ve learned a lot of personal and professional skills: I’m confident, I bring my resume to interviews. Now during job interviews, I research the company beforehand, look the interviewer in the eye, and ask good questions in the interview…I’m stronger now than I was when I started. I’m doing things I never thought I could do.”

    Geneva loves making candles. In her role as a Finishing Specialist, Geneva cleans freshly made candles, affixes labels, and signs each candle she makes before passing it to Quality Control Inspection.

    Once her baby is born, Geneva is excited to pursue her professional goals: “I want to be a social worker. I want to help families come back together so that no child feels outcast. I hope to begin with little steps first, moving to larger steps.”

    Geneva continues, “Without this opportunity, I’d be home, sitting down, waiting for something to come to me. Bright Endeavors gives me a support system, and sees my value and worth. Now I have goals and aspirations. Now I know how to take care of myself so I can take care of my daughter.”

    She smiles. “It’s going to be hard, but I’m ready.”

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    Chelle

    Thistle Farms
    Chelle

    : Chelle is a 2005 graduate of Thistle Farms, a community of women who have survived prostitution, addiction and trafficking. She has experienced growth alongside the organization.

    “When I started, we were 5 women working at one table. Now I manage Accounts Payable for our $4 million budget. I started in manufacturing but over time I learned skills like Quickbooks and Peachtree. It is an amazing feeling to be trusted with the checkbook. It gives you your confidence back. Who knows, maybe I could be a banker now! I wish every woman on the streets could experience Thistle Farms – feel the love that can heal them. This is the place where we get second—and third and fourth—chances. I’m living proof. But the most important part of my life is that I’m a mother and a homeowner; and that my kids, Devione, Debria, and Devonte and I are together.”

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    Fernando

    Nisolo
    Fernando

    : “My experience with Nisolo has totally changed my life. I used to work 12, 14, even 16-hour days making shoes. I rarely saw my family. After 5 years of marriage and with a 2 year old son, I had to migrate to Argentina since my job in Peru didn’t provide me with a consistent working schedule and a stable salary. I worked abroad for four years without seeing my family. It was the hardest thing I have ever done and I often felt alone. A year ago I came back to see my family and was thinking about returning to Argentina until a neighbor told me about Nisolo… My job here has improved every area of my life. Now my family has healthcare and my son is receiving a better education than he was before. I also get to spend more time with my family. It’s great to work with a company that values family.”

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    Zeke

    Cincinnati Union Cooperative Initiative
    Zeke

    : Laid off from his previous job in the food industry, Zeke has found a living wage and his passion at Cincinnati Union Cooperative Initiative. “Working for Our Harvest is not like any other job I have had before. Here it’s a family. It’s a friendly environment to work in… you get really close to people. Here, I learned about sowing more jobs for people. Here, I learned about sowing and weeding and it opened my eyes about eating healthy. The healthy food we provide helps us and our customers get the fiber and nutrients we need.”

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    Felix

    Nisolo
    Felix

    : As a newer jewelry maker at Nisolo‘s partner workshop in Kenya, Felix plans to use the craft to eventually pursue bigger dreams: “It wasn’t originally my desire to come work in brass jewelry, but after graduating high school, I found myself here through a friend. In the rural area where I come from, it is hard to find a job so when you find one, you take it. Slowly brass-making became something I enjoy, especially casting. Already, working at this company has allowed me to complete driving school and soon, I am going to be the best driver in Kenya! Next, I hope to go to school to learn how to be a mechanic.”