As the proverb goes, it takes a village to raise a child. The folks at Bright Endeavors know that one of the best ways the village can accomplish that mission is by empowering and uplifting mothers.
The Chicago based candle company is a social enterprise of New Moms, a nonprofit organization established in 1983 to support local families facing systemic poverty through job training, housing support, and more. Their vibrant scented soy candles and reed diffusers are made using predominantly sustainable materials and hand-poured, packaged, inventoried, and shipped from their facility in East Garfield Park. Bright Endeavors’ products can be found in the company’s online store and in specialty retailers across the country. Midwestern shoppers can also purchase them at local craft shows, such as Renegade Craft Fair, as well as every Whole Foods Market throughout the region.
The cornerstone of Bright Endeavors is its fully paid job training program. Over 16 weeks, a small cohort of mothers ages 18-24 receive classroom instruction, hands-on experience, and individualized career and educational coaching, in which they can assess their executive skills and strengths, write their resume, practice interviewing skills, and take steps toward attaining their GED or other certifications. Rather than a one-size-fits-all approach, Bright Endeavors works with each participant to chart a career plan that matches their interests in a variety of tracks, including manufacturing, fulfillment and distribution, logistics, and quality control. Many graduates go on to pursue secondary education and careers in the manufacturing sector and other industries.
“Our participants—who are talented, creative, committed, and super driven—are also facing significant systemic and structural barriers to employment like homelessness, poverty, racism, sexism,” said director of social enterprise Sarah-Jayne Ashenhurst. “Our goal is to partner with participants by helping remove the barriers that we can remove and mitigating the ones that we can’t so that the participants can focus on what every young parent wants—which is to build a thriving, joyful life for themselves and their families.”
In addition to career development, the mothers participating in Bright Endeavors’ job training program can access maternal support services, such as parenting groups and coaching, prenatal care, and doula services. Approximately 30% of the 90-100 women who complete the job training program each year also use New Moms’ temporary and permanent housing opportunities, and all are eligible for additional support to help cover daily expenses during their program.
“All participants, in addition to a paid transitional job, have access to the same exact supportive services including a Bright Endeavors uniform, business casual clothes and shoes, weekly transportation via gas or bus cards, and parenting necessities like diapers and wipes,” said Gabrielle Caverl-McNeal, senior director of employment and academic coaching.
Through their holistic approach, Bright Endeavors has created a positive, community-centric environment where participants can grow and thrive. “A lot of employees have really good enthusiasm. They’re down to earth, cool, and there’s no tension—you’re not walking on eggshells. I really like how they operate around here when it comes to the work and the things we do,” said production assistant Nneka Pinkney.
The 23-year-old Englewood resident first learned about Bright Endeavors through her cousin, and while she was only five weeks into her training program at the time of this interview, she said she’d already gained a lot of experience. “I think this will take me far, as long as I stay committed and focused. I can already tell that this is something I will be able to look back on and say, ‘This is one of the reasons I am here,’” she said.
And that’s Bright Endeavors’ goal. “This is foundational stuff for long-term thriving,” Ashenhurst said, noting that the program’s equal prioritization of hard and soft skills has a ripple effect on families that goes far beyond the material impacts of improved financial and housing security.
“[The participants’ children] are also going to benefit from having a role model who can show them what it’s like to value and prioritize communicating well with others, treating people with respect, being a part of a team, and contributing to an interconnected way of operating in life and building community,” she said.
With lucious scents such as Vanilla Honey and Sugared Grapefruit, Bright Endeavors’ candles and reed diffusers add a touch of warmth and freshness to any home or business. They also make a great gift for any occasion, whether individually or combined in one of the company’s many box sets. Bright Endeavors can also provide products with custom labels for bridal parties, corporate events, or any other need.
Best of all is that as a social enterprise, Bright Endeavors invests all proceeds back into the organization, which means that every purchase directly benefits young families in our community. “When you buy a candle from Bright Endeavors, that money isn’t just padding the bottom-line profit of a corporation, every dollar that we earn supports our ability to provide [our] programs for young moms in Chicago,” Ashenhurst said.
As the organization recovers from the catastrophic flooding that hit New Moms’ Austin headquarters, which is also the location of their transitional housing units, every dollar matters more than ever.
“We’re looking at potentially seven-figure costs recovering from the flood,” Ashenhurst said. “Though our participants were recently able to return to their homes at New Moms, the work is not done. Our families are adjusting back into their routines and there are many ongoing repairs that will be addressed in the coming days and months to get the facility back to strong working order. And so now is a really, really important time to support.”
Those unexpected challenges haven’t dimmed spirits at Bright Endeavors; As their job training program participants exemplify, any perceived setback can be overcome through hard work, resilience, and community.
“I encourage moms to check them out,” Pinkney said. “[Bright Endeavors] is a really helpful program. You could learn a lot, and you could get far, I can already tell. You just have to stay on your p’s and q’s. That can be difficult for some people, but with the right people in your corner and the right support you’ll be able to do it.”
Courtesy Mattea LinAe
To learn more about Bright Endeavors’ job training program or to make a purchase at their online store visit brightendeavors.org. A directory of brick-and-mortar stores that carry their candles and diffusers can be found at brightendeavors.org/stockists. For more information about New Moms, visit newmoms.org