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Social enterprise employs at-risk youth, provides furniture for families

Robyn Budgell (left) and Laura Collis (right) of Enactus Memorial show off the beginning of the organization’s newest social enterprise – a simple candle holder that will do a lot, including offer meaningful employment to at-risk youth, provide furniture to families in need and help the environment.
Robyn Budgell (left) and Laura Collis (right) of Enactus Memorial show off the beginning of the organization’s newest social enterprise – a simple candle holder that will do a lot, including offer meaningful employment to at-risk youth, provide furniture to families in need and help the environment. - Juanita Mercer
ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

These small candles emit a brightness that will radiate far.

It’s a simple craft as far as carpentry goes — a saltbox-shaped piece of wood with a round hollow for a votive.

Young people at Choices for Youth are making and selling saltbox-style candleholders to fund the production of larger furniture items, beginning with tables and beds frames, which will be donated to local families through Home Again Furniture Bank.
Young people at Choices for Youth are making and selling saltbox-style candleholders to fund the production of larger furniture items, beginning with tables and beds frames, which will be donated to local families through Home Again Furniture Bank.

But an entrepreneurial group of Memorial University students at the non-profit Enactus Memorial have turned the humble product into a way to help at-risk youth gain meaningful employment, while also providing furniture for families in need, and eliminating wood waste from landfills.

How it works

At-risk youth at Choices for Youth will learn carpentry skills by making the candleholders, which are now for sale online at projectreclaim.ca. Those funds will keep the project going so the four young people who are employed full time with the project will be able to make furniture — beginning with tables and beds — for Home Again Furniture Bank.

Home Again collects gently used furniture donations and distributes them to families in need, but the demand often outweighs the donations.

Last year, Home Again had 169 requests for tables, but only 69 to deliver.

Amy Tulk, the director of operations at the furniture bank, said their biggest need is tables.

“Tables are not something that people change out often. I’ve had the same dining set for over 20 years,” said Tulk.

“The possibility of Enactus and Choices for Youth being able to help us with that is huge for our clients.

“We’ve heard stories of people who are eating off a cardboard box — they set it up as a table, put a cloth over it — or they’re eating on the countertop, or they’re just sitting on their sofa and eating from their lap just because they don’t have the table.”

At Choices for Youth’s manufacturing and packaging location, The Shop, three carpenters have spent the past two to three weeks teaching the young people the skills needed to first make the candleholders, then the bed frames and tables.

Recently, a couple of young men who were making a prototype for the bed brought some Choices staff out to have a look.

“It was the pride that they displayed in having made this bed from hunks of wood on the floor to something that somebody potentially could sleep in — it was pretty neat to experience that and celebrate that with the young people,” said Choices’ director of social enterprise Chelsey MacNeil.

She said the goal is to be in full manufacturing mode — making furniture for Home Again — by summertime.

Environmentally friendly

Over at Enactus Memorial, the organization’s president, Laura Collis, and one of the vice-presidents, Robyn Budgell, sit near a bucket of wood scraps.

Enactus Memorial dedicated a large group to developing the social enterprise Project Reclaim. It took them about eight months to work out the details before it was launched April 14. Everyone pictured worked on the project in some way. Pictured are (front, from left) Alex Batten, Courtney Rowsell, Nawal Fatima, Meghan Bolt, Lillian Woodford, Tyler Maddigan and Hannah Wiseman; (back, from left) Dawson Mercer, Hannah Blundon, Robyn Budgell, Katie Gillespie, Stephen Browne, Lynn Morrissey, Eddy Rumsey, Kelsey Lomond, William Forsey, Laura Collis, Brendan Skiffington, John Randell, Alex Williams and James O'Keefe-Daw.
Enactus Memorial dedicated a large group to developing the social enterprise Project Reclaim. It took them about eight months to work out the details before it was launched April 14. Everyone pictured worked on the project in some way. Pictured are (front, from left) Alex Batten, Courtney Rowsell, Nawal Fatima, Meghan Bolt, Lillian Woodford, Tyler Maddigan and Hannah Wiseman; (back, from left) Dawson Mercer, Hannah Blundon, Robyn Budgell, Katie Gillespie, Stephen Browne, Lynn Morrissey, Eddy Rumsey, Kelsey Lomond, William Forsey, Laura Collis, Brendan Skiffington, John Randell, Alex Williams and James O'Keefe-Daw.

While their main goal over the past eight months in developing Project Reclaim was to help people in need furnish homes while simultaneously providing employment for at-risk youth, they also wanted it to be an environmentally-friendly endeavor.

They learned that when wood pallets are constructed, there are little lengths of wood left over. Companies often sell those scraps for firewood, but Enactus is purchasing them to be repurposed into the candleholders.

They’ve also had plenty of donated wood that they hope to upcycle.

They said in this province alone, over 19,000 tonnes of wood ends up in landfills every year, and this project aims to divert some of that.

About 25 Memorial students with Enactus worked to fine-tune the details of the social enterprise, which officially launched on April 14.

Choices for Youth and Enactus Memorial have a long relationship, including working together on Project Sucseed, which supplied at-home hydroponic growing units, and Smart Cookie, a nutritious edible cookie dough for breakfast programs. Project Reclaim is a continuation of that relationship.

“We see a lot of opportunity for this project in particular, and we’re hoping it will run on its own in a short amount of time,” said Collis.

Twitter: @juanitamercer_


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