In the Summer of 2013, Julee volunteered with Buckner Ministries and FBC-L at the Bellaire Apartments, a low-income apartment complex in the Longview Community. She worked with 20-22 ladies each week teaching healthy cooking, exercise, and Bible study. During this time, several of the ladies expressed a desire to move out of Bellaire. Many lived there in the cycle of generational poverty and did not know how to transition out. Julee knew opportunities for them were in education and employment; so, she began praying about how Heartisans could serve as a vehicle for these women to move out of Bellaire and poverty.
In the Fall of 2013, 14 of the women who had been in the Summer group participated in the Heartisans’ pilot program. The participants met once a week at the Buckner facility where they learned business principles through producing arts and crafts items. The women would choose an item, calculate the cost of materials, make note of the time required to craft the item (labor cost), price the item, and then market the items. At the end of the pilot program, each woman received a percentage of the profits generated from the sale of the products they had made. This provided them with Christmas money to spend on their families.
Although the women enjoyed the program and were proud of the money they had earned, Julee realized this model would not provide the women a way out of Bellaire, much less poverty.
In the Spring of 2014, Julee began the paperwork for Heartisans to be designated as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. She invited two friends to join her with the startup as founding board members, and she was thankful they did!
When she visited her daughter in Nashville that March, she took Julee to Thistle Farms, a nonprofit organization that rescues women off the streets and out of the sex-trafficking trade, providing them with shelter for two years while they got their GED, counseling, and work experience. This was a lightbulb moment for Julee.
She returned to Thistle Farms for training in April 2014 where she learned how to implement what was needed in the Longview community. Our community had several nonprofits that provided homeless women coming out of domestic violence and drug addiction with a safe living environment. Another nonprofit, Buckner Pathways, was underway that would afford single mothers a place to live while attending college. What our community lacked was a vehicle to the higher paying jobs, moving women toward self-sufficiency.
Julee knew she wanted Heartisans to accomplish five things:
- Provide women in the Longview community with quality job training that would give them the best opportunity to apply and enter a career they were naturally drawn to by God-given interests and abilities, a job that would afford them the ability to provide for themselves and their families, and access to higher education to continue moving up in that career.
- Provide hands-on work skills training and essential skills training enabling program participants to be work-ready when exiting the program.
- Provide an opportunity for a valuable network of people in our community to meet the specific social, physical, and spiritual needs that relationships afford (mentors/tutors).
- Provide a place for the community to “Serve in Love” with their gifts and talents.
- Incorporate the gifts and talents of the community volunteers as a vehicle to finance the program (manufacturing studios staffed by community volunteers with the products sold in a retail store environment).
In November of 2014, the retail store of Heartisans Marketplace opened and operated November and December. Funds generated from the sale of products from the studios and community donations provided funds to begin accepting women into the job training program in January 2015. That January, partnering with Longview Economic Development Corporation (LEDCO), Heartisans became the ACT WorkKeys Career Ready site in Gregg County providing program participants with certificates in 10 key essential skills for the workplace plus a national career readiness certificate upon completion of the program.
Women are referred into the Heartisans’ job readiness program from other local 501(c)(3) nonprofits, churches, families, the court system, and the community at large. Heartisans offers a holistic approach to being job ready. While in our program, legal, medical, dental, and vision challenges are addressed, along with spiritual, emotional and physical needs through volunteers and community partners.
To date, we have had 100+ women complete the Heartisans’ job readiness program. Over 90% of these women have entered the workforce in our community with many continuing their education through Kilgore College or trade certifications, each moving towards independence and a contributing member of our community.