Over the last 30 years, Denver’s Women’s Bean Project has grown way beyond what could have ever been imagined by its founder Jossy Eyre. This social enterprise has skyrocketed much like the women who have transformed their lives through their employment at Women’s Bean Project.
Women’s Bean Project produces and sells soups and chilis, baking mixes, spice blends, instant meals, snacks and dog treats in stores across the country and through national online retailers. The success and growth of this company is remarkable. Women’s Bean Project is a brand that people recognize and respect. Aside from the great recipes, if you ask anyone associated with Women’s Bean Project about what stands out the most for them, they’ll say the women who work there now and who have already graduated.
For this project, celebrating this organization’s 30th year, we focused on the incredible women who have worked at Women’s Bean Project over the years.
“One of the things I’m most proud of is, that even after 30 years, we’ve stayed very true to the original vision that Jossy Eyre had, which is to help women transform their lives by providing stepping stones to self-sufficiency through social enterprise,” Women’s Bean Project CEO Tamra Ryan said.
A social enterprise is a business that sells products or provides services to advocate for their mission.
Back in 1989, Jossy Eyre was volunteering at a day shelter providing services for women. She realized the women were able to get a job, but unable to keep it. The women needed skills and opportunity. So, Jossy invested $500 of her own money and put two women to work. That was the start of Women’s Bean Project. And the very first product those two women made was the 10 Bean Soup.
“A lot has changed in Denver and even across the country in the past 30 years,” Ryan adds. “The effects of mass incarceration of women weren’t even being thought about in 1989. The economy has had its ups and downs and we’ve seen the unemployment rate rising and lowering Throughout the whole time, we’ve had to make changes, and adjust, and meet the women where they are, but yet we’ve been able to stay true to this original vision of empowering women through employment.”
1,000 women have worked at Women’s Bean Project since 1989. During that time, multiple generations of families have worked at the Bean Project. During their time, which ranges from 6-9 months, all of the employees learn to work hard, trust others, be responsible, be present, let go of past challenges and create a promising, stable future.
Aside from working on the food production line, mailing out orders and assisting customers in the retail shop, Women’s Bean Project offers classes that sharpen life skills and mentors who provide great professional insight and encouragement that go far in helping the women believe in themselves. All graduates of this program leave with jobs in the Denver Metro area.
But to get to that point, the women have overcome a lot. They are trying to move away from the traumas of homelessness, addiction, abuse, mental health issues, incarceration and loss of loved ones.
“We know that women who come to the Bean Project have many barriers to employment,” Ryan said. “A typical woman we hire hasn’t had a job longer than a year in her lifetime, though the average age is 39. So, that means we need to meet every woman where she is and help her overcome each of the barriers she has so that she can go on to permanent employment in our community and have the opportunity to change not only her life but her family’s life.”
“The person I was when I started working here was distrustful of other people,” program graduate Aminah said while talking about her transformation while working at Women’s Bean Project. “Being here showed me that it’s okay to have flaws and that you’re not defined by them. I used to be afraid of things but now I have blossomed into this different version of myself, a better version of myself.”
Aminah and all of the women who work at Women’s Bean Project become who they were supposed to be!
Women’s Bean Project hires groups of women in waves so there is a rolling application process. To qualify, women must be at least 21 years old and have a history of unemployment.
“As long as there is a need, Women’s Bean Project will be here to offer hope,” Tamra Ryan said. “As we celebrate our 30th anniversary this year, we invite everyone to join our journey for the next 30 years by continuing to buy our products, supporting our program, and hiring our amazing graduates who leave us ready to work and who have amazing skills. They come to us feeling hopeless and they leave us very capable and so excited for their future.”