The employees of Denver’s Women’s Bean Project never cease to amaze me. They’ve been through the worst experiences imaginable.They’ve been rejected, dejected, addicted and in many cases, incarcerated. The women have preserved through chronic unemployment and homelessness. They are tough and lean on an inner strength deep within them to commit to turning their lives around once and for all, once they arrive at Women’s Bean Project.
During their time of employment, which ranges from 6-9 months, the women learn to work hard, trust others, be responsible, be present, let go of past challenges and create a promising, stable future. Each day, the women gather along the production line to create soups and chilis, baking mixes, spice blends, instant meals, snacks and dog treats which are sold in stores across the country and through national online retailers. The women also attend classes that focus on topics like resumes, computer skills, interview technique. The women then work closely with mentors from the Denver community to navigate their job searches.
In February 2020, I spent a day at Women’s Bean Project with my team. I interviewed three women: Sunshine, Terri and Sisco. They bravely shared their stories with me as a video camera captured every word and every emotion.
We weaved the women’s stories into a larger story to be shown at the organization’s largest fundraiser of the year, the Ready Set Grow Luncheon in April 2020.
That story never aired in a big ballroom in Downtown Denver. COVID-19 hit. But the fundraising continued because Women’s Bean Project created a program that was broadcast at the same time the luncheon was to be held. My team dissected the main video story and produced content that could be shown during the shortened 30 minute live program. Here are Sisco’s and Terri’s short stories:
For the class of women working at Women’s Bean Project in the Spring of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic led to a pause which then redirected them into a renewed purpose. The uncertainty and worry over losing another job quickly faded as the women had to step up to meet the growing demand for products. With stay-at-home orders and a desire for healthy food options, people were turning to Women’s Bean Project food and placing hundreds of orders.
“Sending products to our grateful customers makes us feel needed and a part of your lives,” Women’s Bean Project CEO Tamra Ryan said. “The pandemic also presented the opportunity to recommit to why Women’s Bean Project exists: support the program participants so they can transform their lives through employment.”
And through it all, the women who make up the production team at Women’s Bean Project are the ones setting a positive example for all of us.
The uncertainty we all have faced and the worries over our health, the security of our jobs and our inability to move freely and be with the ones we love are realities that these women have grown accustomed to over the years. Of course, this pandemic is like nothing any of us have faced before. But, the Women’s Bean Project team is made up of women who have faced adversity for most of their lives. They’re aware how from one day to the next, life can look pretty different.
We all know, going forward, we must be resilient and adapt. Those two things are some of the many superpowers these women possess. Along with the lifeskill and social skills, Women’s Bean Project infuses into their lives, the women are finally in the driver’s seat, creating futures for themselves and their families that are promising and fulfilling as well as happy and healthy.
Sadly, at the Ready Set Grow Luncheon, CEO Tamra Ryan announced that Jossy Eyre, founder of Women’s Bean Project, passed away that week from complications of the COVID-19 virus. She was 89. Jossy most certainly left behind a lasting and profound legacy.