by Chuck Hoven
(Plain Press, November 2014) The goals Esperanza Threads, a nonprofit organization in the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood, include training individuals to work in Cleveland’s sewing industries, and the making and selling of products to help support the organization and further its mission.
Thus far in 2014, twenty-five men and women from Cleveland neighborhoods have received three weeks of intensive training in the art of industrial sewing at Esperanza Threads. Of those twenty-five people, twenty, or 80%, have been hired by companies in Cleveland’s sewing industry, says Esperanza Threads Executive Director Lucretia Bohnsack. By the end of the year, Esperanza Threads expects to have held eight of its three week training sessions and have forty or more graduates.
“Women and men from the neighborhood, refugees and migrants referred by Catholic Charities, people who are unemployed or underemployed referred by local churches such as West Bethel Baptist Church, St. Colman and other area churches, start on a journey toward developing a career, “ says Bohnsack in describing those who receive job training at Esperanza Threads.
Executive Director Bohnsack says the churches and other organizations doing the referrals, do the initial screening of those coming for training at Esperanza Threads. Esperanza Threads then interviews them again to make sure they are serious about pursing full time employment in the sewing industry. After taking the three weeks of intensive training in how to use an industrial sewing machine, graduates seek jobs in Cleveland’s sewing industry. Companies hiring graduates of the program include: National Safety Apparel, Acme Lifting, Hugo Boss, Drifter Bags, Sensical, Samsel Supply, Team Wendy, Lamport and Esperanza Threads.
For the past three years, Esperanza Threads has been located in the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood in the former Isabelle’s Bakery building on W. 69th Street. The building also has an entrance in the parking lot at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel from the W. 70th street side of the large space.
Esperanza Threads founder, Ursuline Sister Mary Eileen Boyle, says she founded the organization in June of 2000 with the goal of “helping people to get good jobs.” Three years ago, Esperanza Threads, had to seek a new home, when the Sisters of Charity decided to sell the building in which they were located in Bedford.
Sister Mary Eileen says locating in the Isabelle’s Bakery space in the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood has been “a dream come true.” The spacious former bakery provides ample space for Esperanza Threads to operate its programs. The bus line on Detroit Avenue provides easy access for area residents seeking training to use industrial sewing machines. Nearby organizations such as Catholic Charities Migration and Refugee Services, El Barrio, St. Colman and West Bethel Baptist Church have been sources of referrals of people “with a desire to change their lives” by pursuing a career in Cleveland’s sewing industry.”
Most of the industrial sewing jobs are entry-level jobs paying minimum wage. Some graduates with more training receive $10 per hour. All receive benefits at their jobs, says Sister Mary Eileen. In the future, Sister Mary Eileen says Esperanza Threads hopes to start a second program with three months of paid training in order to help graduates apply for higher skilled positions with higher pay. She believes this will increase the placement rate as well.
Emerging from the recession has helped to place graduates of Esperanza Threads this year. Local companies are hiring graduates from Esperanza Threads. Sister Mary Ellen admires the work ethic of many of the migrant/refugees that have been referred to the program by Catholic Charities. She says they live together in a community and pull their resources giving their families some financial stability. She noted one graduate who had been riding his bicycle to a job at National Safety Apparel on W. 150th in the Bellaire Puritas neighborhood, proudly told her he had saved enough to purchase a car. She noted that taking the bus to jobs at various companies means some graduates are leaving their homes at 4:30 a.m. to get to work on time. For some jobs, which lack access by public transit, cars are a necessity, said Sister Mary Eileen.
Sister Mary Eileen marvels at the “energy and spirit” of the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood. Say says, “people from all over come here.” She noted how supportive the neighbors are to the program. The former owner of the building, Mr. Isabelle, and other immediate neighbors, “watch the place and help us take care of it.” Neighbors have also been supportive in purchasing products made by Esperanza Threads and in making donations to the organization, says Sister Mary Eileen.
Manufacturing and Sales
Executive Director Bohnsack says Esperanza Threads has six employees and ten volunteers that are involved in its mission of job training and manufacturing, stocking and packaging products for sale. Esperanza Threads produces an array of organic and non-organic high quality products for sale. A visit to Esperanza Threads website, www.esperanzathreads.com, describes the organic cotton clothing it produces that will allow health conscious consumer to purchase chemical free clothing. Some products offered for sale online include baby items, adult t-shirts, ladies dress shirts, sweats, meditation robes and linens. Sister Mary Eileen says workers take pride in the high quality well made clothing they produce.
Esperanza Threads is currently working with the Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization in hopes of having a space in a pop-up storefront to display its products during the months of November and December.
Esperanza Threads also contracts with various organizations to make products. On a recent visit to Esperanza Threads, Esperanza Threads employee and program graduate Ramona Priah sews Lavender Pillows that are sold through a catalog called Monastery Greetings. Priah says the lavender herbs sewed into the pillow, help people to relax and sleep. She testifies that she has tried the pillows and they work. On another visit, Priah is working with another graduate of the program, Pramila Subba, using a pattern to cut as many scarfs as the can from a piece of fabric leftover from another job. Other products made for various contracts include ponchos, blankets and tablecloths.
Priah, a long time Cleveland resident, and Subba, originally from Bhutan, resettled in Cleveland from a refugee camp in Nepal, are examples of some of the graduates from Esperanza Threads. Sister Mary Eileen estimates that 75% of those receiving training in the program are migrants or refugees. She says migrants and refugees participating in the program have come from a variety of nations including: Burma, Bhutan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Congo, Burundi, Liberia, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania and El Salvador.
Sister Mary Eileen says one of the goals of Esperanza Threads is to develop a sustainable base of income from sales and contracts to help support the organization’s mission. She says currently sales and contracts account for about 75% of the organization’s income. The remainder of its income comes from outside funding and donations. The organization plans a spaghetti diner fundraiser on Monday, November 24th at 6:30 p.m. at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church.
Editor’s Note: For more information about Esperanza Threads, its programs, products or upcoming fundraiser, call 216-961-9009 or visit their website at www.esperanzathreads.com.