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Posts Tagged ‘beautiful day’

jeannetteandevon

Photo: Beautiful Day
The photo above was taken before social distancing. But the nonprofit Beautiful Day has made Covid-19 adjustments like the rest of us and continues to train refugees in making delicious products.

It’s been a while since I wrote about the Rhode Island miracle called Beautiful Day (originally Providence Granola Project), and I want to update longtime blog readers while also letting newer readers know about this amazing initiative.

The nonprofit was founded in 2012 by Keith Cooper, who grew up among missionaries in foreign lands. It gives workplace training to refugees and supports itself not only by donations and grants but by selling the delicious products the trainees learn to make. I laid in a haul of my favorite granola at the beginning of the pandemic, and I must say it cheers me up every day.

On March 27, Keith wrote on his blog about the childhood that shaped him.

“I was born during a curfew. I grew up in a war zone. Over the last couple weeks I’ve been having flashback memories from my childhood. We lived in the central highlands of Vietnam, in a town called Kontum, not far from the border or Laos and Cambodia. We lived near a US military airport and compound which we always called MAC-V.

“So military conflict was part of the context for daily life. Just the way things were. My siblings and I had a bullet shell collection. My mom sometimes kept flowers in a brass mortar shell. My parents were linguists working with indigenous peoples who were in the process of being displaced by the war. There were visitors and stories, adults making decisions or talking in a certain tone of voice. There were sometimes flares and gunshots at night, the whir of Chinook and helicopter blades.

“When I was around 4 or 5 … my dad built built a cement-walled bunker under the house with steep steps going down from a wooden trapdoor. Some of my earliest memories, either real or imagined, came from that bunker.

“For some reason I remember the light down there as a beautiful emerald green. I remember a cylindrical kerosene heater with pretty blue flames. My dad had been in ROTC and part of a reserve unit, so he knew enough to make a guessing game of estimating the distance and counting down to the boom of mortars. For some reason, having a shaking boom correctly predicted for you by a voice you love counters any surge of fear….

“I know we can all feel the world getting a shaking these days. I suspect there will now be a break between a pre- and post-carona world and our pre- and post-carona lives. Yet my flashback memories remind me how significant the little things are. My mom pinning laundry. My puppy and a paper birthday hat. The bright scent of coffee blossoms or taste of ripe coffee cherries.

The fact that I remember these better than artillery booms reminds me to make room in my life these days for the small things.

“I’m painting the ceiling of my entryway a twilight blue and a woman at our local hardware store spent a half hour on the phone helping me choose the right finish. What a kind gift from a stranger. And we made a special trip to the store today for cake flour. Tomorrow my daughter and I will bake a lemon birthday cake for my sister. One of my daily joys now is going for a walk around dinner time. Never before have I seen so many apartment lights on or smelled so many wonderful things being cooked in our neighborhood. It has a completely different feel.

“Even in a great shaking there are joys.” More.

Earlier this month, Keith emailed supporters about how Beautiful Day is managing in the pandemic, which has coincided with moving into a new kitchen.

“Everything went as smoothly as could be expected given the new space, the new equipment, and the new routines. The trainees worked long hours making hundreds of [granola] bars and bags of Mochaccino Hazelnut, Ginger Muesli and Pistachio Cardamom granola. …

A big challenge has been to make sure that everyone maintains proper social distance while still having enough room to dance.

“That’s right, dance! The owners of the kitchen left us a big Bluetooth speaker along with a playlist of spirited tunes. When the trainees aren’t listening to music from their own countries, they are blasting top 40’s hits and bouncing around. The Bluetooth has been a big hit and has helped everyone stay productive and focused. Morale is high. …

“We have so much to learn from our trainees in times like these. Even in the midst of a pandemic, they remain upbeat and strong. And they are dancing.”

My past posts on Beautiful Day may be found in 2012, 2015, and 2018.

Buy something yummy for yourself or send a care package to a shut-in, here. You won’t regret it.

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I lifted this from Beautiful Day, an organization I’d like you know about if you don’t already.

Founder Keith Cooper writes, “A couple months ago a guy named Scott Axtmann brought a great group of interns from his church (Renaissance) to visit our kitchen facility at Amos House. We did the things we usually do — greeted the trainees, chatted with our chef and other staff, then sat out in the dining hall to talk more about mission and share thoughts about resettlement, the job market, and being a part of positive change in our city.

“This is an aside — but if you live in driving distance of Providence and are interested in our work, you should stop by for this kind of tour. Plan to come after 5 on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. If possible give us a couple weeks warning. A tour doesn’t take long, but seeing something with your own eyes usually takes the strangeness out of it. I know we are intense and painstaking about the way we make granola, but making granola is still not rocket-science. Neither is job training. What I always find mysterious in our kitchen (though I know we’ve also been painstaking about creating this atmosphere too) is the laughter shared by a group of trainees and staff who don’t even share a language. This is always the thing that reassures me that we are doing something right. But please take this as an open invitation. These tours are part of our mission to connect more people with refugees. Our organization may lack a lot of things, but we’re rich in relationships with former refugees and would love to share our wealth with you.

“Anyway, during that tour Scott challenged me in the style some faith leaders have perfected—encouragement that leads to self discovery. In this case, he created space for me to say something I hadn’t intended to say. The gist went something like this:

Scott (to the interns): Keith writes a [something flattering here] blog for Beautiful Day about immigration and refugee resettlement.

Me (grimacing): Oh thanks Scott. Actually I’ve hardly been writing anything this year.

Scott: Really? Why not? You should be. [Then, to the interns, some thoughts about how critical it is for people of faith to welcome refugees and what a privilege it is. Scott has a contagious enthusiasm about our city that I love.]

Me: Honestly, I feel like I’ve lost my voice over this last year. I’m really struggling with it.

Scott: You had better get it back.

“Then suddenly we all had to go.

“That was back in July and I’ve been chewing on this ever since. I’m pretty sure I intended to answer his question by complaining about how busy I am, how many hats I need to wear. These things are true and I say them all the time. Saying I lost my voice instead provoked me to think about what’s happening to or in me. Beautiful Day works with marginalized people who, for the most part, are hidden and voiceless — most obviously because they don’t speak English and don’t yet understand much about American culture, but also because they’ve had experiences of being chased away, silenced, discarded, warehoused. We live in a country that has welcomed them, yet is also growing more ambivalent and sometimes openly hostile to them. I believe we all have something critical to learn from these voices.

“So how can I possibly advocate for voiceless people if I don’t have a voice myself?

“And another thought: isn’t saying I’m voiceless another way of saying I’m afraid. What am I afraid of?

“But, okay, Scott. Thank you both for the compliment and the invitation to think. Here’s my idea. I’ll try to start writing more often. I know I need to do this right now if only because we are heading into the holiday season when we hope (need!) to sell about 75,000 dollars of granola in 3 months. These sales are vital to our training program, so I need to be connecting and resonating with our customers.

“(And, a sideways invitation here: as part of this sales initiative, we are currently launching efforts to increase traffic to our website. Part of what helps attract traffic is interaction, so if you appreciate anything in this blog and what Beautiful Day is doing, please speak up and comment either here or on our Facebook or Instagram feeds. It’s okay if you disagree as a long as you’re not trolling. A voice isn’t very real until it’s in dialogue.)

“Along the way, maybe I can try to figure this out by writing it out. I know one of my fears is that I just can’t write an Inc-style business post where I try to play the confident hipster entrepreneur and wax eloquent on how great our product is, how well we are doing, how hard we work, and which fancy apps we use. Something about who I am and about working with voiceless people makes that impossible. Nor can I promise that it will be consistent or coherent or polished. It will need to just come out of what’s in my head at that moment with what time I’ve got available. But I’ll give it a try. Maybe I’ll rely on some of the internet’s favorite formats like top 10 lists. But I’ll try to let it be a real voice. I suspect I’m not the only one trying to retrieve theirs these days.”

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Photo: Rhode Island Inno
Refugees learn US workplace skills thanks to a nonprofit called Beautiful Day.

For my taste, there can never be too many admiring articles about Beautiful Day (aka Providence Granola Project). I find the nonprofit’s model to be both wise and kind, and my only wish is that more markets would carry the products and more employers would hire the refugees after graduation.

I’ve known a number of immigrants who have gone through the training (including the somber Congolese girl above, who is still learning to share her radiant side more often).

Bram Berkowitz writes at Rhode Island Inno, “On many accounts, granola is considered a nutritious, lightweight and high-energy snack that has become a popular breakfast item, as well as a pick-me-up for hikers and campers.

“But at the Providence-based nonprofit Beautiful Day, the crumbled, whole-grain based food has become a path to the labor market for many refugees that come to this country lacking the skills needed to obtain a job.

“Keith Cooper, a former campus ministry veteran, founded Beautiful Day about 10 years ago as a granola business that employs refugees in order to give them hands-on experience and training they can use later on to gain permanent employment.

“As the United States prepares to take in the least amount of refugees since the 1980s, Cooper is gearing up to double growth at Beautiful Day so the organization can expand its services by taking on more refugees or train refugees for longer periods of time. …

“The organization finds refugees through various agencies, such as the Dorcas International Institute of Rhode Island. Cooper said typical candidates are those that have extremely high barriers to entry, whether its lacking cultural literacy or English speaking skills.

“Cooper said he chose granola because its non-perishable, healthy and a food that requires a lot of work to make, but not a lot of finesse.

“ ‘I had never run a food production company, but we have been determined to become our state’s premier granola company,’ he said, adding that the organization uses local distributors and suppliers when possible. ‘We try to use the highest quality ingredients we can to make granola people will really like.’

“Beautiful Day provides 200 hours of work to refugees in various parts of the granola business, which gives them experience for when they apply to their next job. The placement also comes with a stipend and has opportunities for refugees to interact with others in the community when the company goes to public places like farmer markets to sell the granola. … Cooper said most of the kitchen workers go onto entry level jobs such as working at a laundromat, in a warehouse, as a janitor or sometimes in food production.

“ ‘Most lack English language, but they can still learn pretty quickly how to look someone in the eyes during an interview,’ he said, adding that all of the program participants, many of whom lived for years in refugee camps, are extremely eager to work. ‘The primary skill we teach is confidence … In a lot of work settings you may not need much English, but you absolutely have to be able to communicate when you do or you don’t understand something. That takes confidence.’ …

“Cooper sees huge scalability through online subscriptions and consumer sales. He is also looking to sell directly to universities and law offices, which will also help spread Beautiful Day’s mission because subscribers receive a postcard each month with a story about a new trainee. …

“ ‘People can do something about refugee resettlement. … By making a small choice about what you eat for breakfast or for a snack, you can provide crucial on-the-job training for someone who otherwise can’t get a job.’ ”

More here.

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Photo: David Wells

A wonderful organization, the Providence Granola Project, has just received some well-deserved attention in the food magazine Edible Rhody. In fact the magazine has prepared a short video that says it all, here.

Nancy Kirsch writes, “Established in 2008, Providence Granola, now part of Beautiful Day (a nonprofit organization founded in 2012), has a three-fold mission, says Providence Granola co-founder Keith Cooper: Provide job training for immigrants in Rhode Island who are unlikely to otherwise find gainful employment, and educate community members about refugees and refugee resettlement, all by making and selling delicious artisanal granola.

“Cooper and his lean professional staff, including Anne Dombrofski, director of strategic partnerships, work out of the Social Enterprise Greenhouse, a co-working space in Davol Square in Providence. …

“Hand labor is done by a small team at Amos House, a soup kitchen and comprehensive social service agency in Providence. …

“The trainees are immigrants—often, but not always, refugees—who have come recently to the United States. They attend classes at the Dorcas International Institute of Rhode Island (Dorcas) and, through its assessment process, have been identified as less likely to find employment within the next year, given their lack of first-language literacy and absence of English skills.

“ ‘If we can speed up someone’s entry into the job market from a year or more to between three and six months … there’s a huge benefit,’ says Cooper.”

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