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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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Readers know I’m a fan of the Providence Granola Project, a social enterprise that, by training refugees to make a product, acclimates them to US employment norms and aids their transition to self-sufficiency.

Recently, the organization produced an annual report that explained how it developed a different sort of model for small business, a model they hope others will use or adapt.

Founder Keith Cooper says, “The Providence Granola Project started as an experiment to explore what might help refugees enter the job market. Building a small business seemed like a logical place to start. But what a revelation it has been to discover how nearly every aspect of a small business—from capital to product—can serve a higher purpose.”

The organization’s Big Idea tweaks all the traditional elements of a business.

New hires: workers who are the least prepared, workers the training could really help.

Customers: frequently people who not only like granola but share the mission.

Investors: people whose desired return on investment is the ability to benefit immigrants on their path to becoming contributing members of their new nation.

Work: “repurposed as hands-on education. Making granola is transformed into an experiential classroom.”

Products: delicious foods that are simultaneously tools for raising awareness.

Check out the remarkable variety of granola flavors, granola bars and snacking nuts at the website. You can also sign up for a Granola of the Month package here if you’re up for giving this worthy cause a bit more predictability about resources.

Infographic: Providence Granola Project

Our Big Idea

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At WBUR’s The Artery, Andrea Shea has a story about a composer with a penchant for unusual texts: the package blurbs practically everyone reads at breakfast when the newspaper hasn’t arrived.

“Musicians are always searching for inspiration,” writes Shea, “and sometimes they find it in some unlikely places.

“Take Brian Friedland, a prolific Boston composer and jazz pianist who’s discovered a creative goldmine in his cupboards. He takes words on packaging for products such as granola, mouthwash and tea, then sets them to some pretty sophisticated music. Friedland calls the funny-but-serious project ‘Household Items’ and he has a new CD. …

“Friedland is not a singer, but he sees amusing, absurdist potential in labels featuring characters, quests or ‘extreme’ wording. He started foraging for inspiration about eight years ago and had an epiphany when he read a can of carpet cleaner after his cat missed the litter box.

“It read, ‘Do not. Do not puncture. Do not freeze. Do not incinerate. Do not expose to heat above 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Do not inhale.’ He made them into a percussive, vocally complex work where the singer repeats, ‘Do not! Do not! Do not puncture,’ with urgency.”

Percussionist and singer Laura Grill “performed a few songs, including one about a fragrant skin moisturizer.

“ ‘There’s one benefit of having these sort of accessible lyrics,’Grill said, ‘because people are like, “Oh right — Avon Peach Hand Lotion — I can connect with that.” ’

“Grill, also an [New England Conservatory] alum, says Friedland has found a unique solution to an age-old problem.

“ ‘As someone who enjoys composing and arranging, one of the hardest things is trying to write lyrics,’ she said, ‘so Brian finds them on his coffee packages and appliances.’ ”

Listen to Friedland’s SleepyTime tea music with lyrics taken straight from the box at WBUR, here.

Photo: Andrea Shea/WBUR
Brian Friedland, a composer who puts text from product packaging to music.

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