Gabrielle Caverl-McNeal, Director of Workforce Development, spent eight years in traditional workforce development before joining New Moms, an organization that is changing the future for young moms experiencing poverty and homelessness in Chicago by offering housing, job training, and family support. Their social enterprise, Bright Endeavors, uses the craft of making premium soy candles to create employment opportunities that support young moms on their pursuit of a successful future.
Beyond being drawn to New Moms and Bright Endeavors for their comprehensive support services, compassionate approach, and unique social enterprise component, their mission is one that hits home for Gabrielle. She sat down with us to share top takeaways from her experience at the 2017 REDF National Portfolio Retreat, her hopes for the year ahead, and why investing in young moms has far-reaching ripple effects for generations to come.
Energizing is the first word that comes to mind to describe the REDF retreat. The chic venue and goodie bags filled with social enterprise products set the tone for networking, the exchange of ideas, and overall fun! It was a reminder that the organizations present created a community of like-minded people committed to the work of social enterprise, the mission of helping others and making an impact. We’re part of a larger team effort that cares about people, and we are innovators toward social change.
Connection, Collaboration, and Peer-to-Peer Problem Solving
It’s vital that we connect and learn from fellow colleagues in the social enterprise field. Collectively we get to see the efforts being made in this work and reaffirm that we’re not “out there” alone in some fruitless practice. It’s great learning from others and understanding how they do things differently, so collaboration is really important. Instead of recreating the wheel, we discover what does and doesn’t work, and uncover new ways of doing things that might not have occurred to us because we’re knee deep in the work.
A Welcomed Retreat
At the retreat, I had time to step away from my day-to-day work, reflect and learn how to improve. I really appreciated the time away to brainstorm and collaborate with other social enterprises. I had the opportunity to catch up with the Cara team, another Chicago-based social enterprise in REDF’s portfolio. It was so nice to connect and put faces to names. It was an occasion when we could all be one “team”, supporting the social enterprise movement, even if we’re on separate organizational teams.
Taking it Home
There were quite a few key learnings from the retreat that we’re in the process of implementing. I was most inspired by the Rapid Innovation Lab session run by the capacity building firm, Smallify, and the ways they challenged us to think about how we introduce new processes or procedures when it comes to building the brand and the business. One exercise in particular proved beneficial because we were tasked to think of a big challenge and then break it down into smaller, more manageable tasks that could be completed quicker. Also, the session on executive skills, mental skills that help you get things done, was insightful. It helped me identify areas of weakness in executive functioning and develop tools to compensate those areas to improve my work and day-to-day tasks in my personal life. I finally have a label for it! And not just a name for strengths and weaknesses, but more importantly, we have a process for addressing how we organize, plan, react and get things done in life and work.
We’re also implementing SMART goals in a deeper way than before. We’re rolling out new goal-making forms, and I’m eager to see how the revisions made based on learnings from the retreat come to life. Lastly, it was really interesting learning from youth-run organizations like More than Words. I realized that we have an opportunity to better incorporate our moms in the decision making. We’re exploring new ways to involve them at Bright Endeavors, and we’re asking more questions so we can incorporate their input into new products, scents and the overall sales process.
The Unsung Strength of our Young Moms
It takes an incredible amount of strength for a young mom to come to New Moms. For her to have the courage to walk through our doors with her child and seek out the services that we provide, that already says a tremendous amount about the young woman on day one. We believe that if we can equip her with the tools she needs to succeed, then the generation behind her won’t need help. We want to interrupt the generational poverty that can seem almost inevitable as a young mom.
A Bright Future
Having made my career in workforce development, I’m all about outcomes. You can have a mom who is not working, who’s thinking about going back to school but doesn’t know where to start, or who’s struggling to find housing, and they need a great deal of support. After joining New Moms and Bright Endeavors, she can leave with safe housing, enrolled in school or with a secure job, full of pride and with newfound positive self-esteem. To see a young woman enter the program uncertain of her future, maybe wearing sweatpants, and then to see her on graduation day wearing a professional suit and full of hope, that’s a transformation that you can’t put a dollar amount on. That’s the transformation I get to see, and that I often see in a very short time during our 16-week program. I’m also excited about the business growth we’ve seen from our candle sales. This growth is a direct result of the moms putting in those hours and working hard. Their efforts come out in the way we do business.
The Far-Reaching Effects of Investing in Women
When you help a young woman, you help a generation. You touch not just the life of the mom, but the lives of those around her: her children, friends, family and community. Her success is an example of potential achieved. I myself was a young mom, and I parent a young mom. I had a lot of support, but I didn’t know everything that I wanted or needed. I’m fortunate to have had people who helped and invested in me. Now I can share my experience and insight and help the women we work with in a much deeper way. That’s why New Moms and Bright Endeavors’ work is so important to me.