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Designing a New Career

About 10 women sit around the table for the weekly Monday night meeting at Rebel Nell, an employment social enterprise jewelry business located in Detroit that is a current REDF strategic grantee and an Accelerator alumni. The chatter dies down as the women turn to face Karen, one of the “old school Rebel Nell” participants who came for a visit this evening. Like all the women in the room, Karen was formerly facing a housing situation that could have left her homeless, and was referred to Rebel Nell by her caseworker in 2013. She worked for two years before returning to work in the Human Services Re-entry Department where she had worked before coming to Rebel Nell.

Regardless of their previous work experience, women at Rebel Nell learn how to handcraft jewelry. “I had to learn the jewelry part from scratch,” she says, “all that comes with listening and knowing that you can be taught something new.” This openness served Karen well when she returned to her previous workplace in a new role. Women who work at Rebel Nell are exposed to multiple parts of the production and distribution process and get the opportunity to identify their strengths. “You start with one part of the process. I was good at shaping the silver and getting the colors to come out, Trisha knew how to draw and was good at tidying the pieces up.” It’s on the job training that prepares them for being able to wear multiple hats.

Rebel Nell creates jewelry out of graffiti paint that has fallen off the walls in various locations in Detroit—the women get to create their own designs. As one of Rebel Nell’s first graduates, Karen has a collection named after her because she had the idea for the design.

Karen feels good to be back speaking to the group of current participants, and she’s excited to see what they do next—“I always believe in passing the baton.” When participants leave the program, they have a community where they can return to for support. “Can you feel the family feeling here at Rebel Nell?” Karen asks the group after her check-in—and everyone enthusiastically agrees.

The Hidden Talent Blog Series tells the stories of highly-motivated, well-prepared employees who got their start at an employment social enterprise businesses. With unemployment levels at historic lows, traditional businesses struggle to find good employees. With the support of social enterprises, and their own determination to beat the odds, tens of thousands of men and women have turned their lives around. They are some of the best-trained, most loyal employees a business could hope to hire. Our intention is that this series sheds a light on their potential, and that employers consider social enterprises as a source for finding great people.

Claire Michaels is the Director of Workforce and Hiring at SFMade and Manufacture : San Jose, where she develops programs and partnerships to help people who have overcome barriers to employment find career opportunities at manufacturing businesses in San Francisco and San Jose. Claire has been a fan of REDF and part of the REDF community for many years.

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