Grace Does Works
Grace Episcopal Church in Hopkinsville is making strides to end poverty in its community though a project they call GraceWorks.
GraceWorks was established in the summer of 2014. The idea of GraceWorks came about when Grace Episcopal Church made the decision to hire The Rev. Father Benjamin Hart.
Grace Episcopal was looking for a new reverend who could help build the youth in the congregation.
“When Grace Church reached out to Father Benjamin to serve as an interim priest for his first two years out of seminary, they had mentioned a somewhat vague interest in starting this business project but they were more focused on raising the young adult attendance within the church,” Charlee Weeks said, Grace Works assistant shop manager.
Weeks said when Hart heard about the idea of the non-profit organization, now known as GraceWorks, he knew that he wanted to be involved.
“When I read about the proposed non-profit concept, I thought a silkscreen print shop that produced greeting cards might fit the Thistle Farms model rather well,” Hart said.
Hart said when he met with Grace Episcopal for the in-person interview he informed the church of his intentions. Hart’s focus would be getting GraceWorks off the ground instead of building the youth of the congregation.
Hart holds a bachelor’s degree in fine arts with an emphasis in printmaking. He is working with Grace Episcopal Church temporarily, for two years, as he is just out of seminary.
Weeks said he and Hart met while getting their undergraduate degrees at Murray State University. He said when Hart heard he was looking for something productive to do that involved his skill set as an artist, after earning his degree, Hart reached out to him.
Before Weeks began working with GraceWorks, Hart was the only one who had any practical knowledge about screen-printing.
Originally, Grace Episcopal wanted to create an organization like Thistle Farms. Thistle Farms is a non-profit organization which helps women who are survivors of addiction, trafficking, violence and poverty.
There are many reasons why women in these situations would have trouble getting and keeping a job. The goal of Thistle Farms is to give them a chance to work on those issues so they can be productive members of society.
The women who are involved with Thistle Farms are given a job within the organization. The women are put to work making different soaps, lotions, candles and other products produced by the company using thistles.
These women are taken in by the organization entirely. The women even live there while they are getting on their feet. Most importantly, they are surrounded by women like them who have survived and people who want them to succeed.
Grace Episcopal Church has started its journey in creating a similar non-profit organization.
The GraceWorks mission statement reads: Our mission is to provide employment to those living in poverty by creating a safe working environment where we make quality products.
The organization currently has around 15 volunteers and two paid employees.
“One is a single mother with three children and the other is a young man with mental retardation,” Weeks said.
Weeks said the long-term goal is to have two volunteers working with each employee so there is plenty of room to for the employees grow. He said the only issue right now is their lack of a steady cash flow.
“People who are caught in a dire financial situation often have few social interactions in which the other party isn’t trying to get something from them, Hart said. So ultimately the intent behind having so many volunteers present is to provide a social environment and to inspire a sense of self-worth as well as to help with the workload.”
All the products produced by the employees are then sold to support GraceWorks. The organization makes products such as earrings, bracelets, candles, T-Shirts, greeting cards, custom invitations, tote bags, necklaces and various screen printed items. “Like Thistle Farms, we are looking to hire people who would otherwise be viewed as unemployable,” Weeks said. “However, we do plan to look beyond only employing women.”
Weeks said he spends about three hours at GraceWorks every other week, as of now. He said once they start picking up for the holiday season, he will be in Hopkinsville every week.
During fall break this year, The First Presbyterian Church and St. Johns Episcopal Church from Murray spent fall break working alongside the GraceWorks employees and volunteers in Hopkinsville.
Grace Episcopal allowed both groups to stay in the church during their weekend. Each day they went down to the GraceWorks shop and helped with screen-printing as well as making various jewelry.
Weeks said during the mission trip, Murray First Presbyterian Church and St. Johns Episcopal Church was able to help GraceWorks print 200 two color cards, around 100 single color cards, 30 shirts, 20 candles and between 40–60 bracelets.
He said the group was able to knock out three weeks’ worth of work and more than $1,000 in stock in just three days. “I loved working with GraceWorks,” said Brett Eisenhouer, member of Murray’s First Presbyterian Church. “It was such a fun hands on process and it was great to be able to see the organization begin to grow.”
Alec Brock said, member of the St. John’s Episcopal Church in Murray, it was a privilege to have the opportunity to work with GraceWorks and see the effects on the people GraceWorks benefits.
Lisa Polivic, Murray First Presbyterian campus ministry director, said she was very glad she was able to be apart of GraceWorks if only for a retreat.
This non-profit organization is still new, but it is growing every day. Currently, GraceWorks is run out of the basement at the Grace Episcopal Church in Hopkinsville.
There are many progressions in the works for the young non-profit. Weeks said a printmaking professor at Murray State University is working on setting up a paid internship for a student through GraceWorks.
Next year Hart will leave Grace Episcopal and move to a permanent church. Weeks will be graduating with his masters during that same year. Together they are working to grow this organization so it will be able to stand on its own once they leave.
Weeks said there is a hope to establish a connection with Fort Campbell and provide employment opportunities for members of the military who are returning from combat with post-traumatic stress disorder.
“We have aspirations, looking forward, to establish a proper storefront in Hopkinsville with proper work areas for silkscreen, candle making and jewelry making,” Weeks said. “I would like to see GraceWorks running, in some capacity, five to six days a week with open access to tours and visitors as an education outreach.”