KENTWOOD, Mich. — You can buy products that will help hurting teens start on a new life, because they make the products themselves while learning other skills for future employment.
“We train them for basically to be successful at any job that they may have once they leave us,” says Jackie Brewster, program manager of the Employment Training Program at Wedgwood Christian Services.
The program’s Etsy page is constantly updated with new items, from bird houses to corn hole sets to beach chairs, all available for sale and hand-crafted by the program’s clients. The program teaches the skills to make the products, skills that can be used in future employment. “I have a client that was in this program about five or six years ago, and we used to make dog houses,” Brewster recalls. “This client purposely did all the shingles on these dog houses, and now he's a roofer.”
“Wedgwood’s mission is to help hurting kids,” Brewster explains. The young people in the program, ages 14 to 18, seek healing from traumas like neglect, abuse, sex trafficking, and experience in the juvenile justice system. “We really try and focus on having them learn work skills, so they can gain independence, gain confidence, to kind of set them up for success in the future.”
From the beginning, the Employment Training Program gives the clients real-life experiences found in the working world. They fill out a work application, go through a job interview, and get feedback on how they did. In the program, they learn to work with wood or cloth, and gain a sense of accomplishment through sales of the items.
“We've shown the kids the actual Etsy page, and you should see their faces,” Brewster notes.” It's just so cool to see them light up and feel that bit of success, because unfortunately, they really haven't had much success in their lives.”
The items the teens make can vary from beautiful to functional: charcuterie boards, bird houses, even a picnic table designed to allow anyone in a wheelchair to be able to sit in the middle of the table instead of banging up against the end of the table.
“We're not here to make money,” Brewster explains. “We are here to just be able to pay the kids and keep growing the program so we can hire more kids that really need these skills.”