Author: Susan Hendry
As a small business owner, Denise Cormier knows what it’s like to feel satisfaction in her work and experience joy in what she has created. She also knows how much being a part of a grassroots business has built up her own confidence and abilities. This is the vision that she has for the women in Next Step Ministries and that she brings to the For the Sparrows program, the social enterprise portion of the organization.
For the Sparrows was created to empower survivors of sexual exploitation to flourish by teaching basic business skills, training in job skills, encouraging creative talents, and providing them with employment in their production line of coffee and screen printing.
In the beginning, the sale of goods such as t-shirts, jewelry, and toques was sold at fundraisers to raise awareness for the work of Next Step Ministries. The sale of these products was good and eventually led to a successful Christmas Market in 2019. Future sales were promising. Then 2020 and Covid came, and it was all shut down.
With many products and nowhere to sell them, there was a need to pivot, so the online store, Next Step Marketplace, was born. For the next nine months, Denise and her team sold online sales as much as possible through social media. Sometimes this involved hours in lineups at Canada Post to get things mailed, and often it meant driving around the city, dropping merch off to customers.
During this time, ideas for generating income for NSM within the organization while at the same time discussing training and employing the women whom they served. In June 2020, NSM partnered with Kingdom Coffee to roast coffee that could be an avenue of employment for women in the program.
At the same time, the screen-printing social enterprise was born, and a screen printer was purchased to get it going. Denise became the point person in running this enterprise and teaching it to the participants, but she first had to learn how a screen printer worked and taught herself how to use it. After many setbacks, in Sept. 2021, the first batch of screen-printed tote bags with the For the Sparrows brand was available for sale. This has now expanded into a clothing line of printed t-shirts and sweatshirts, which are produced for both NSM and other companies.
In November 2021, the first eight-week screen-printing training program for survivors began, and since then, there have been two groups of women who have graduated from the program. One graduate has expressed the desire to start her own screen-printing business, and NSM is now partnering with her in this venture, lending support and mentoring.
Seeing women become aware of their own abilities, seeing their confidence grow, and seeing them empowered in their lives makes working for Next Step Ministries worthwhile for Denise and brings her a lot of joy.
“These women are extremely courageous”, says Denise, “and I feel privileged to walk with them on this journey”.