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Friday
Nov242017

Nonprofit Spotlight: Elpis Enterprises

Article by Claudia Kittock, photos by Rick Kittock 

Every parent knows that raising a competent, caring teenager is complicated. Helping that young person navigate the world of work is even more difficult. Imagine having to traverse adulthood without the support of family, without the guideposts of a warm bed, without the thousands of conversations parents have with their children, and without a model that holds down a steady job.

I first learned about Elpis Enterprises when I interviewed people working for Woodchuck. Elpis helps provide workers for Woodchuck, and is currently in talks with Michael Mader of Hippy Feet to expand their training program to include workers who will work for Hippy Feet.

Paul Ramsour, Executive Director, Elpis

Elpis is the Greek word for hope, and Paul Ramsour and everyone at Elpis Enterprises works to provide hope through job training. Paul started Elpis through his work with the Minneapolis Jaycees Charitable Foundation. He helped raise money for them and was asked to design youth programs. After setting up a focus group and learning about the best practices from professionals who run youth programs, Paul began to imagine a network for youth to learn entrepreneurial skills.

The entire enterprise began when Paul was asked to host a table at a festival in Whittier Park. He got the idea of selling birdfeeders. Paul bought boards and cut kits, and brought them to a group of young people. The birdfeeders sold out, and a concept was born.

Paul’s friend, Mike Patrick, suggested using repurposed wood and became a ‘wood warrior’ driving around the city looking for people taking down fences and throwing out wood. Even though Mike was in a wheelchair, he was able to get help in loading the wood into his van, and brought it to Paul.

All of this early work was done in volunteers’ garages and in-home shops, borrowing tools as they went. The first space was in the building now occupied by People Serving People. Tools were bought and for 1-2 years, the business of Elpis was making and selling bird feeders.

A hobby screen printing machine was donated and, again, through trial and error and a lot of hard work, the people of Elpis learned to print t-shirts. That, too, was successful, and with a grant from the Minneapolis Jaycees, Elpis was able to buy the first screen printing press.

In 2002, Elpis Enterprises was granted 501(c)3 status, and became focused on not just making and selling products, but on teaching young people the business of business. Elpis moved to its current location in Saint Paul in 2005.

Meanwhile, Paul Ramsour spent almost 10 years working at YouthLink, learning about and supporting young people with significant difficulties getting and keeping employment. The time there was invaluable and when a 2014 grant from the Bremer Foundation made it possible to hire a full-time time staff person, Paul became that person.

By 2015, Elpis was able to hire a career counselor to help the young people learn what being employed means, how to learn from mistakes and make the changes necessary to become a good employee. Elpis holds about 150 workshops a year, educating 3000-4000 young people around the metro.  

At present, 8-10 young people at a time work at Elpis to learn job skills and work in either woodworking or screen printing. There are 3 cohorts of young people every year, coupled with field trips to other businesses, and work on resumes and placements files with interview skills as a key component.

Elpis has moved beyond crisis employment to becoming a bridge to support young people on the journey they choose. This is an important place for youth to build skills, experiences, and relationships in the community. They develop as individuals and potential employees by working in real enterprises gaining the skills, knowledge, and confidence necessary to overcome homelessness and become contributing members of our community.

Exciting? Needed? How can you help support Elpis Enterprises?
• Volunteer - Elpis is looking for volunteers who can share their expertise and suggest businesses that would be interested in being part of the work.
• Donate - Go to https://www.elpisenterprises.org/donations
• Learn more - Go to https://www.elpisenterprises.org/

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About Claudia Kittock

Claudia is a resident of the Mill District. In addition to writing for Mill City Times, she is a founding Board Member of Friends of the Mill District. Claudia is the author of Health Through Chaos, mentors young adults at YouthLink, and has served on the Downtown Minneapolis Neighborhood Association (DMNA).
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Contact: claudia@millcitymedia.org

 

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