While browsing the candle section at Whole Foods, pick up a Bright Endeavors candle and flip it over. On the bottom label of each candle is the name of the young mother who made it.

Bright Endeavors, the New Moms 16-week paid job training program, provides young mothers in need with the skills necessary to find gainful employment, while doubling as a social enterprise candle company. “An interesting thing about social enterprises is that it’s a very broad spectrum,” said Sarah-Jayne Ashenhurst, New Moms social enterprise director. “Some don’t operate with the job training force as an actual labor force, as we do.”

Targeting mothers between 16 and 24 years in age, the mothers in Bright Endeavors are given the title of production assistant and split their time between manufacturing beautiful candles and attending professional skills workshops. The moms get paid for both. New Moms is based in Oak Park and in Austin while the production facility is located in Garfield Park. “The moms are here on the production floor Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from about 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.,” Ashenhurst said. “They have a half an hour in the morning and a half an hour in the afternoon where they’re working on professional skills, not specifically on-the-job skills.”

Mondays and Fridays, production assistants receive more professional development training, such as peer coaching and participating in mock job interviews. “Part of why our schedule works the way it does is it allows our moms to be here and get the job skills they need without having to sacrifice being able to be an active parent,” she said.

On the production floor, the moms carefully pour soy wax, mix scents, attach labels, conduct quality checks and pack and ship candles out. “We have to be able to fulfill the volume of orders that any small business would need to fulfill, but in a really concentrated timeline, basically three short shifts a week,” Ashenhurst said.

In addition to being sold at midwestern Whole Foods locations, the candles are also sold in a variety of independent local retailers, gift shops and fair-trade boutiques. They can also be purchased on the Bright Endeavors website. CB2 also sells Bright Endeavors candles under its private label brand.

Production assistants are split into teams and handle a sector of the candle making operation. Those further along in the program may receive the honorary position of becoming a team lead. Team leads wear red aprons, while regular production assistants wear black. “They have earned that title based on their performance and knowledge of the department they’re in, but also they showed up and showed out and took this training experience to another level,” said Cathy Robinson-Yates, Bright Endeavors production and training specialist.

Team leads make sure their teams run smoothly and carry out their duties well. “Everybody has a beautiful time,” Robinson-Yates said. “We’re more like a sisterhood here. It’s really hard to get the moms to move on, but you know the training wheels must come off.”

The primary goal of Bright Endeavors is to have each production assistant find employment upon completing the program. When a production assistant finds a job, she rings the bell on the wall of the manufacturing facility. “It is so fun. You can be doing whatever and you hear that bell, you just have to stop. Someone got a job; it’s so exciting,” Robinson-Yates said.

After ringing the bell, the mom writes her name on the wall, along with the name of her employer, the date she got her job and a meaningful quote. “They’re kind of leaving their legacy, but also giving the other moms some inspiration,” Robinson-Yates said.

Due to the brevity of the program, New Moms and Bright Endeavors relies on a training tool called executive skills. Each cohort and New Moms staffer take a survey that identifies the skills that come naturally to them and those that don’t. The knowledge is made public, so that everyone knows how to interact better with each other.

Read the rest of Stacey Sheridan’s article at Wednesday Journal