WGN-TV Show Notes – February 16, 2004

If you’ve been out of work for a long time and don’t have even a high school diploma, it’s even harder to find a job that will pay the bills. But a non-profit business in Chicago is proving that the right training combined with the right product can help women make a fresh start.

You wouldn’t think that soap could have such a cleansing effect, but at the Enterprising Kitchen, these women are making a success of their product and their lives.

It wasn’t always about soap. Joan Pikas originally started the Enterprising Kitchen as a non-profit training program where women packed organic grains for sale, but business wasn’t that good.

“An acquaintance said to me, make soap. It’s really hot, she said. I didn’t know how to make soap and she said, it’s really easy. Just get a book,” says Joan Pikas, the Enterprising Kitchen.

Turns out, making soap from organic botanicals and essential oils wasn’t that difficult. And over the years, Pikas has taught hundreds of women how to make it. Women who were homeless, on welfare or coming out of an abusive relationship.

“They see it come in as olive oil and they see it go out in this beautiful package. They have a part in that. And, it’s a very empowering opportunity for them and their self-esteem grows,” says Pikas.

The women who come through the Enterprising Kitchen typically spend about six months working in every part of the business.

“Everybody is involved in the actual cleaning up of the soap, getting it ready for packaging and then shrink-wrapping it and getting it into the shipping room and out the door for our orders,” Pikas says.

Making, cutting, wrapping, labeling and shipping soap gives these women all kinds of skills they’ll use in any manufacturing environment. but what the Enterprising Kitchen also does is give these women life training skills to help them better manage their lives out of work.

“They need an opportunity to gain all of these skills we take for granted. Coming to work on time, following directions, coming every day no matter what, making plans for child care when necessary,” Pikas says.

Chernise Lyles spend four years at the Enterprising Kitchen.

“I prepared soaps for shrink wrap. I wrapped up soap, tied up soap. I done make soap. Mixed it up and then been back and cut the soap. Put soap on shelves,” Chernise says.

And she might still be there except…

“Joan decided it was time for me to move on,” Chernise says.

And Chernise went from making minimum wage to earning $11.20 an hour.

“It’s a great thing. I thank God for that. I don’t think I would have ever got that if it weren’t for Joan. She’s the one who put me there. She sent me to that job. She found it for me,” Chernise says.

“This is a very individualized program. We’re very much involved in everybody’s life. Sometimes much more than they want us to be,” Pikas says.

But with business growing at 50 percent and sales expected to surpass $350,000 this year, the Enterprising Kitchen is more than just a helping hand for women who want to work. It’s a company whose future is as bright as the women who work there.

About 70 percent of the women who work at the Enterprising Kitchen are employed for at least a year after leaving the program. Others are continuing their education and training in the hopes of finding an even better job.

For more information go to www.theenterprisingkitchen.org

Copyright (c) 2004, WGN-TV

Feb. 16, 2004.