Champaign Non-Profit Reworks Its Mission By Putting Clients To Work

CHAMPAIGN--A Champaign non-profit reworked how it serves the community by asking those it helps to work for its services.

Mary Bosch knows firsthand that Salt & Light Ministry helps those in need, but wondered whether it was the right kind of help.

"They get the free food, they get the free clothes, but they learn that, they learn how easy that is," said Bosch, a client and volunteer at the organization. "And they don't learn how to go out and volunteer or get a menial job, or small job to help pay for those things."

The non-profit has housed a food pantry and clothing closet for clients like Bosch since 2003, feeding 400 people and giving away 3000 garments each week. All at no cost.

"For us, we determined that wasn't good enough," said Nathan Montgomery, Salt & Light's executive director. "We really, we wanted to be a part of affecting lasting change in people's lives."

So a month ago, the ministry closed its doors to makeover its mission. On Monday, they re-opened to welcome a new workers cooperative concept.

"For every hour that they work they earn credit that they can spend," said Montgomery."And they can use their credit whenever they want and to purchase whatever they want."

A process that turns clients into volunteers that will receive the minimum wage for ever hour they work if they want to buy clothing, or almost double that amount if they are spending it on food. Because those who developed the system say it's all about turning current customers into future employees.

"A voucher system isn't how it works when you go to Walmart, or when you go over to Target," said Montgomery. "And so for us, we really wanted to, you know, bring those parallels in here as much as we could to engage people in ways that are really going to translate for them out in the community."

While starting something unique in the Champaign community.

"You can't really identify something like what we're doing," said Montgomery. "And that's exciting."

But what really excited directors is the potential for other organizations to adopt this program too.
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