“Love and empowerment are the very core of Woman’s Co-Op,” said Jessie Diamante, a wife, and mother of three children in Battle Creek, Mich.
Jessie is one of many women from the community whose paths have led them to Woman’s Co-Op, a Battle Creek-based economic empowerment nonprofit for women, by women. The organization utilizes a community engagement approach to providing economic empowerment to the community to help women rise out of poverty. They work to foster a network that provides resources, education, career training and life management assistance so that women have the support they need to care for themselves and their families.
“A lot of times, the women coming through the doors are women who need extra love or direction,” said Kayla Johnson, a work experience trainer at Woman’s Co-Op.
Kayla walked through the doors at Woman’s Co-Op four years ago when she was assigned community service hours through sobriety court. Once her hours were complete, Kayla chose to continue working with the Woman’s Co-Op as a volunteer after witnessing the positive impact the organization had on so many residents. She recently completed the organization’s Frontline Reception program, a six-week class that provides clerical training, teaching such skills as answering the phone, taking messages, greeting guests and more. Upon completing the course, Kayla accepted a job offer from the Woman’s Co-Op to serve as its program supervisor.
According to the 2021 Kids Count Report by W.K. Kellogg Foundation grantee, Michigan League for Public Policy, 23.4% of Michigan’s children live in poverty. In Battle Creek, the number of children living in poverty is around 36.9%. At the core of its mission, Woman’s Co-op seeks to uplift women to learn the skills needed to overcome employment barriers, earn a living wage and keep their children and families out of poverty.
Woman’s Co-Op separates its programs into two areas: Life Enrichment Classes and Education & Training. Life Enrichment Classes provide education in the areas of poverty, resiliency, keeping families together and nurturing children, while Education & Training supports workforce development programs in the Commercial Janitorial and Frontline Reception fields. The Co-op also offers on-the-job paid training placements and testing support.
One of the newest Education & Training programs is Industrial Sewing, which includes eight weeks of beginner instruction on standard machines, followed by eight weeks of advanced instruction on industrial machines. Once the women finish the program, they can use the space and machines for themselves, providing the opportunity to pursue entrepreneurial opportunities.
“Our Industrial Sewing program is so popular that we decided to expand and offer Cricut (electronic material-cutting machine) training as part of the course,” said Woman’s Co-Op Executive Director Teresa Momenee. “What’s even more exciting is that several women who participated in the program banded together to launch Butterfly Boutique, a small shop located right inside our building.”
Open to the public Monday through Thursday from 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m., Butterfly Boutique offers the Battle Creek community handmade items ranging from clothing and jewelry to coffee mugs, towels and more. Both Jessie and Kayla are Cricut instructors at Woman’s Co-Op who have witnessed first-hand the impact of Butterfly Boutique.
“My husband works full time, and we have three children, one who graduates this year, so we have a lot of expenses as a family of five,” Jessie said. “The Butterfly Boutique allowed me to bring in extra orders and money so that I can set aside a couple of hundred dollars for school clothes and supplies.”
In addition to supporting her family’s financial needs, the Butterfly Boutique has given Jessie a sense of purpose and improved her mental and emotional outlook on life.
“I love being at home with my children, but when you stay home every day, it’s easy to lose a part of yourself and forget your identity,” Jessie said. “When I’m in the shop (Butterfly Boutique), I feel like Jessie again. I feel needed.”
During the pandemic, Woman’s Co-Op received a general operating grant from the Kellogg Foundation to expand supports and services for women impacted by COVID-19 to help them continue to provide for their children and families during a difficult couple of years. The ladies at Woman’s Co-Op paid it forward during the pandemic as well, creating customized face masks and scrubs for community members working on the front lines.
Jessie and Kayla are not alone in their experience with the Industrial Sewing program. Since its launch in 2018, more than 18 women have graduated from the program. Currently, Butterfly Boutique has an average of six women who work in the store, creating and selling their items to the public.
The economic empowerment work taking place at Woman’s Co-Op is for women, by women. The organization transforms the lives of community members who walk into the door by listening to and responding to the voices of women. Instead of simply tracking employment outcomes, Woman’s Co-Op uses a self-sufficiency model that focuses on a whole-person approach from job training and placement to empowering women to launch their own small businesses in the community.
Woman’s Co-op is also part of a consortium in Battle Creek comprised of Michigan Works! Kellogg Community College and Goodwill Industries that seeks to improve employment outcomes for low-income Battle Creek residents. The consortium recently launched Connect Battle Creek, a website designed to support job seekers and employers.
Women’s Co-Op encourages women to help women so they can better support their children and families. To learn more about the organization, please visit womanscoop.org.