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“House of Esther”

By Sandra Grabman

It began in 1994 as an inspiration.

I saw a few groups of people who typically are the last ones hired, if they’re hired at all – people over 50, teenagers at risk, and people with disabilities – and felt the urgent need to do something about it.

An idea began in my head, then grew and grew.

I’d worked as a secretary for decades and knew that my most mature, resourceful, and caring co-workers were generally those over 50. They’d had years of experience and were long over the self-absorbed nature of many young people. They’d been called upon to help train new employees and did so very well. Yet their gray hair and dates on their resumes resulted in being turned down over and over again when seeking a new job.

Why? It’s illogical.

Teens are just beginning their career paths, are willing to work for a lower wage, and have quick, alert minds ready to learn anything that interests them. It’s difficult, though, for them to be taken seriously by many employers because of their youth. There’s got to be more to life than flipping burgers.

People with disabilities, God bless them, have a lot more than their disabilities to battle with; they have to deal with the sometimes cruel, sometimes just ignorant treatment from non-disabled people. Disabled doesn’t mean unable. They’re just differently-abled people who yearn to be just as productive as anyone else. They want their lives to matter, too, just like we do.

Put these three groups of people together and what do you have? House of Esther!

House of Esther was a not-for-profit, 501(c)(3) organization created for the purpose of providing jobs and experience to these people. It offered real work that benefitted others. It was a mail-order organization that offered a catalog of goods that would help suddenly-single (divorced or widowed) women take care of home repairs, help their children through the loss of their father, protect themselves from assailants, learn how to present their best self to a potential employer, etc. They sold self-help books, videos, and tools. House of Esther employees were paid $5.00/hour, which at the time was more than minimum wage.

The United Way gifted us with a nice grant to get us started, and the members of House of Esther’s Board of Directors had many fundraisers to keep things going. We’d hired a wonderful lady, over 50 years of age, to be our Executive Director; and she gave speeches about House of Esther to civic organizations around town. Their members, too, were very supportive of our organization. Under Executive Director Pam Greenwood’s supervision, several people with disabilities and one teenager filled orders, as well as did work for other local organizations: they prepared a local bank’s flyers for bulk mailing, transported them to the post office, and distributed advertisers’ newspapers to their receptacles in front of many businesses.

House of Esther was doing very well for about two years. Then things changed.

Funding began dwindling. We couldn’t have fundraisers every week, after all. We needed more grants, but none were coming. When I met with the director of the local supported workshop (which served people with disabilities), I found out why.

The workshop had been in existence here for many years, and its director said that House of Esther was its worst enemy.Enemy?

Aren’t we both working to better the lives of our target groups? Shouldn’t we be joining forces and helping each other so everyone has all the work they need?

It seems he didn’t see it that way, and he apparently had been bad-mouthing House of Esther to grant-giving entities. You see, the workshop’s long waiting list was what assured grants for them; and we were threatening that by giving jobs to people who had been waiting for their services.

Politics. Definitely politics.

House of Esther had to close its doors, after only two years of service, due to lack of funding. The workshop won. They’re, once again, “the only act in town.”

Why am I telling you this?

Because I’m hoping someone will take this House of Esther idea and run with it. Where you see the need, please consider beginning a House of Esther.

I’ll be glad to give you any information I can to help you do it.

Sandra Grabman