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