BAM Profile: Creating ‘Indivisible’ Jobs in Michigan

– Rodolpho Carrasco

(Originally published May 1, 2012 at www.urbanfaith.com.)

The job creation bracelets on sale at 7,000 Starbucks stores across America are assembled by a West Michigan organization with a higher calling to provide unemployed people with both work and purpose.

Banding Together

More than 40 individuals have worked for Next Step on the Indivisible bracelets assembly contract. Together they produced and shipped more than 1 million bracelets.

Last fall Starbucks announced that it would sell $5 bracelets at every one of its 7,000 stores to boost job creation in the United Sates. Starbucks customers may purchase Indivisible bracelets at point-of-sale, with the proceeds going to support small business loans in underserved communities across the country through the Opportunity Finance Network. A $5 million grant by the Starbucks Foundation in 2011 seeded the Create Jobs for USA initiative.

The purpose behind the initiative is direct action to meet a need. Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz told CBS News that “over 13 million Americans [are] unemployed, [including] a large percentage of Hispanics and African Americans, 42 of 50 states are facing budget deficits … and we’re celebrating 8.3% unemployment as a victory. I just can’t allow that … What I’m trying to do is ask the question, ‘How can business, and specifically Starbucks, use its skill for good?’”

Last month Starbucks announced additional partners in the cause. Google Offers and Banana Republic have committed to raise a combined $4 million to add to the $7.5 million raised to date, noting that the Create Jobs for USA program to date has helped create and sustain 2,300 jobs.

Another notable partner in this initiative exists down the supply chain. An assembler of the Indivisible bracelets, Next Step of West Michigan, has an impressive track record in connecting employment opportunities to people looking for a chance.

Small Steps

Next Step got involved in the Create Jobs for USA initiative last fall. At a Wednesday-morning Bible study hosted at the Next Step site on Division Avenue in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Scott Jonkhoff entertained a question. Jonkhoff, founder and executive director of Next Step, was asked by a fellow participant about Next Step’s capacity to create a production space and hire people to assemble the Indivisible bracelet.

That conversation led to a busy October. Conference calls with BDA, a supply vendor for Starbucks, led to a site visit at Next Step. Recommendations from that site visit led to two intense weeks where Jonkhoff’s construction team transformed their dark warehouse into a well-lit and clean assembly and production space. A deal was signed that made Next Step a certified supplier for Starbucks, working under BDA, and 22 men and women were hired. “Product began rolling in every day,” said Jonkhoff. “Every day there was a FedEx Next Day Air shipment to bring us on line.”

To date Next Step has assembled more than 1 million of the Indivisible bracelets. On a visit to the office, I looked over the mounds of bracelets, plastic bags, and description cards that go into a single unit. Months earlier, at a Starbucks in New Jersey, I had purchased a bracelet as a small way to help job creation in the country. It was great to see not only the process, but to meet some of the people behind this effort.

Some of the hires were underemployed or unemployed. Others were in the process of rebuilding their lives after encounters with the justice system or homelessness. All of the employees I met on my visit were cheerful and working together as a team.

Going All In

Next Step founder Scott Jonkhoff lives out his faith by creating opportunities for others.

Next Step’s spirit of camaraderie flows from its leader, Jonkhoff. He ran a fastener company for 14 years before selling the company in 2002 and dedicating himself to a missional purpose. A Christian his entire life, Jonkhoff heard a sermon on Matthew 25. “Our loving Lord says what we do unto the least is done to Him, and what we do not do to the least, we did not do to him,” Jonkhoff said. He felt convicted about how the poor and the hurting were just “faceless statistics” to him.

One cold day soon after, Jonkhoff noticed a man pushing a cart on the street. He left his office and gave the man a warm coat. “The look of amazement, gratitude, and hurting in his eyes exposed my cold heart, my judgmental attitude, and my lack of caring in years past,” Jonkhoff recalls. “I returned to my office and prayed for a new heart and the courage to live in a way that’s ‘all in’ for Him.”

After selling his business for a small profit, Jonkhoff began working with Habitat for Humanity to start a ReStore. There he worked with prisoners on deconstruction jobs and learned of the struggles and challenges they had in finding affordable housing and paid employment. They purchased homes, renovated them, and continued hiring men no one else would hire. In 2008, they incorporated Next Step as a 501c3 organization and began taking construction and remodeling contracts with the City of Grand Rapids and other businesses and organizations.

Today, in addition to the contract to assemble the Indivisible bracelet, Next Step is active in a variety of restoration and renovation projects. They are also exploring development of a community garden across the street from its facility that is owned by a local church. The Indivisible contract, however, has been a unique opportunity for more than 40 people who have been employed to date.

“So many are looking for a chance to turn it around,” Jonkhoff told The Grand Rapids Press in 2008. “That’s who we want to be there for.” Remember that the next time you’re ordering coffee at Starbucks and look down to see the Create Jobs for USA Indivisible bracelet.

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