By Daliah Singer
Brooke Scully was intrigued by a flier she spotted at the halfway house where she was living. She’d recently been released from prison and needed a job. She had a baby girl to support.
The paper was advertising the Women’s Bean Project (WBP), a nonprofit that offers employment opportunities to women who have a hard time finding work. Scully, who’s in recovery from addiction, filled out an application, interviewed and was hired in August 2021 to work on the production line. She eventually trained women who were new to the program, and nine months after she started, the 28-year-old graduated from the program. She’s now employed part-time at a bakery while she works toward her GED.
“I’m thankful they have a program like this to help women,” Scully said. “They helped me decide on what I wanted to do with my life and what career setting I wanted to go into…I want to help people who’ve been in my situation and want to move on and change.”
WBP will soon be able to help a lot more women like Scully. In July, the nonprofit is moving into a new facility in Athmar Park that’s double the size of their current location, an old firehouse next to Curtis Park.
Space constraints had stifled WBP’s growth, said CEO Tamra Ryan, but within three years, the relocation will allow the organization to serve an additional 40 women per year — nearly twice as many as it helps now.
“I do believe when you change a woman’s life, you change her family’s life,” Ryan said. “That ripple extends out beyond her to her family and her friends and, ultimately, to the community.”
Since its founding in 1989, Ryan estimates WBP has helped close to 2,000 women, some representing multiple generations of the same family.
Most WBP employees are in their late 30s and haven’t been able to hold down a job for more than nine months at a time.
“That’s the pattern we’re trying to change,” Ryan said. “Some women might need additional skills to get and keep a job, but when they have that job, it’s transformational for them and their families.”
Women are hired to work as production or shipping assistants for WBP’s food manufacturing business, which makes dried soups, baking mixes, snacks and more. They are paid $15.87 (Denver’s minimum wage) per hour and generally spend six to nine months in the program before graduating to an entry-level job. The Athmar Park location will triple the nonprofit’s production space and add four production lines.
By growing the business, WBP will be able to hire and train more women and put more money back into its programming, Ryan said. That includes expanding its case management and job- and life-skills classes — everything from financial literacy to computer proficiency to understanding trauma. The new site will feature a separate programming space, including a computer lab and a wellness area where the nonprofit can host its trauma-informed yoga classes or dental visits. There will also be phone booths for private calls.
WBP purchased its new building and parking lot from the Denver Housing Authority. (Warren Village, which works with single-parent families who are experiencing homelessness or housing instability, will eventually operate supportive housing on the remainder of the property.) Ryan and her team chose the location because of its size and layout as well as the ease of access to public transportation.
Community members can visit the space, too; WBP operates a store where people can stock up on goodies. The nonprofit also hosts tours at noon on the first Friday of the month. (Tours will be paused in July due to the move.)
Rocio Reza-Alfonzo is one of about nine women who will be transitioning their jobs to Athmar Park this summer.
“I’ve tried other programs that said they’d help but in reality, they didn’t care about my life or me,” the 40-year-old said.
She connected with WBP post-incarceration, in the summer of 2021. Her case manager helped her find a safe housing option when Reza-Alfonzo decided to leave an abusive partner. Last month, she moved into her own apartment.
“It’s very empowering,” she said. “Now it’s been months that I’ve had this job [at WBP], so I’m starting to feel a little bit more capable and worthy of a chance.”
She’s taken on a leadership role and anticipates bringing some of her ideas to the new, larger space.
“I really believe in what they do there,” Reza-Alfonzo said. “Whoever you are, if you walk in through that door, we believe in you. You don’t have to be perfect…I love that attitude, and I believe the same thing.”