In a small building located just outside Cleveland on the west side, an organization called Esperanza Threads is sewing strands of hope one thread at a time.
Ursuline Sister Mary Eileen Boyle, Executive Director, founded the organization in April, 2000, with the aid of a ministry grant from the Ursuline Sisters of Cleveland. Since its founding, she has provided free job training and skills to help those in low-income situations find jobs in the industrial sewing industry.
“Many people are trying to get back into the workforce after crises in their lives or their families’ lives. Learning industrial sewing and getting a job in the industry is a good way to start again,” says Sister Mary Eileen. She appropriately selected the name “Esperanza.” which means “hope” in Spanish, after a mission trip to Honduras. Upon returning, the Ursuline sisters began a prayer devotional for hope.
Sister Mary Eileen explains that many of the students accepted into the sewing program are migrant refugees – mainly from Africa, the Middle East and Asia – who had to leave their homes because of violence or crises and ended up in refugee camps. Through petitions from the United States State Department, they were granted the opportunity to resettle in the United States. For many of them, both social and environmental justice issues caused them to lose their homes. Most have very limited English skills; women, in particular, may have come from cultures that do not encourage them to take charge of their lives.
Amal Hassan, a migrant refugee from the Middle East, is one of the seamstresses at Esperanza Threads. Her dream is to become an accomplished seamstress. She loves the satisfaction that comes when one of her finished projects come out perfect. When asked why she came to Esperanza Threads, she replies, “Because I love sewing! This is my dream.”
Recently, Esperanza Threads has also accepted trainees from several Cleveland area agencies, such as Catholic Charities, City Mission, Edna House, Towards Employment, and The Metanoia Project. Such agencies assist people without homes, those experiencing domestic violence, and those recovering from addiction, as well as returning non-violent offenders.
Sister Mary Eileen explains that for many of these trainees, the program is more than learning a new skill; it is a way to rebuild their dignity, self-esteem, and confidence.
The program currently involves 60 hours of training. During that time, the trainees are introduced to the sewing machines (speed, how to control the fabric, and learning the functions of the machine) and are taught how to sew on several industrial sewing machines. Esperanza Threads hopes to acquire an industrial embroidery machine in order to provide training on this skill, as well. All candidates for the training program are interviewed prior to the first class to ensure that they intend to train for a full-time industrial sewing job.
Once the training is completed, many of the graduates are hired by industrial sewing companies like National Safety Apparel, National Bias and Fabric Co., Cleveland Canvas, Chalfant, and Team Wendy.
Esperanza Threads provides more than hope through job training. They also provide hope for the environment. “In our manufacturing, we make sure that our fabrics are organic and use low impact dyes…. For our training program, we use recycled materials and fabrics that would have otherwise ended up in a landfill,” says Leah Haynes, Creative Director. They are also researching low impact fibers such as bamboo and hemp for their products.
The organization is funded through the production and sale of Esperanza Threads goods, contract sewing, grants, and donations. Some of their goods, such as apparel and accessories for babies and women, graphic T-shirts, and home and bath items, are available for purchase on their website. All items are made of earth friendly materials and lovingly handcrafted by individuals who have completed the training program.
A few of the companies that have requested contract services from Esperanza Threads include Angel Wraps Baby (a company that makes delivery and nursing gowns), Lionheart Lamb (a female-owned-and-designed clothing boutique in Bay Village, Ohio, that supports small businesses owned by women), and Buttercream and Olive Oil (a company in Medina, Ohio, that provides French-inspired cooking and baking classes with locally sourced ingredients).