Written by The Business Journal Staff
A local effort to get women out of the grips of drugs and alcohol and into gainful employment recently received a boost from a national nonprofit.
The St. Francis Homeless Project and WestCare in Fresno have struck a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that will provide the dog treat nonprofit business with new employees as part of a job training program.
Local business owner Sandra Kaye conceived of the St. Francis Homeless Project about seven years ago, modeling it after a program at a Kansas homeless shelter. For the last four years St. Francis Homeless Project has baked 100-percent natural dog treats, called Dogs Dig ‘Em, which are sold at locations around town.
Residents in WestCare’s sober living house in Fresno have been a mainstay of the program, gathering every week at a kitchen provided by the Institute of Technology in Clovis to bake treats and share fellowship.
As part of the MOU, WestCare participants will undergo six months of training to learn vocational skills and develop work habits, said Lynn Pimentel, WestCare’s deputy administrator for the California region.
Participants will be paid $10 an hour.
Kaye said the MOU will provide “the rocket ship that St. Francis Homeless Project has been working toward.”
The program has meant a great deal to Jasmin Soria. Soria, 29, grew up in an environment of drugs and sexual abuse. She has four children, three of whom were removed from her custody by Child Protective Services. Today, she is in a six-month sober living program through WestCare, working toward a stable future for her family and serving as an example to others.
And also baking dog treats with St. Francis Homeless Project.
“People trust me now. People look up to me now,” Soria said. “I have a lot of girls say I’m a positive role model for them.”
St. Francis Homeless Project — named after St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of animals — has enjoyed an upswing in sales and notoriety. It has received grant funding from organizations affiliated with the Catholic Church, as well as from local nonprofits such as the Central California Women’s Conference.
St. Francis Homeless Project is truly a labor of love. With her husband Tom, Kaye has owned and operated a remodeling and design business in Fresno called Your Home Interiors for nearly 25 years, in addition to other ventures.
Kaye said the satisfaction she receives is from seeing the women in the program flourish when given a choice.
“They have to want to help themselves,” Kaye said. “We have seen the smiles, the pride and encouragement help their success.”
For the women who produce the dog treats, the program also represents a future. Completing the program opens a window for further education through the Institute of Technology. For Soria, she hopes to some day open her own Mexican restaurant.
“This has opened a lot of doors for me,” she said.