Washington Street Productions in Red Bluff
● By Melissa Mendonca
Growing and Thriving
By Melissa Mendonca
Photos by Jen Peterson
CHERYL CARTER knows the first day of work for each new cohort at Red Bluff’s Washington Street Productions brings employees with more than first-day-of-work jitters. While often excited, many are also processing through domestic violence, anxiety and isolation. Some may have a hard time stepping into the building itself.
Carter also knows that the compassion, structure and activity found at Washington Street Productions offers healing, instruction and guidance that can help them move through their barriers.
The subsidized employment training program is operated by the Job Training Center in partnership with Tehama County Social Services to help CalWORKs recipients become ready for the workforce. “They get great work experience skills, and those soft skills,” says Carter, the program supervisor. “They get art, which is really healing.”
The training is structured in 30-day cohorts with around 15 participants in each, who enter upon referral by Social Services. The 30-day intensive finds participants creating a variety of products for sale at monthly open houses which showcase the work.
“What really works for us is that shabby-chic, farm home, distressed look,” says Carter of the effort to find what the public will buy. “Even the nautical look has to be distressed.”
For many entering the programs, finding an ability to create within the program is a matter of rebuilding their self-esteem. “Nine times out of ten, what I’m seeing is that they just don’t feel that they’re worthy enough,” says Carter. “This is a really vulnerable population that we’re working with.”
One issue the program helps combat is the lack of social network upon which to rely. “If you’re sick and you don’t have back-up daycare and you have literally no one you can trust to keep your kid, you’re going to miss work,” says Carter. Within the cohorts, participants begin to develop these supportive networks that allow them to problem solve.
With a background in social work and behavior modification, Carter works patiently and steadfastly to build skills and confidence in her team members. “We don’t expect them to be the perfect employee day one, week one,” she says. “We expect growth.” Referencing the member who refused to walk through the door his first few days, she says, “By the end of the week he was coming to work every day and on time. Typically, in a workforce program you would just let them go.”
When employees do well, they may be enrolled into a six-month program as leads. “My leads have to be really on point,” says Carter. “One of my leads had a rocky start. I had him twice as a 30 day. But he eventually got his dream job. I saw him the other day and he was so happy.” He even texted her on Thanksgiving, grateful for her role in his success.
“The person that he was at the very beginning was completely different from the person that he was at the end. I had a hard time seeing him go, but I knew his opportunity was good for him,” she adds.
The program has relied on community donations of raw materials. “The people who know what we’re doing and care what we’re doing are really lifting us,” says Carter. An opening appeal for donations two years ago brought in leftover concrete mix, paints, art supplies, used furniture that could be distressed and redone, fabric and much more. The program opened in November 2015.
Just as important as the donations are the customers who promote the monthly sales and champion the efforts. Some ask for employees to sign their work, which elevates the sense of accomplishment.
Washington Street Productions takes custom orders and has built benches for a wedding and refurbished a customer’s grandmother’s chest of drawers. They’ll create decorative tables and are happy to customize a favorite saying onto their popular motivational signs.
Monthly sales, typically the last Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of each month, are announced via Facebook, as are the latest creations by employees.
“This is a field I absolutely thrive in,” says Carter, who has clearly found her own niche in the workforce. “I love watching people grow. You meet people and they’re stuck. Watching them work their way out of that and supporting them is an amazing experience.” •
Washington Street Productions
946 Washington Street, Red Bluff • (530) 690-5653
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