Beads of Hope Help Women Recover Their Lives

By Ellie Bogue
The News-Sentinel (Fort Wayne, Ind.)

Sitting around a kitchen table in a Garden Street home a handful of women focused on bending and twisting tiny wires with needle-nose pliers, one of the steps in making a bead bracelet.

It looked like a group of neighborhood women gathered for a jewelry-making session, but it was something more serious.

Beads of Hope is a business that creates and sells handmade bracelets, necklaces and earrings crafted by homeless women who are recovering from drug and alcohol addictions.

If you frequent the Friday farmers market on Main Street, or any local craft shows you may have seen their work: glass bead jewelry, wire-wrapped, in 10 different colors with designs as unique as the women who make them.

It started several years ago when Mary E. Etheart, executive director of Hope House, decided to have their clients make their own bracelets as a therapeutic art project.

“I have found that there is a lot of creativity that once it is expressed helps a lot in building self-esteem,” Etheart said.

The women enjoyed the creative process so much that Etheart decided to expand the project into a business venture for the women.

Through a grant from the Foellinger Foundation they were able to buy the materials they needed, build a website, find consultation about how to start the business and make it a part of their rehabilitation and recovery program.

By making the bracelets to sell the women learn not only a new skill, but also how to market, advertise, run the website, sell, and manage the business inventory.

The whole process gives them a good work ethic and the money is divided 50/50. Half of the proceeds go to the residents who made the jewelry and half goes back into the business to buy supplies.

The process prepares the women for re-entering the job market when they leave the treatment program.
“It has become a simulated work environment,” Etheart said.

Etheart said it gets the women into the routine of showing up a at 9 a.m. and wearing clean clothing, with tidy hair and fresh make-up, and expressing a good attitude.

They are then expected to work for three hours without a break. Some of the women are smokers, so this is particularly challenging.

They spend part of that time learning job readiness skills, like computer training, and for at least one hour they work on making their jewelry.

They can also check out jewelry making kits that they can use during their spare time to continue working on their bracelets. The first bracelet they complete they get to keep.

“When a new resident comes and is shown how to do this the first reaction every single time is, ‘I can’t do this,’ but they can. And right away that is a boost to their self-esteem,” Etheart said.

Therapeutically, Etheart said making the bracelets forces them to focus on a simple task, something that a person recovering from an addiction has a hard time doing.

Hope House is a nonprofit residential treatment center for women with substance addiction. Women are generally in the program for four to six months during which time they recover from their addiction through a 12-step program, and learn to be self-sufficient.

The program takes women from many different situations. Some are court-mandated, others are referred through mental health agencies, Department of Child Services, and through word of mouth. There are two residential treatment centers in houses on Garden Street about four doors apart.

Vanessa Sheckler, coordinator for Beads of Hope, said their sales over the winter were very high, and now have dropped a little.

They sell online at and they have a Facebook page. Sheckler said they are always on the lookout for any businesses that would like to carry their merchandise.

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