A small woodworking shop in Lawrence, Kansas only hires those unable to find a job to build handmade cedar wood ornaments.
Sun Cedar is a non-profit, eco-friendly organization focused on helping the homeless, former felons, recovering addicts, etc., return to the mainstream workforce. The shop is led by carpenter and community activist, Shine Adams.
“I started Sun Cedar out of my basement a little more than two years ago, and spent my life savings on it,” said Adams. “It all started with a guy who needed a job on his resume after spending some time in prison.”
Studies show that successful reentry into society after incarceration has historically been poor. As many as 70 percent of ex-offenders are rearrested within three years of release. There are an estimated 12 million ex-offenders currently living in the U.S.
The shop’s staff is completely made up of people, who all for various reasons, were unable to find steady work.
“I never had a chance before. Sun Cedar gave me a chance, and now I see that working for them is really working on myself,” said Abraham White Weasel, now shop manager at Sun Cedar after overcoming a near lifetime of homelessness.
Adams and his now 15-man shop have partnered with Lawrence’s sheriff's office's re-entry program, and another local non-profit called Penn House. They have teamed up to offer rehabilitation services to those who need help. Services include cognitive behavioral meetings, resume building workshops, therapeutic group activities, and more.
“Sometimes all a person needs is a chance to work again, and a new pair of boots,” continued Adams. “We aim to give every person we can a fighting chance to get back into a good life.”
Sun Cedar started off only manufacturing one product – tree-shaped wooden air fresheners made from Western Red Cedar – but has recently began expanding its product line after launching a successful Kickstarter campaign last year. The shop now offers cedar shoe boxes – using wood scrap re-sawn on its SawStop table saw – and a clothes hanger, which features a craftsman-style spline to join the two shoulders. The clothes hanger uses dark wood for the sides while light wood is selected for the spline to maximize contrast. The spline mortise is made using a jig developed by Adams, which sits on a radial arm saw and uses two spaced Freud dado blades to cut the slots at once.
“It is all really basic stuff, but learning to care about what we produce, and learning to work well with others, and take positive direction is what the training is really all about,” Adams said.
The Kickstarter campaign has raised over $41,000 from 724 contributors.
Adams also applied for an engraving laser, which he received.
“I am really excited about a grant we just received to buy an Epilog 'Zing' laser,” he said. “As soon as we get this thing, we will be able to do more rapid prototyping with laser-burned patterns, like custom holiday gifts, burned plaques and name plates and logos. You name it!”