by Joycelyne Fadojutimi
When Julie Harris arrived at Heartisans Marketplace in February 2016, she figured it was another temporary stop on her vocational odyssey. After trying her hand at cosmetology, logistics work and attending dental hygiene school, she was again unemployed. Even in this latest career possibility, it took a while for her to find her groove. After three months of career training, the 43-year-old Harris found her calling when an aptitude test revealed her proficiency as an archive specialist with KSA Engineers. However, she is currently enrolled at Kilgore College next May and pursuing her a program she admits she loves – communications.
“I’d tried all kinds of things, but couldn’t find my place, but Heartisans helped me find the direction I’m supposed to go in,” she says. “I believe that there are people in your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime, and I expect Heartisans to be part of mine for a lifetime.”
Heartisans has just celebrated its third anniversary at Longview’s First Baptist Church with a commencement ceremony for Harris and another 26 program graduates. It is fitting it was at a church, for it was almost a religious experience for those involved. God is indeed using Heartisans to uplift the lives of women in and around Longview and the nation.
Heartisans CEO Julee Roberts founded this organization with the objective of assisting unemployed and underemployed women acquire the specialized job training required for them to embark on fulfilling, productive careers and their God-given destinies. This nonprofit group also sells volunteer-produced artisan products from its Methvin Street storefront. This assists in funding the training curricula.
The local Zonta Club recently provided a $5000 grant to Heartisans. Zonta’s Publicity Chair Martha Glascow, left no doubts about her organization’s motives in presenting this vital financial support.
“Our [Zonta’s] goal is to identify local needs in the community, and give to organizations helping women who need a hand up, not a handout,” she said. “Heartisans matched up with what we want to do. They are helping young women who are homeless, on the street or who are having a hard time in their lives.”
This perfectly fits Heartisan’s objectives.
“I wanted women to have jobs and be able to support their children, and didn’t have a clue what that looked like [when we started,] Roberts said. “We learned as we went.”
According to Roberts, community support is imperative to Heartisan’s success. The network’s expansion has seen it grow to 50 volunteers working in its store and craft studios. These are overseen a ten-member board.
Furthermore, the marketplace has also just hired its first paid employee as Program Director LaRaslum Williams. She supervises job training. Hence, Roberts envisions Heartisan’s expansion as just getting started.
There’s still that gap [in available services,] and we’re the only ones filling it,” she says. “That’s why we keep doing this.”
Melinda Alvarez completed the courses last January. She is now pursuing a career with Mr. Cooper Mortgage Company. She credits Heartisans for her success.
“It is overall life-changing. Heartisans is by far a blessing, and I am so grateful to have been, and still be a part of, my Heartisans family. My goal is to put God first and help support my family, and I am doing that now.”
Success is evident. Presently 100% of all Heartisan graduates are employed or in school after having completed three to six months of training. Roberts relates that the friendships and relationships she develops with her students do not end with graduation.
“We don’t drop them when they get a job,” she says. “We know what their career paths need to be, so we look into the community for those jobs. I just have a different network than they do.”
Heartisans President Renee` Robertson tells of how the program has rescued one woman from homelessness, and enabled another (with five children) to free herself from the need for government assistance. The initiative focus has shifted from merely getting started to sustain this already-established record of success.
“We are growing so much that we are now putting the infrastructure in place to make sure we are around for a long time,” she said.
The commencement was an intense, joyful, emotional event. Some graduates wept with delight over their success and newfound hope. Some spoke of Roberts’ positive influence on their lives. Roberts was not upset when some graduates had to miss the ceremony because they were at their new jobs. Some are already working at local schools, at Longview Regional Medical Center, Convergys and in other capacities.
“I said, ‘We’ll miss you,'” said Roberts. “But that’s the point.”
For more information on Heartisans please visit www.heartisansmarketplace.com. It is a volunteer-driven 501(c)(3) non-profit. It partners with the Longview Economic Development Corporation (LEDCO) as an ACT Career Ready 101 site. Women are referred to the program by other local non-profits, churches, social groups and the community.