by Jane Graves
LAWRENCE — The dogs at the Lawrence Farmers’ Market know a good thing when they smell it. Robin Larsen, who staffs the Good Dog! dog biscuit booth, hands out free samples to any dog that wants one — and they all want one.
Which is the whole point. The homemade dog biscuits, along with hand-painted garden and welcome rocks, are sold as part of the Joseph Project, an in-house job program funded by the National Catholic Campaign for Human Development and sponsored by the Lawrence Community Shelter. It is designed to benefit the homeless and those at risk of becoming homeless.
“The goal, besides helping them to gain a job so that they can gain housing, is definitely to give them a sense of purpose, a sense of self-worth, to build their self-esteem,” said Mary Easterday, board member of the Lawrence Community Shelter and a Corpus Christi parishioner. “Because of their experiences in life that led to homelessness, they have to start all over again building their sense of self-worth.”
Dianne Morgan, project coordinator for the Joseph Project, agreed that the sense of accomplishment created by the project is just as important as the work itself.
“The enthusiasm to go to work is just unreal. Almost nobody can wait until Tuesday mornings and Thursday mornings when we bake and Wednesday afternoons and Saturday mornings when we go sell,” she said. “I get questions all the time like, ‘How much did we make today?’ It’s pretty remarkable.”
In the year and a half since the program’s inception, at least 40 guests of the community shelter have been employed part time by the Joseph Project. Several have even been able to use the project as a reference for housing, and even more have been able to use it as a reference for a job, Easterday said.
Others at the Lawrence Community Shelter also benefit from observing or helping in unpaid ways with the Joseph Project, she added.
Funding by the NCCHD has made it possible to pay the workers, and it also provides optimism that further progress with the business can be made, Morgan said.
“It just gave us hope that we would be able to afford to do what we wanted to do, which is give people a job that is meaningful and helps them find permanent employment, that gives them a sense of responsibility, self-worth.
“And all of those things have happened,” she exclaimed. “It was miraculous.”
Morgan said they’re trying to find ways to expand the business and hope to eventually find someone to help them develop a Web site, a logo, and an advertising campaign.
“We want to pay our way,” she said.
“We want to pay rent at the church that gives us the kitchen. They charge us a real nominal amount — it’s $5 a day — so we’re definitely able to write that check every month, which makes us feel really good. Of course, writing the pay checks every month is just fabulous.”
Good Dog! homemade dog biscuits come in six flavors: cheeseburger, bacon and sage, and chicken and cheese; and the all-natural varieties: peanut butter and honey, cinnamon and honey, and natural chicken. There are no preservatives, no sugar and no added coloring or artificial flavoring.
The suggested donation is $1 for a package of four biscuits and $10 for the hand-painted welcome and garden rocks.