Bright Endeavors Candles Light the Way for New Moms in Chicago

When Shankeda was 22 years old, she was single, unemployed and struggling to raise her 3-month-old daughter independently without relying on her mother’s help. The young Chicago mom’s load lightened after she was connected with Bright Endeavors, a social enterprise company that empowers young moms by providing a community of support and job training.

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“The program really changed my life,” says Shankeda. “Before going through [the program], I had never been around another group of women who understood me and were in my same situation.” Shankeda is one of 75 young moms who enter the Bright Endeavors 12-week program annually, which features paid job training for pregnant or new moms up to 24 years of age on an on-site candle and home fragrance company. They work on every aspect of the production line from pouring scents to checking inventory and shipping them to customers.

Every dollar made is invested back into the company to fund additional training programs for these women, says Sarah-Jayne Ashenhurst, director of Social Enterprise for Bright Endeavors. Some of the programs include assistance with resumes, cover letters, interviewing skills, and parenting and financial capabilities courses.

“We provide an opportunity for young moms to gain work experience skills,” Ashenhurst says.“For most of our participants, this is their first job.”

Gabrielle Caverl-McNeal, director of Workforce Development at Bright Endeavors, acknowledges that the world isn’t made for working moms trying to balance the needs of their children with their work schedule, which is why Bright Endeavors assists participants with job placement for companies that understand their situation. 

“Most employers we work with are accommodating to the needs of a new parent,” says Caverl-McNeal, who often places clients in the manufacturing, customer service and food service fields. “Even after job placement, we follow our clients for another two years.”

Additionally, Caverl-McNeal says because many new moms tend to accept jobs that are available to them versus jobs they are passion, Bright Endeavors actively tries to match their client’s skill sets and interests with jobs that align to those qualities.

Shankeda, whose daughter is now three, works in food service, loves her job and relies less on her mom for help. “I made eight months there, the longest I’ve worked at any place,” says Shankeda, who considers herself to be a “more responsible team leader” after going through the Bright Endeavors program. “I was struggling before I met them. Now, my daughter can look at me and see that I am independent, responsible and work hard for us.”

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Lori Orlinsky
Lori Orlinsky
Lori Orlinsky is an award-winning journalist and bestselling children's book author. She is the mom of three little ladies who keep her on her toes.
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