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BY HELAINA N. HOVITZ | Jaclyn Weismann, 22, spent every night for two years crying herself to sleep. She wasn’t happy at work, her coworkers did not respect her, and her hours were steadily being cut. For people like Jaclyn who have Downs Syndrome, other options are severely limited. Luckily, there are places like Paperworks Studio, a program of Goodwill Industries, where Jaclyn is now happily working alongside her peers to make greeting cards from recycled sweaters and jeans. Their production team, people with special needs and disadvantages, learn valuable work and life skills such as time management, and problem solving.
The cards are making their New York debut, Downtown at McNally Jackson Bookstore, whose ecological mission is to support green paper companies.
It took about 30 seconds for Carlos Solis, buyer for the Prince Street store, to go to the Paperworks website, watch the video, and order the cards — six varieties, compared to the three or four they usually order from each company.
“It wasn’t only their green mission that drew us to them, but that we are able to help dignify a set of people that might not otherwise have the opportunities Paperworks offers them,” said Solis.
Part of Goodwill’s mission is to help remove one’s barriers to independence, so the homeless and disadvantaged workers in the studio work alongside the disabled and disadvantaged, mentoring one another.
The Paperworks staff reviews their employees, ages 16-65, on a monthly basis, helping the artists set specific goals based on their capabilities. Everyone who comes to Paperworks is given a different job based on his or her cognitive or physical ability. Pieces of equipment are made adaptable with a special tool called a Jig, so even those with severely challenged dexterity can complete tasks involved in the process of papermaking.
Studio Director Margaret Alexander said the artists are able to translate their work skills into broader-based life-objectives.
“These skills translate into things like being able to get to work on their own and earning more income, so they’re less reliant on public assistance,” said Alexander.
Audrey Flannigan, 24,said that working at Paperworks has made her a “whole person again,” giving her the confidence she needed to finally obtain her driver’s license and commute to work on her own.
“Working here has given me hope and belief in myself,” said Flanagan. “That’s what our cards stand for, compassion and hope.”
Helen Badoyannis, who teaches sign language, purchased the cards from a deaf language supplier to use for her son’s fundraiser. What stood out were the cards bearing the hand-sign for “I Love You,” one of the first signs she taught her son, Michael, who is deaf.
“The green aspect was important to my son, as Eagle Scouts strive to help the environment, emphasizing the importance of recycling and reusing materials,” Badoyannis said.
Clothing retailer Baabaazuuzuu, which has 900 locations nation-wide, uses recycled sweaters to make their own clothing and products, and sends the Paperworks Studio their wool scraps to use for the cards. Lee jeans donate the denim.
They are proud to create the cards from sweaters and jeans that would otherwise be thrown to the top of the pile at a landfill.
“We want to get as close to zero waste as we can,” said Director of Development Brian Lewis of the philosophy behind Paperworks.
“Paperworks has found a way to set themselves apart from the rest of the card companies on a year-round basis,” said Solis. “The jean and sweater cards are really unusual.”
Special education teacher Tim Coffey, who wanted to find a new way to teach valuable life and work skills to students with special needs, founded Paperworks Studio 18 years ago. The studio doubled in size when Goodwill acquired it three years ago, and will soon be stocking their cards at other New York retailers that share their mission to help others and protect the environment. They hope to open a Paperworks facility in New York one day, but are now content to send love and inspiration to our Lower Manhattan community at a time when we need it most.
“We have pride like New Yorkers have. We are building, and New York City is re-building,” said Eric Brewer, 52, Paperworks artist. “We will all overcome our challenges and stand strong, proud and successful.”