Job training partnership focuses on sewing skills
RIFLE, Colorado – An innovative new partnership between Colorado Mountain College and Garfield County Human Services seeks to give people who are out of work a marketable skill to put on their resume, or even start their own business.
Recently, Garfield County commissioners agreed to award a $47,000 grant to set up a sewing school in the county’s Henry Building in downtown Rifle.
The county also signed an agreement with CMC establishing the new GarCo Sewing Works Training and Design Center.
The grant will cover rent for the 2,000-square-foot space. About $28,000 will go toward the purchase of six industrial sewing machines, a fabric steamer, cutting table and other supplies.
The Sewing Works center is set to begin operating in early April, said Beth Shaw, executive director of CMC’s Customized Business Services programs.
“There is a need for more jobs in this arena, and this will be a training venue to support those jobs,” explained Shaw, a home sewer herself. “It’s an effort to take a popular cottage industry out of homes and into the workplace.”
Sewing is a skill that has seen a resurgence in popularity, especially with the downturn in the economy, she said.
In addition to teaching sewing skills, the center will also teach people how to design clothing and other fabric products, and even how to take the product to market.
“The closest place you might see anything like this is Denver,” Shaw said.
The center will be able to accommodate six to eight students at a time. Students would be selected based on referrals from county human services, as well as the Colorado Workforce Centers.
Some students may be looking to build a new job skill so that they can find employment and get off of public assistance, Shaw said. Others could be seeking a career change.
“Ultimately, these folks will have a solid skill that can parlay into the marketplace,” Shaw said.
Jill Ziemann is director of CMC’s Gateway Program, which for 23 years has also worked with county human services to help people develop job skills to enter or re-enter the workforce.
CMC’s “Go2Workshops” help people with basic job-finding skills, such as preparing resumes, filling out applications and how to use computer resources.
She sees the Sewing Works center as a business accelerator, where people can learn a skill then go out and start their own small businesses.
“Our overall goal has been to help people find and start new jobs,” Ziemann said. “This partnership really takes it to that next level, which hasn’t been part of the equation until now.
“It’s the next step beyond learning how to put together a resume,” she said. “It’s something to put on their resume.”
At the same time Shaw and Ziemann were pinning together the details for the sewing center project last year, the Aspen-based Community Office for Resource Efficiency (CORE) was proposing that Roaring Fork Valley governments either charge a fee for or ban disposable shopping bags at grocery stores in their communities.
The city of Aspen is prepared to enact such a ban in May. Carbondale and Basalt voters will be deciding at their April 3 elections whether, in Carbondale’s case, to ban plastic bags and charge a fee for paper, and in Basalt, to charge a fee for both types of bag.
Instead of disposable bags, CORE is encouraging reusable cloth bags be used, and has set out to make them more readily available in the valley.
One criticism, however, is that the vast majority of cloth shopping bags are made in China and shipped from overseas – not exactly a carbon-footprint-friendly alternative.
“I called [CORE director] Nathan Ratledge and offered to produce locally made bags using recycled materials through the sewing center,” Shaw said. “If industry doesn’t come to you, it’s time to grow your own.”
And that’s what the sewing center is all about, she said.
Since that time, Lindsay Gurley, community energy program assistant with CORE, has been busy helping to collect recycled fabric from outdoor gear manufacturers and other sources to donate to the sewing center. From there, it will be made into cloth grocery bags.
“A lot of these places just had this stuff stashed away and were looking for an opportunity to use it for a good cause,” Gurley said.
The plan is for CORE to buy about 5,000 bags, at a cost of around $2 to $2.50 per bag, to hand out to people in Aspen for free during May.
“If the Carbondale and Basalt ballot questions pass, we could probably use 20,000 bags this first year alone,” Gurley said.
The bag designs can also be modified to serve other purposes, such as carry bags for elderly people to put on their walkers.
Mountain Valley Developmental Services, which has a weaving program for its developmentally disabled adult clients, has also shown an interest in partnering with the sewing center on various projects, Shaw said.
Eventually, the center could offer a handful of part-time jobs, Ziemann added.
“We see this as a model program that can be replicated in other communities and other campuses within CMC,” she said.
A website, garcosewingworks.com, is being set up. It will contain information about the program and other details. Donations of reusable fabric, as well as monetary contributions, are also being accepted.
For more information or to donate, contact Beth Shaw at (970) 384-8519, or Jill Ziemann at (970) 384-8518.
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