The Church of Reconciler and its sister nonprofit, Community on the Rise, recently started a program that encompasses innovation in every sense of the word. Church of Reconciler and Community on the Rise are located in the Switch District, an area that is also proximate to many in Birmingham’s homeless community. The church and nonprofit recognize that folks experiencing homelessness and poverty in their community have a ton of barriers that can keep them unemployed, like lack of government identification and transportation, rent prices that exceed income, addiction without minimal recovery options, and mental and physical wellness. This planted the seed for the WHOLE program. WHOLE stands for Wellness and Housing Opportunity Linked to Employment and the program takes place three days a week. Avery Rhodes, Director of Community on the Rise and the WHOLE program, explains that the reason they have such a broad and holistic embrace of homelessness and poverty is because they realize just how complex it is and how many needs have to be met in order to solve the number of problems their community is faced with. WHOLE is currently a very small program and they are in the midst of their pilot year. To kick start the program, Community on the Rise was able to purchase a home and fully furnish it with brand new items in order to house three women who are now acting as the apprentices of the WHOLE program. For one year, these three ladies will be able to live in that home rent and utility free so that they are not burdened with that huge expense.  

So, where does the innovation come in? Well, the WHOLE program recycles plastic waste and finds ways to create new products out of it. They acknowledge the fact that education around recycling is limited and most people do not realize that in the city of Birmingham you are only able to recycle two types of materials – Plastic #1 (e.g. water bottles) and Plastic #2 (e.g. milk jugs). This means that all of the other types of plastics do not get used and end up back in a landfill somewhere. The church/nonprofit team is working together to solve problems related to both recycling and poverty. They were able to come to the conclusion that Plastic #5 (takeout containers, pill bottles, Chobani yogurt cups, etc.) are the most common types of plastics after 1’s and 2’s and they do not release a lot of toxins. After a lot of research, the church was able to get in contact with a group called Precious Plastics in Europe (where recycling is a lot more common) and learned that they have machines that they put out for public use. After receiving this information, the Church of Reconciler got a grant and was able to get the same machines which include an injector, a shredder, and a toaster oven. Anyone can donate #5 plastics to Community on the Rise, and the apprentices in the WHOLE program regularly sort through them to separate them by color, cut them up, shred them, and then attach a mold to the bottom of the injector in order to generate their creations. The products that they make range from garden pots, keychains, coasters – the list goes on! The best part about these products is that each and every one has a unique look to it.  

While they undoubtedly deserve a round of applause for all the creations they have produced over the past year, the truly remarkable aspect of this program is their ability to flip the narrative around homelessness and say “look at the people we have hired and look at the commendable work they are doing!” They are doing a remarkable job at carrying out their mission, which has always been to reduce waste, encourage earth care, and be advocates for homelessness. In addition, this program is helping the apprentices in more ways than one. Along with recycling, creating new products, living in the house, etc. they are able to receive mental wellness care because Community on the Rise recognizes that most of the folks that cross their threshold are survivors of some kind of trauma. Therefore, they are set up with individual counselors, as well as healing circles in order to help them through the process.  

Don’t forget to check out their social media pages in order to see all of the products they have created. They are currently taking orders via Facebook and a website is in the works. Stay tuned! 

For more information about the WHOLE program, contact Avery Rhodes at avery@communityontherise.com or at 251-690-5619

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