A new business focused on local products aims to build job skills in high-school students as well as profits for education.
Jessamine Proud Products hosted an open house Friday at The Providence School at 210 S. Lexington Ave. in Wilmore. The store is run by Providence students in the school’s Pathways to Careers program, coordinated by Merrelyn Carmichael.
“The students that we’re working with are learning money skills, profit and loss with the business, working on inventory, on ordering what we need ... setting the store up — they are the driving force of everything we do; we’re just here to support them along the way,” Carmichael said.
The store came out of a pilot program last fall in which students in school-to-work vocational programs helped West High senior Alex Tingle complete an FFA project selling produce.
“We had great success with our community and our students that worked the program; we saw some appropriate behaviors emerging out of their activities that we did every day through that business,” Carmichael said. “That was just sort of a pilot — we only did that for five weeks, but after that, we talked about what was our next step, what we wanted to do after that.”
This year, Jessamine Proud Products is here to stay, selling exclusively products from Jessamine County vendors. Carmichael said she has heard from teachers already that the students helping with the store have had notable improvement in their attitudes in classes and with peers.
“We’re excited about the store and what the store is going to bring back to us, but we want the students to leave here with those appropriate work skills that are going to help them be successful one they graduate,” she said.
The money that comes back to the store will keep it running and go toward future projects to benefit the students.
“We have not decided yet on what our first project might be with the money, but whatever we do, it is inventoried back into the store, or it would be a project that would benefit the students from Jessamine County Schools,” Carmichael said.
Providence student Branden Birchum hopes to start his own lawn-care or tree-service business in the future and said the experience he has gained helping start Jessamine Proud Products has been invaluable.
“I’ve been learning how to run my own business,” Birchum said. “It’s been kind of easy, and it’s frustrating a little bit, but it’s all good.”
Fellow student Nick McQueen had similar thoughts and appreciation for what he had learned working with the project.
“After I got out of what I was doing in the future, I wouldn’t mind opening up my own store,” McQueen said. “Knowing what I know now and what I will know after this is through and everything, I think I could handle it.”
All kinds of locally made products are available at the store, from candles and birdhouses to custom children’s clothing and walking sticks. Some jewelry and bowls are made even more locally by Providence students themselves.
The store got a jump start in September when students started selling mums; they’ve sold 260 since, Carmichael said. Vendors are continually coming aboard, as two new businesses joined the morning of the open house.
“As the word gets out, I think the community is very receiving of what we’re doing here and everything that they give to us is going to help the students and ultimately help the community because the students are going to learn the things that they’re going to need to be successful,” Carmichael said.
The store is currently in one large room at The Providence School, but expansion may be in the works soon.
“We want to keep the store open. This is not just a pilot; it’s going to work,” Carmichael said. “We’ve grown; we’re about to outgrow the room; we may go to the room across the hall. And the students are doing unbelievable jobs here, jobs they didn’t know they could do themselves; that’s what’s been so exciting.”
The store is open from 9-11:30 a.m. Monday through Thursday. For more information, call 859-887-4600, ext. 2638, or visit www.jessamine.kyschools.us and click on the link to Jessamine Proud Products’ site.