ELKHART, Ind. (Mennonite Mission Network) – Every five months, a new group of women graduate from the Soup of Success program, equipped with computer skills, bursting with business experience and wrapped in the support of a new community.
A job and life skills training program, Soup of Success
in Elkhart, Ind., is designed for women working their way out of difficult situations, and for the last year has given Mennonite Voluntary Service
participants an opportunity to serve. Women in the program receive support, daily classes, a mentor, career counseling and computer training. The participants also get hands-on business experience by designing, packaging and marketing food products and gift baskets.
Not just soup to be found at Soup of Success
Positively potato soup, turtle brownies, cranberry yogurt cookies, and Sizzlin’ Santa Fe southwestern dip are among the Soup of Success products lining the shelves of retailers in northern Indiana and throughout the Midwest. Each product is hand packaged and bears the signature of its maker.
Women in the Soup of Success program lend their time and energy to designing, creating, packaging and marketing a variety of products like:
- No Worry Vegetarian Curry – This soup, which can be pulled together in 30 minutes, was created with help from MVS participant Sarah Thiessen Holsopple.
- French Crème dip – This mix allows you to create a creamy salad dressing, a dip for vegetables or a topping for popcorn.
- Chewy Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookie mix – Made with real Reese’s peanut butter chips, this mix allows you to bake fresh cookies fast.
“The key to seeing change in someone’s life is to give them the power and let them be experts in their own life,” said Betsy Ayrea, director of Soup of Success. “We really try to help women figure out what they’re passionate about and want to do and a way to get there.”
The program is set apart primarily by this focus on relationship and individual attention.
“Soup of Success is not a place where you go in and you’re just a face. This is an agency where they work on forming relationships. I saw how important relationships were and how well the organization was able to operate,” said Sarah Thiessen Holsopple, an MVS participant from Austin (Texas) Mennonite Church.
This focus on community-building attracted Holsopple to a placement with Soup of Success and opened the door for future MVS participants to serve as well.
“As a Mennonite who’s always heard about community and its importance, I strongly believe that for women to find a support system is crucial.,” said Anna Ruth Hershberger, a member of East Goshen (Ind.) Mennonite Church. Hershberger was so excited by the program, she accepted a placement at Church Community Services, the mother agency of SOS, within the first 10 minutes of an initial interview.
Both Holsopple and Hershberger have found opportunities to build relationships with program participants and staff at SOS through service. Last year, Holsopple was a sales coordinator, helping to increase sales, plan fundraisers and recruit new stores to sell products. And this year, Hershberger is a development associate helping with fundraising for Church Community Services.
Fellow MVS participant Julia Gingrich also volunteers part time at Church Community Services as an Emergency Client Counselor.
“MVSers have been willing to jump in with both feet and do whatever’s asked of them. And we also try to help all of our volunteers find a way to serve that’s meaningful to them as well,” said Ayrea.
The relationships built during the program are also important to successful graduates and co-workers like Amy Brock. Now the production manager at Soup of Success, Brock first came to the program as a participant. After being laid off from her job as a factory supervisor, Brock, a single parent, was looking for something new. When a friend suggested they attend the Soup of Success program together, Brock saw it as a challenge and an opportunity to build her résumé.
“I just loved being here,” said Brock. “This was the most supportive, caring and comfortable place I have ever been in my life. The main thing it did was to build my confidence, and to this day my family still tells me it’s the best thing I ever did.”
When women graduate from the five-month program, they continue to be paired with a mentor and can return to the center at any time for support or to share stories. SOS also hosts a monthly reunion, where past and present participants can come together to share a meal together.
“Women are only here for five months, but when they leave they can come back. People come together regularly and tell their stories, and that’s not only about encouragement, but accountability, too,” said Hershberger.
And the success stories speak volumes about SOS.
Upon graduation, Brock found herself with new confidence and a new job. She was invited to serve on the program’s advisory board and to speak with new participants in the program. She volunteered regularly and eventually returned to Soup of Success as a full-time staff member.
“Now in my job I get to know the women and I can understand where they’re coming from and that life can be hard,” said Brock. “There’s a mutual respect there and it’s such a good feeling to walk with them on their journey.”
Mennonite Voluntary Service, one of Mission Network’s Christian Service programs, invites adults of all ages and backgrounds to spend a one or two year term living in community and serving in a variety of locations across the United States. For more information or to apply online visit Service.MennoniteMission.net.