Thistle Farms has been helping women survivors by helping them heal from trauma and find economic freedom for more than 20 years.
The nationally recognized organization in Nashville provides housing, counseling, health care, and jobs to women who have survived human trafficking, prostitution, and addiction. More than 350 women have completed the program at Thistle Farms since its founding in 1997, working their way to a new life in one of its social enterprises—a café, an artisanal body and home products manufacturer, and a retail shop.
Thistle Farms has re-invented their job readiness training for the women entering its program, with help from a SuperGrant from SmileDirectClub and Nashville Predators Foundation. The goal of the new seven-week course, called Ready-Set-Succeed, is to teach discipline, self-esteem, and communication skills to help women complete Thistle Farm’s two-year program. This long-term program gives women survivors a safe place to live, food, clothing, healthcare, counseling, therapeutic groups, and job training, all at no cost to the participant. The healing, recovery, and skills they develop during that time helps them become valued members of the workforce at Thistle Farms and beyond.
“The first six months in Thistle Farms can be really challenging,” says Patricia Malone, the Workforce Development Coordinator at Thistle Farms and the instructor for the Ready-Set-Succeed class. It’s so challenging that, historically, around 45% of women who are accepted into Thistle Farms have left in the first six months.
But after that initial period, when the women feel purpose and value through working at Thistle Farms, attrition falls to just 10%. The goal of Ready-Set-Succeed is to give participants the skills they need to get through those early, rough days until they feel the power of the program and can see a vision for themselves that is bigger than they imagine. “When they start to experience the healing power of a job and engage with the wider Thistle Farms community, the success rate increases dramatically,” Malone says.
Thistle Farms hopes to lower attrition to less than 25% by giving the women training within 90 days after they start. “Ready-Set-Succeed will give women growth opportunities and even more hope for a brighter future,” Malone says.
The women of Thistle Farms have a lot to overcome. Most of them experienced sexual abuse as children and were using drugs and alcohol by their teens. Those early experiences give way to homelessness, addiction, prostitution, and incarceration. Many have never held a nine-to-five job, so their experience with traditional employment is limited. Their severe trauma often prevents them from managing relationships and building self-esteem.
Ready-Set-Succeed teaches women survivors hard and soft skills they will need to support themselves in their new lives, like how to dress for a job interview, make a good first impression, and communicate effectively.
“I wasn’t very good at interviews before,” says Terrié, one of the women in the first cohort. “I wasn’t good at keeping a job or being on time. When I came into Ready-Set-Succeed, that was the first thing we knocked out: How you act at work, how you dress, how you appear.”
The women learn they can bring value to a workplace. “The class made me realize that I have true talents,” says Brenda, another woman who took the Ready-Set-Succeed class. “That has changed my life and helped my recovery tremendously.”
And the women are learning to trust other people for the first time in their lives. “I gained a new sense of safety and camaraderie in the group,” Brenda says. “It was awesome learning with them. I felt a new love and respect for them.”
SmileDirectClub teamed up with the Nashville Predators Foundation during the 2019-2020 hockey season for the SuperGrant program. The partners plan to give four or five SuperGrants ranging from $25,000 to $100,000 annually to area organizations that empower people in times of transition. Investing in the people of Middle Tennessee is one way the Preds Foundation and SmileDirectClub can give back to the community. Thistle Farms was one of the first organizations to receive a SuperGrant.
“Thistle Farms is such a powerful organization that makes tremendous impact in the lives of the women they serve,” says Julia Wicoff, SmileDirectClub’s purpose platform director. “They offer women a path to find the confidence they need to change their lives.”
The SuperGrant helped make the first Ready-Set-Succeed class possible. Together, Thistle Farms, SmileDirectClub, and the Nashville Predators Foundation will help more women get on the path to a new life by learning the skills and gaining the confidence they need to thrive.
You can learn more about Thistle Farms or how to support their mission on their website.