Fontbonne aids a Criminal Justice Ministry enterprise

Joseph Kenny | jkenny@stlouisreview.com
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After spending three hours with the manual, Mike Tverdick figured out how to operate the surger.

It was no easy feat, but Tverdick, who worked in the Air Force as a mechanic, was up to the task. His efforts will make the work of creating ravel-free seams, tight overlock stitches and decorative edging much easier for a program offered by the Criminal justice Ministry.

Since 2015, the nonprofit enterprise has allowed participants in the Criminal Justice Ministry's veterans housing program to make pet products to sell at a farmers' market and elsewhere. Participants produce dog scarves, treats and beds for dogs. The Criminal Justice Ministry makes the community safer by helping prisoners, those re-entering society and their families through person-to-person assistance rooted in Jesus' message of love, reconciliation and hope. The veterans housing program helps veterans upon their release from incarceration.

About a year ago, the Criminal Justice Ministry partnered with Fontbonne University's chapter of Enactus, a national nonprofit organization that brings students, educators and business people together to enact change. The collaboration gives students real-world experience, while providing the local nonprofit with connections and expertise of the student group.

Fontbonne's Enactus team learned that the pet product program faces a lack of resources and equipment, specifically the surge machines. Enactus president Yuri Khechoyan reached out to Fontbonne's fashion merchandising program, which connected him to Erica Kuhn, a 2016 grad who is the digital marketing coordinator for Fenton-based Tacony Corporation, a manufacturer of Baby Lock brand sewing machines. Tacony donated two machines, which were presented to the ministry last month.

Enactus will continue the collaboration throughout this academic year, assisting with a business plan and marketing campaign, collaborating with other Fontbonne departments and exploring growth opportunities. One student created an accounting program to help the ministry maintain sales records. A digital marketing effort is a possibility as well.

A group from Holy Infant in Ballwin also lends a hand to the program, contributing needlework.

Tverdick, persistent and patient, quickly learned the machines' capabilities and soon had ideas for making it even more effective and enhancing the products. The pet products were sold this summer at the Tower Grove Farmers' Market and are being sold at a fair at St. Margaret Mary Alacoque Parish in Oakville from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 19; at a St. Clement of Rome Parish Ladies' Society Christmas Brunch and Boutique; and elsewhere. Tverdick also crochets people-products, producing scarves, ear warmers, baby blankets and hats.

The Criminal Justice Ministry means a lot to Tverdick, who served in the Air Force from 1969-71 in Iceland as crew chief on jet fighters. "For me, it's a brand new start," he said. "It's a transition from what I did and learned in prison. It's family."

When the men in the ministry's program take it seriously — especially if they stay away from drugs and alcohol abuse — they thrive, he said. Housing and other programs allow them to save money, get employment, medical care, clothing and more. He credited his parole officer with helping him get assistance from the Criminal Justice Ministry in making the transition easier.

While Tverdick worked on setting the machine up, Frank Sims worked on some of the inventory. He served as a military policeman in Saigon, Vietnam, from 1965-68. He enjoys the opportunity to keep busy.

Gary Pulcher, who served in the Army from 1972-74, another worker in the program, said the ministry "takes you from nothing and makes something out of you, with the tools to succeed."

Sister Rose Rita Huelsmann, SSND, said the program provides participants a feeling of community, productivity and eventually some income. "We had these gifted people here" and needed a way to support them, she said.

Mark Alexander, Fontbonne business instructor and advisor to Enactus, said "We feel pretty good about fulfilling our mission as a university and Enactus' mission as well."

Jay Johnson, dean of the Eckelkamp College of Global Business and Professional Studies at Fontbonne University, said Enactus fits Fontbonne's mission of serving the dear neighbor without distinction. The mission of the Criminal Justice Ministry is aligned with Fontbonne also because it helps people trying to change their lives in a positive way and improve their skills. Enactus' efforts, he added, "is a game-changer for our students" as well. 

IBONE ministry

IBONEs have two groups who receive — the puppies who enjoy treats and the Criminal Justice Ministry clients who are learning valuable work skills. This unusual combination occurred because Joan Kiburz shaped a recipe for gourmet dog bones in two flavors — Beefy Best and Peanut Butter. Originally she offered the opportunity to make the treats to school students, but then passed on her social entrepreneurship project to CJM.

So, several CJM clients are learning how to mix the recipe, roll out the dough, cut out tiny squirrels, package, and sell the treats at local festivals and markets. They are learning business skills and practicing them with a real product and actual customers. Some CJM clients are earning their first dollars by making and selling IBONEs, and the program has expanded to offer other pet products such as scarves.

For years Kiburtz has been involved in promoting the squirrel-shaped treats. Her "cover" dog for the bag of treats, Kiely, is a rescue dog who completed Puppies for Parole, a program of the Missouri Department of Corrections. Kiburtz also has been involved with other service to CJM clients.

For information, contact info@cjmstlouis.org. 

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