Rabinowitz, the kitchen manager at Jewish Housing and Programming, gave Kelen a tour of the kitchen at Cornerstone Creek and explained the mission of having food entrepreneurs rent kitchen space, and become connected to adults with developmental disabilities who are seeking meaningful employment to work alongside them. The move has helped “breathe new life” into the company.
“I feel that this is just the thing that gets me up in the morning. It’s taken a long time to get there,” Kelen said. “To be an inclusive-hiring company, I couldn’t feel better about this being a social enterprise.”
Kelen’s struggles on a business-front started from what has become an over-saturation in her market.
“When I started I was filling a void; now it’s overfilled,” she said. “It’s being done on a larger scale. I felt I wasn’t checking the boxes that are important to me.”
Now, being an inclusion-employer, Kelen is learning that it is easy to do.
“The idea that you need to make a lot of accommodations and that people aren’t reliable is bunk. My new employees are more reliable, joyful about being there, and the accommodations are ones we could have made for the company as a whole,” she said. “It sounds cliche, but heavens opened and it’s fitting together in an amazing way.”
Kelen wasn’t completely unfamiliar with J-HAP. Her husband, Robert and the Kelen Family Foundation and been involved with founder Linda Bialick before Cornerstone Creek came to fruition, and her sister-in-law and brother-in-law toured the facility last year, but Kelen was unavailable due to the holiday rush. She finally toured the facility in August and moved her operations there in October from City Foods Studio in South Minneapolis.
“It was an instant connection,” Rabinowitz said. “The people that she’s hired, one has been working elsewhere, but what’s beautiful here is that she is included with Tasya’s employees. Another wasn’t working, but it’s an opportunity that gives meaning to her day, gives her money, and the opportunity that others get.”
Said Kelen: “When I’m at demos or samplings, I have a sign on the table that says ‘Help us help others.’ When they ask what that means, we tell them what we’re doing. We’re transforming to a social enterprise. The time has come where people are employed based on their abilities. People want to be valued.”