12/27/2011 09:06 am ET | Updated Feb 26, 2012

Businesses That Change Lives

A Goodwill® social enterprise is founded on the belief that every person should have the opportunity to achieve independence through the power of work. While the job market and small business climate may continue to look bleak, it is inspiring to hear stories about booming innovative social enterprises, even in the worst of times.

One of these stories comes from Traverse City, MI, where a unique young enterprise has grown and expanded exponentially during the recession. The enterprise is powered by a product that has a positive impact on the environment and is giving jobs to Americans with disabilities.

Paperworks Studio grew out of a project started by Tim Coffee, an entrepreneur and a special education teacher. Recognizing the challenges that Americans with disabilities face in finding employment and that they have an unemployment rate nearly twice that of other workers, Coffee sought to teach his students practical life and work skills. Among other projects, he taught his students to craft greeting cards out of newspaper pulp and other recycled products. When one student asked what would happen if they put blue jeans in the mixer, the class discovered a unique way to make soft, textured, one-of-a-kind cards. The class slowly grew into a full-fledged company that now makes handmade greeting cards out of jeans, sweaters and other recycled materials.

Three years ago, Paperworks Studio partnered with Goodwill Industries of Northern Michigan, which provided the framework and physical facilities to turn the project into a full-scale venture. For Goodwill® -- a century-old social enterprise that sells gently used donations to create employment opportunity programs and support services for people with disabilities and disadvantages -- a partnership with Paperworks Studio was an obvious fit. The innovative product and unique business model added further credence to two truths we've known for more than a century: that there is profit to be found in environmental goals like diverting used goods from landfills, and that people with disabilities are very often hard-working, dedicated individuals who are eager to prove their independence through the power of work.

Paperworks Studio impacts the lives of 150 plus extraordinary people with disabilities and disadvantages. At its Goodwill facility, Paperworks employs 32 artisans plus they provide job training and life skills to more than 125 individuals at a second production facility in partnership with an adult work center. The cards are sold at stores, specialized stores and retailers. Paperworks Studio is a great example of the type of entrepreneurship that can set this country's economy back on the right track because it values both people and the planet.

Kudos to the Goodwill of Traverse City for doing your share of providing opportunities for people with disabilities, and moving our economy in the right direction.

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