St. Joe Community Co-Op Logo

Co-Op providing jobs, training and services
Three Rivers Commercial News
April 12, 2006


STURGIS - A handful of envelopes, each containing a check, is proof positive that a Co-op can provide employment and jobs skills to disabled area citizens.

The paychecks were delivered Monday to members of the St. Joseph Community Co-op at their new facility at 403 S. Jefferson Street in Sturgis. Over thirty members currently work up to 24 hours a week there doing a variety of tasks.

The St. Joseph Community Co-op is the successor to the defunct Hope Network South's Arch Workshop, which ceased operation on Feb. 10.

"What we're trying to accomplish is to help people develop skills, such as how to attend to a task, learning to work with others, and to learn multiple assembly steps," said Tim Carmichael, Founder and CFO of GT Independence, fiscal intermediary for the Co-op.

Co-op members currently are packaging bandages, affixing ties to wiring harnesses and shredding massive volumes of papers in their workplace. Additionally they are available for hire for tasks such as lawn clean up, house cleaning, and other manual chores.

"Our goal is to elevate their skill sets (so they can) work in the community," Carmichael said.

Following the cessation of operations at Arch, a group of community members convened to attempt to address expectations held by the Community Mental Health for its clients.

Carmichael said the group felt they could improve the services offered to clients. The consensus was "let's get this going," but without seekign to own a business. The concept of a Co-op evolved, one that would be run like a business with a building, working capital, and jobs to do.

Don Frost of LTI Printing, Inc., offered space in a building for $1 a month, Midwest Tool and Cutlery offered a discounted line of wrenches to sell for capital, and Precision Manufactured Products offered work for Co-op members. A full time marketing director was employed, and the Co-op was ready for business.

The Co-op concept is part of a national trend to give disabled individuals empowerment to make decisions for their lives, Carmichael said. Co-op members take an active role in business decisions, and share in the profits of the enterprise. GuardianTrac, as fiscal intermediary, manages finances, reporting to Co-op members, other stakeholders and Community Mental Health.

A board of directors provides Co-op governance. David Smith is Executive Director (currently convalescing from knee surgery) and on-site supervision is provided by Ray and Shelley, assisted by job coaches Jennifer and Lisa. Kyle Bonnin is marketing director.

"Ray and Shelley know these employees and have a real compassion for them," Carmichael said.

"These are some of the finest employees in the state," Carmichael said of the Co-op members. "They're task oriented, have a high success rate and like to work. They're excellent employees."

Carmichael hopes the Co-op employee roles will climb to 40 members by April's end. He's also hopeful that there will be a Co-op presence in Three Rivers soon.

For information on how to employ Co-op members phone (269) 659-4525.

Community Co-op gets funding boost
Sturgis Journal
March 30, 2006


The St. Joseph Community Co-op received a donation of $2,030 from the Jerry Mix Knights of Columbus Council 2508 Tuesday.

KOC member Dick Yesh said the check represents their donation plus a $1,000 grant from Wal-Mart.

Accepting the check was Theresa Hanson, newly elected president of the Co-op Member Board.

Dave Smith, who serves part time as the Co-op's Executive Director, said the money will be used to retile the cafeteria and locker area.

The new work center is located at 403 S. Jefferson St.

Since March 1, it has been providing jobs for about 30 former members of the Hope Network / Arch Workshop.

Tim Carmichael of GT Independence, who has taken over the leadership role for the Co-op, said the workers are keeping busy on a variety of jobs such as assembling, packaging, envelope stuffing, mailing, distribution, shredding and shipping.

"We're going to be offering our services doing yard work," he said. A team of four to six workers accompanied by a staff person will rake yards, bag leaves and clean flower beds, for $35 an hour. They do not mow grass or work with power tools. Anyone interested in hiring the yard workers can call Shelly Yesh at the co-op, 659-4525.

The Co-op is the first of its kind in Michigan.

Carmichael said he is pleased with the progress made in the first month of operation.



New name, location for Arch Workshop
Sturgis Journal
February 10, 2006


An old building is getting a new life in Sturgis.

Effective March 1, GT Independence will take over management services for the defunct Arch Workshop.

The new production center, located at 403 S. Jefferson St., will be called the St. Joseph Community Co-op. It has its own member Board of Directors and employees will have an expanded opportunity to decide the direction the Co-op takes.

The new production center was formerly owned by Midwest Tool. In recent years it was purchased by LTI Printing for storage use.

About 20 men and women who work at the former Arch facility at 511 W. Lafayette St. attended a meeting Tuesday in Sturgis to learn about the opportunities the Co-op will offer.

Tim Carmichael, founder of GT Independence and a former member of the Arch board, said the St. Joseph Community Co-op has its own board made up of people who work at the work center.

He said on March 1, employees will be on the same schedule and will use the same travel arrangements to go to work.

"The only difference will be the location of their work activities, and it's not associated with Arch," he said. "This is the first time this type of operation has happened in the state of Michigan. It will be an adventure. We will focus on skill building."

Don Frost, President of LTI Printing, said he is offering use of the building to the new Co-op rent-free for a year to help get things started.

"Actually it will be $1 a month and this includes utilities," he said.

"The building needs a lot of cleanup and we will need help landscaping," said Carmichael. "We need volunteers. We hope some group like a garden club can help us dress up the outside of the building in the spring."

Hope Network South, which took over the operation from Arch, no longer exists as of Jan. 1. The Hope Network South Web site reported "The federal tax number for Living Ways, Inc., has been transferred to a new Kalamazoo-based nonprofit organization called Community Living Options. Community Living Options continues the tradition of excellence in providing specialized residential, day program and supported independent living services in Kalamazoo County for individuals with a mental illness and/or a developmental disability."

As a nonprofit organization serving adults with disabilities Carmichael said he hopes to apply for grant money.

Carmichael said GT Independence's role in the Co-op is merely that of a management contractor: "Not long ago we had a lengthy discussion with Hope Network South and just couldn't philosophically get on the same page," he said. "Any Arch item purchased with donated money such as tables and chairs should have come to the new location."

The former Arch location at 511 W. Lafayette St. and the building at 104-106 N. Nottawa are up for sale by Hope Network South.

Carmichael said it's been his dream for a long time to help adults who are disabled. His son, Ben, has a disability.

Carmichael told the workers that they can do their part to help build the new work center: "Exercise your circle of friends," he said. "Make them aware of the work center. We're not looking for charity, we're looking for work. We're going to hit some bumps but we're going to work through them."

The new facility has 25,000 square feet. LTI Printing will still use some of the space for storage but the opportunity is there to grow, Carmichael said.