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In the Business of Saving Lives

(April/May 2019) posted on Tue Apr 30, 2019

BLOC Screen Print aims to bring dignity, hope – and a new skillset – to people in need of a second chance.

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By Anya Rao

Most of the shop’s customers are local churches, schools, and companies. They hope to build more business to keep their workers busy. “We aren’t the cheapest or the fastest, but it’s more than just a T-shirt,” Green says. 

BLOC sources blank shirts from another organization making a difference: Freeset USA, which provides organic, fair-trade products produced in India by women escaping exploitation. 

Each completed order is boxed up with an accompanying hand-signed thank-you letter from the current group of staff members, which reads: “Thanks to this order (and many others), we have the chance to learn a new trade, develop good work habits, and acquire life skills. BLOC gave us an opportunity when no one else would.”

Looking to the Future

Green touts the success stories of the people who have come through the shop, including one man who spent 18 years in prison and came to BLOC upon his release. With the life and work skills learned, he was able to land a full-time job, get his driver’s license, and buy his first car. “He changed his life,” Green adds.

Success stories are heartening, but given the dark starting point for many of the people in the training programs, there are also the sad stories of relapse. The initiative is making an impact, but it’s hard not to reflect on the people who slide back into their old lifestyles, says Gary Walton, who was involved in BLOC Screen’s launch, is BLOC Ministries’ director of print, and operates the letterpress museum; 

Walton also taught graphic communication at Cincinnati State Technical and Community College for 45 years. “At Cincinnati State, 85 to 90 percent of my students go on to become very successful,” he says. “I came down here to this environment, and we average about 50 percent [success rate]. You get to know these people and then they go backward; it’s really hard. I have a hard time with ‘we lost another one.’”

Walton and Green are both passionate about the BLOC job training programs, they sing the praises of those who graduate and go on to full-time jobs, and they are looking to the future. “We have donated items in storage to start an entire offset printing department,” Walton says. “We just don’t have time to do it yet.

“Our goal is that two years from now, there will be 30 people here at the screen shop and 30 at the woodshop (next door) – that would be 60 people being rehabilitated,” Walton says. “When you do that, that’s how you flip this community. The idea is not to train them and get them to leave, but to stay and rebuild this community and have an impact on it.” 

Read more from the April/May 2019 issue




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