From Panhandler to Hempster

The story I wrote about Calvin for La Puente’s Fall Newsletter:

May 20, 2010.

The day Calvin graduated from the “Tilling the Soil of Opportunity” entrepreneurial class at Taos County Economic Development Corporation.

With determination and dreams of filling a gap, Calvin wanted to set up a catering business to provide lunches at a homeless shelter in Taos.

But then the program lost funding, so Calvin moved to the San Luis Valley to find work.

In October 2010, while unloading hay from a trailer in Crestone he broke his foot. He needed to be close to the hospital, and La Puente became his temporary home. He continued living at the shelter for 10 months, after enrolling in the Veteran’s program in 2011.

During this time, Calvin remembers having to make a list of goals. On his list for his 5-year goals, he continued dreaming of starting his own business.

With his panhandling sign in arm’s reach, Calvin has been selling macramé hemp jewelry on the streets across the US over the last 20 years.

His face lights up as he tells stories of all the people he’s met along the way.

Calvin wasn’t just selling jewelry, he was also teaching people in the community how to make the macramé jewelry themselves.

He was connecting, sharing and learning with the community…

He loved the face-to-face connection with the community who supported him, but selling on the streets had its limits.

He couldn’t afford the 50% commission rates that retail stores were demanding, and he couldn’t afford to legally register his business.

Now, with the help of La Puente’s newest program, Seedme, Calvin is able to move forward and make his dreams a legitimate business.

Seedme (Socially Embracing Each Dream, Micro-Enterprises) is a social entrepreneurial initiative to help individuals start and sustain micro enterprises in the San Luis Valley. Within La Puente’s four retail locations, Seedme will feature branded merchandising modules that display locally crafted items for sale.

Going beyond a typical retail display, Seedme will feature stories of each micro-enterprise—connecting people with people, rather than simply people with products.

As Robert McKee said, “Stories are the creative conversion of life itself into a more powerful, clearer, more meaningful experience. They are the currency of human contact.”

Calvin does not have transportation of his own, but with a full tank of determination and motivation, he hitchhikes 50 miles into Alamosa from his current residency in Crestone, CO.

He comes to town every Thursday to meet with Seedme.

Each time, he walks into our office entering with a folder of paperwork and a mind overflowing with ideas. By the first week of hearing about working with Seedme, he had begun a business plan and a cash flow statement.

With a partnership with Unlimited Possibilities, Seedme was able to give Calvin a micro-loan of $300 to be used to register his business name, ElfinCraft Hempery, as well as order handmade paper beads through Uganda Outreach, a non-profit organization based in Colorado dedicated to helping empower Ugandans to rise out of poverty.

ElfinCraft Hempery offers hand-crafted macramé products, with natural and recycled materials.

“The jewelry is a symbol of environmental consciousness,” Calvin said. “It’s what’s needed now. To bring the community together and to raise children in a non-toxic environment.”

A simple loan of $300 has empowered Calvin to quickly move his business forward. He is beginning to stock up on anklets, bracelets and necklaces, while beginning to make medicine bags and backpacks.

When asked what his overall goal is, Calvin laughs and says, “My overall goal is to hemp the hemp-less. You guys can help the homeless, and I’ll hemp the hemp-less. And eventually I’ll hire a workshop full of hempsters.”

In the coming months, look for his products in the La Puente Enterprise locations. But beyond the products, remember Calvin. Remember his story. And remember that you are socially embracing his dream.





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