Soup of Success was born in December 1997 when Church Community Services (CCS) wanted to find a way to delve deeper into the lives of their clients to try to get at the root causes of poverty. Betsy Ayrea was Soup of Success’s first director, a role in which she still serves. The intensive program began with one participant in the basement of 1st Congregational Church in downtown Elkhart. Classes were held in the fellowship hall, and its first product, Ruth’s 5-Bean Soup, was produced in the kitchen. The dip/dressing line was launched later that first summer.
CCS moved the next year to a larger building on Third Street that had room to include a growing Soup of Success and it was there that Soup of Success held three classes of ten each year. Additional staff joined the team, including Kathy Peterson, co-coordinator of mentoring and graduate support, Abbie Kashmer, co-coordinator of mentoring and support group facilitator, and Amy Brock – a Soup of Success graduate – as production manager.
During the ten years on Third, Soup of Success “grew up” and became very holistic in how women were empowered. Partnerships with individuals, churches, and other agencies brought participants spiritual support groups and knowledge of available community resources: physical and mental health services, domestic violence awareness, tools to navigate the legal system, and continuing education. Soon Soup of Success added classes in computers, communication, self-defense, conflict resolution, money management, and creative expression. A mentoring component became essential, pairing women in the community with women in the program, thus enriching both lives. Graduate Reunion Nights became a time for grads, mentors, and staff to reconnect.
In 2007 Kathy Peterson began facilitating the popular “Getting Ahead in a Just Gettin’ By World” classes and soon a half-day “Poverty Immersion Experience” was offered to congregations who were studying poverty and social justice issues. That year Soup of Success hosted its first Mennonite Voluntary Service volunteer and has been blessed with MVSers sharing their gifts each year since then.
CCS moved into its current home on Oakland Avenue in April 2009, allowing Soup of Success to have multiple rooms for various classes. Now program participants can be working in a computer class, while others are in a separate classroom, allowing more personalized training. This move also allowed for the addition of a greeting card line as well as the first side dish, No Worry Vegetarian Curry.
The growth kept coming. In 2011, staff member Maisha Seebeck came on board to work in all capacities on the program and social enterprise. In 2012, Soup of Success answered the public’s request for our popular Positively Potato Soup in a smaller size and started producing “Potato Soup for Two.” Curriculum was increased as well as the addition of the emotional resources curriculum,“Practicing Personal Power”, which we lovingly refer to as the “P’s” (Present, Prepared, Positive, Participating, Purposeful and Powerful).
Spring of 2013 brought the new textile line “Mittens on a Mission” and Mechiel Dues, a Soup of Success graduate, was hired to manage it. The public met the new ucpcyling venture line with great enthusiasm and the mittens have been a big success. During the summer the building went through some renovations and in early November, Soup of Success unveiled a brand new entrance and retail space dedicated to Soup Of Success products.
Through all of this change, the focus has always been on one thing: empowering women. We, at Soup of Success, are incredibly excited for the women in the program who are growing and changing their futures – and ours!