Jennifer Neve, one of the physically or developmentally challenged employees at Paperworks Studio in Traverse City, has become one of the Goodwill Industries program's best ambassadors. (Photos by Paperworks Studio)
Paperworks Studio had a show at a northern Michigan museum over the weekend and a woman asked a question so perfect you’d think she had been paid.
Paperworks is part of Goodwill Industries, so tipping people to lob softball questions isn’t in the budget. But this is what she wanted to know:
“What are the cards made with?”
The literal answer is that the greeting cards are made with odds and ends, this and that, old blue jeans and an invasive flowering plant called garlic mustard, all of which give them both texture and personality.
They are handcrafted in a Traverse City workshop by developmentally and physically disadvantaged people who work not only for money, but for camaraderie and self respect.
That workforce includes Nick Lonsdale, 27, of Lake Ann, who has cerebral palsy. Lonsdale works in quality control, meaning he weighs each sheet of handmade paper before it fulfills its potential as, say, a candy-cane-themed Christmas card made with red wool.
Less than 15 grams — about half an ounce — and a sheet is too thin to be stable. More than 21 and it’s too thick to be malleable. Anything outside those boundaries gets re-recycled, he says, “and I go through the whole process all over again.”
Lonsdale happened to be in range when the woman asked the question — or not so much asked it as set it carefully on a tee to be smacked by a giant metaphorical golf club. What are the cards made with?
“Love,” he said.
But before we all say “Aww,” as Lonsdale retold the story, he quickly added this: “We made a killing this weekend.”
Which is nice, even if it’s not entirely the point.
Sales taking off
Goodwill of Northern Michigan has been making cards for about 20 years. The last three, it’s been making strides.
In 2010, total sales hit $60,000. Brian Lewis, the sales and business development director, said October will wind up being bigger than that all by itself. For the fiscal year that ended Oct. 1, receipts fell just short of $300,000.
That represents a sizable jump for Paperworks Studio and a vital step for some of the employees — 46 in the workshop, along with more at the Traverse Bay Intermediate School District who help produce cards but aren’t allowed to be paid. Within the past year, Lewis said, six artists from the program have accepted jobs with mainstream employers.
“Every time you order, you’re making a difference in someone’s life,” he said. “And, you’re getting a very cool card.”
It’s prime season for charities and their Christmas cards. Some offer them for sale; others, like the World Wildlife Fund, send them unsolicited and hope for a donation. Who doesn’t like the holidays, not to mention pandas?
Crestmark Bank of Troy orders 6,000 each year from Paperworks — partly because it loves the cards, partly because it loves the cause, and partly because they’re a gift that keeps on giving.
Spending in right places
“As a company, you know you’re going to spend the money,” said Lisa Beattie, a first vice president at Crestmark. “To have it go to such a great organization makes it special.”
A designer by training, Beattie appreciates the feel of the paper and the contrast of it against a foil background. Last year, she had stars surrounding the word “Joy” die-cut into cream-colored stock with a metallic fleck.
Not long after Christmas, she received a note from the artists who turned her concept into a reality. “Thank you,” it said. “We loved making your card.”
“I ran around the office,” said Beattie, “saying, ‘See! Look what we did!’ ”
The holiday cards cost $19.99 for a five-pack, or as little as $2 apiece in bulk, at paperworksstudio.com.
Paperworks cards are also available at the Whole Foods stores in Rochester and Ann Arbor and Suhm-thing in Birmingham.
In Traverse City, where Lewis and Lonsdale were sharing a speaker phone, a re-order just came in from a store in Oregon.
“How can you not love this place? I’m inspired every day,” Lewis said.
Lonsdale, ever the promoter, spoke up again.
“Because of me,” he said.