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 its 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 that first summer.
Church Community Services moved the next year to a larger building on Third Street that had room to include Soup of Success. There, 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, support group facilitator and co-coordinator of mentoring, and Amy Brock, a Soup Of Success graduate, as production manager.
During our ten years on Third, we “grew up” and became very holistic in how we empower women. 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. We added classes in computers, communication, self-defense, conflict resolution, money management, and creative expression. Our 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. We also began offering a half-day “Poverty Immersion Experience” to congregations who were studying poverty and social justice issues. That year we also hosted our first Mennonite Voluntary Service volunteer, and we have been blessed with MVSers sharing their gifts with us each year since then.
CCS moved into its current home on Oakland Avenue in April 2009. Now we have classroom space to run two consecutive, overlapping Soup of Success classes. This means there’s always a group in session and we have been able to help even more women. We’ve added a greeting card line as well as our first side dish, No Worry Vegetarian Curry.
In 2011, we have increased the size of classes, changing the lives of even more women. We are incredibly excited for their futures – and for ours!