Sustainable products help support sustainable lives at the Women and Children’s Center of the Sierras
A line of about a dozen families stretches outside Des Idees Nouvelles, an eco-friendly home and garden store. The families are awaiting free diapers. If diapers and eco-friendly home décor seem incongruous, let Kate High explain. She’s the executive director of the nonprofit Women and Children’s Center of the Sierras (WACCS), which opened Des Idees this year.
“The goal of the Center is to give people places where they can work,” she says. “The store makes money for the center.”
The people to whom she’s referring are vulnerable, at-risk and mostly women. The Northern Nevada Diaper Bank is just one of several programs WACCS has taken on to help them. And “vulnerable” doesn’t have to mean “destitute.”
“I’m a single mom,” says High. “I was never destitute. But I know what it’s like to need help.”
High says there are many crisis organizations in town, and she didn’t want WACCS to be redundant. So she went to them and asked what is needed to help struggling women and their families: Housing, work, childcare and transportation were their answers.
“If you don’t have childcare, you can’t work,” says High. “If you don’t have diapers, you can’t put your child in childcare. And if you can’t work, you can’t feed your children or pay the rent.”
So WACCS began with the diaper bank. Then they started opening businesses to provide a place for the women to work—a green cleaning service, the eco-boutique Des Idees, and a membership-based Fair Trade coffee shop inside the store. For the $1 per week membership fee, WACCS is also offering classes on job and interviewing skills, computer skills, budgeting, legal clinics, wellness, yoga, and they provide childcare in addition to the diaper bank and Jason’s Lighthouse, which is a clinic to help support people who deal with a chronically sick child.
While Des Idees is a tax-exempt, fundraising store, shopping there doesn’t feel like charity work. High recruited store manager Alyson Lamprecht, who cofounded women’s apparel boutique iMeMine, to set up Des Idees. Lamprecht has carefully selected and presented a lovely mix of the decorative and functional, from ornaments to organic pillows, linens, beautiful birdhouses, bath and kitchen products.
The green focus of the store, the Fair Trade café and cleaning service is a conscious effort at sustainability, and it’s very much connected to creating a self-sustaining life for the people WACCS is trying to help.
“It’s the total picture of true sustainability,” says High. “We want to be true to our message … And we hate waste! We hate wasting stuff, and we hate wasting people.”
Poet Shaun Griffin has worked for decades to help struggling people find stability, perhaps most notably with his writer workshops with prisoners. During a recent visit to the Center, he said, “You can’t address issues of poverty and injustice until you change the systems of poverty. That’s why I like what I see here.”