Sun Cedar in Lawrence, Kansas is giving folks a chance to work. The company employs ex-offenders and the homeless to produce naturally aromatic cedar ornaments, cedar accessories and cedar wood sachets using zero-waste, Earth-friendly processes. By providing meaningful work at a livable wage, Sun Cedar is helping homeless folks and former prisoners get back on their feet while building their resume with new skills and stable employment.
Founder and CEO, Shine Adams, got the idea from volunteering at shelters and the local jail. When a friend was complaining about being unable to find work, the idea for Sun Cedar was born.
“From a pile of scrap cedar in Shine’s basement, a great idea sprouted: One afternoon, with the tools he had on hand, Shine and his friend started making these cedar trees. The products and budding concept were an instant hit. Shine was happy to provide his friend a few hours of work and to use up wood that would otherwise go to waste. This friend became Shine’s first employee and success story. After gaining the skills and experience from Sun Cedar, he was able to update his resume and find himself a position as the night manager of a local family- owned Hamburger place,” Zia McCabe writes of the beginnings of Sun Cedar.
“I never had a chance before. Sun Cedar gave me a chance, and now I see that working for them, is really working on myself,” says Abraham White Weasel, now shop manager at Sun Cedar after overcoming a lifetime of hardship and homelessness.”
“It aligns with my environmental values,” Zia McCabe says of the company. McCabe of Dandy Warhols fame is also very active in social justice issues, which led her to become a member of the board of Sun Cedar. “We serve an overlooked population. We’re working to heal our community and our planet at the same time. By doing this, we set a good example for other individuals and companies, and I hope that it inspires people, especially people with a following, to do the same kind of thing.”
How does the company work? “We keep our overhead low, so we can pay our employees what they deserve and need to take care of their basic needs. Earning at least double the national minimum wage, our workers can afford to pay for basic essentials to get on their feet: Interview clothes, résumé printing, telephone equipment and service, and transportation. Many of our employees have previous financial woes, so getting started with a bank account, and rebuilding credit while paying outstanding bills is a trial. We help those we employ make a plan, and stick to it financially. We don’t propose Sun Cedar as a long-term career; rather we are a start on the path of transition back to the mainstream economy. With the money they earn working at Sun Cedar, our employees have a chance to pull themselves out from under the oppressive burdens they often face when starting over.”
As a result of this success and forward movement, Sun Cedar is now partnering with the Douglas County Sheriff’s and Penn House, a well-known local charity. Penn House is especially accessible for Sun Cedar employees, just two blocks from the courthouse. Penn House allows Sun Cedar employees to easily manage any legal issues and gives them access to Reentry case management, resume building, GED tutoring, and other classes tailored to help them reintegrate into society.