In the fall of 2012, several ladies at First Baptist Church Longview had a conversation about the women’s ministry and what the future might hold. We conducted an interest survey and the top category was arts and crafts. Our first thought was, “What in the world can we do with arts and crafts?”

Libby Black and Julee Rachels (CEO and Founder) discussed how that might look as an outreach opportunity for the women of FBC. We reached out to Susan Henry and the name Heartisans Marketplace was born from there words: He, Heart, Artisans.

In the summer of 2013, Julee volunteered with Buckner and FBC at the Bellaire Apartments where she worked with 20-22 ladies each week. During this time, several of the ladies were preparing to move out of Bellaire and expressed an interest in finding a job, so Julee began brainstorming how Heartisans Marketplace could serve as a vehicle for women to move out of poverty.

In the fall of 2013, 14 of the women who had been in the summer group participated in Heartisans’ pilot job readiness program.

The pilot program participants met once a week at the Buckner facility where they learned business principles through arts and crafts. The women would choose an item, calculate the cost of materials, make note of the time required to craft the item (labor cost), price the item, and then attend weekly sales events. At the end of the fall, each woman received a percentage of the profits. This provided them with Christmas money to spend on their families.

Although the women enjoyed the program and were proud of the money they had earned, this model would not provide women a way out of poverty.

In the spring of 2014, Julee began the paperwork for Heartisans Marketplace to be designated as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization while still working on how arts and crafts could afford women a way out of poverty. She invited Donna Crouch and Krista Darr to join her with the startup as founding board members, and she was thankful they did!

When she visited her daughter in Nashville that March, she took Julee to Thistle Farms, a nonprofit organization that rescues women off the streets and out of the sex-trafficking trade, providing them with shelter for two years while they get their GED, counseling, and work experience.

This was a lightbulb moment for Julee.

She returned to Thistle Farms for training in April where she learned how to implement what was needed in the Longview community. Our community had several nonprofits that provided homeless women coming out of domestic violence and drug addiction with a safe living environment. Another nonprofit, Buckner Pathways, was underway that would afford single mothers a place to live while attending college.

What our community lacked was a vehicle to the higher paying jobs, moving women toward self-sufficiency.

Julee knew she wanted Heartisans to accomplish five things:

  1. Provide women in Longview community with quality job training that would give them the best opportunity to apply and enter a career they were naturally drawn to by interest and ability, a job that would afford them the ability to provide for themselves and their families, and access to higher education to continue moving up in that career.

  2. Provide hands-on work skill training and soft skill training enabling program participants to be work-ready when exiting the program.

  3. Provide an opportunity for a valuable network of people in our community to meet the specific social, physical, and spiritual needs that relationships afford.

  4. Provide a place for our community to “Serve in Love” with their gifts and talents.

  5. Incorporate the gifts and talents of the community volunteers as a vehicle to finance the program.

In November of 2014, Heartisans Marketplace opened and the retail store operated November and December of that year. Funds generated from the sale of products from the studios and community donations provided funds to begin the job training program in January 2015.

Women are referred to the job training program from other local 501(c)(3) nonprofits, churches, and the community at large.

To date, we have had over 50 women who have completed the Heartisans’ program. 35 of these women have entered the workforce in our community and others are continuing their education through Kilgore College, each moving towards independence and becoming a contributing member of our community.