Traverse City's Nonprofit Paperworks Studio Moves Forward with New Vision, Partnerships


a male adult holds handmade paper at paperworks studioUtopia Foundation steps forward to resurrect the nonprofit, which provides job opportunities for adults with disabilities, and helps steer it into global waters.

TRAVERSE CITY, MICH. — Finding a job in this economy is tough for anyone, but can be even tougher for adults with disabilities. So for the folks at Traverse City’s Paperworks Studio—and for the region as a whole—the upcoming reinstatement of jobs for adults with disabilities and disadvantages is an enormous victory.

Earlier this year, those jobs had been lost, production had ceased and the future had been uncertain for Paperworks, a nonprofit specialty paper products company that employs disadvantaged adults. But thanks to community support and a new partnership with the nonprofit Utopia Foundation, Paperworks will not only be back up and running soon, the company will also have its first retail location: inside Great Lakes Bath & Body on Front Street in downtown Traverse City.

Paul Sutherland, chairman of Utopia Foundation, had been dismayed when he’d heard that Paperworks was closing its doors. Sutherland’s company, FIM Group, had previously worked with Paperworks to produce custom greeting cards for sending to FIM Group’s clients. “We loved the cards, we loved that they were produced locally by talented artisans, and we were proud to send them out each year for our clients’ birthdays and during the holiday season,” says Sara Harding, FIM Group’s head of corporate communications. Through meetings with concerned community members, Utopia Foundation purchased Paperworks’ assets from its previous owner, Goodwill Industries of Northern Michigan—but more support from the community, through grants and private donations, is needed to keep the nonprofit operating. Still, the new partnership is a relief for those who’ve long been involved with Paperworks, and heralds a new chapter for the two-decades-old organization.

“The synchronicity that has occurred with Utopia Foundation is really incredible,” says Mimi Spaulding, who has been involved with Paperworks since its inception and was recently appointed as its interim executive director. “They’re in line with our original mission, which is to create a sustainable product line while supporting people going out and doing what they love.”

paperworks employee holding up a christmas cardPaperworks began when a Traverse City special education teacher began experimenting with papermaking as a way to teach his students new skills and involve them in a tactile, creative process. From simple beginnings—using kitchen blenders to turn scrap paper and flower petals into beautiful, artful paper—the project eventually spun off into a nonprofit company known for its handmade greeting cards and specialty paper products such as materials for scrapbooking, bookbinding, invitations and more. More importantly, Paperworks has remained committed to providing opportunities for adults with disabilities and disadvantages, who the company hires to work as production artists.

“By keeping Paperworks Studio alive, we can continue offering these jobs and this lifestyle to people who might not otherwise have those opportunities,” Spaulding says. “But it’s not just about the jobs; anyone who visits and sees our employees working together to create these beautiful products is inspired. Paperworks really is a magical place.”

In addition to its new production facility and retail location, Paperworks will branch out into new product lines and markets. For example, the partnership with Great Lakes Bath & Body isn’t just about having a retail space on Front Street; Paperworks will also be producing custom packaging for the company.

Sutherland says nearly all the pieces are now in place for Paperworks’ success, with the final piece being continued support from the community at large.

“I believe Paperworks has a great team, and with meaningful products and the partnership with Great Lakes Bath & Body, it’s a recipe for sustainability,” he said. “Now we just need the community to join us and match Utopia Foundation’s commitment.”

Paperworks Studio products are currently available in its new retail location, inside Great Lakes Bath & Body (110 East Front Street, Traverse City.) Production in its new facility, plus a new website with the company’s full product line, is expected in early 2015.





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Disability Network Northern Michigan

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