Building Community One Glass at a Time

By Aimee Eiguren / Photography By Alex Couey | December 07, 2013
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“Our mission is really all about helping people in the community find jobs.”

There’s something memorable about drinking from a well-crafted piece of glass—that’s especially so when that glass happens to be hand cut and repurposed from hued amber, olive, clear, or blue bottles saved from a landfill. Though recycling glass in southern Idaho is still catching on (the City of Boise now offers curbside pickup), a unique company called Ūsful Glassworks, a nonprofit founded by Lisa Scales in 1980, is using glass from wine, beer, and soda bottles and reinventing it. In fact, this Boisebased entity is one of two glass bottle recycling companies in all of southern Idaho, the second being Environmental Abrasives. 

What makes Ūsful Glassworks different is their mission of community stewardship that goes beyond a perfectly cut tumbler. “Our mission is really all about helping people in the community find jobs,” says Carlyn Blake, executive director of Ūsful Glassworks. 

Blake, a longtime bank employee suddenly found herself out of work when the economy plummeted in 2008. Through a mutual friend, she was introduced to Scales, a radiologist who had recently founded the local nonprofit. The idea came to Scales as she was searching for the right “green/non-toxic” materials to build her family’s new home but struggled to find suitable options. Disappointed with unhealthy product options, she decided to start a green supply company.

Needing employee assistance to pull her ideas together, Scales turned to the East Boise Community Work Center—a program that employs prison parolees, refugees, the homeless, at-risk youth, and senior citizens to work and become better integrated into the community.  

Ūsful Glassworks has created a vocational training program where participants produce all of the products. Together, participants work towards attaining the same goal: permanent employment.

By combining Scales’ vision to grow and support the community through recycling and work readiness training, the concept of Ūsful Glassworks was born. Shortly thereafter, Blake was hired to further define its mission. 

Ūsful Glassworks has created a vocational training program where participants produce all of the products. Together, participants work towards attaining the same goal: permanent employment. And they are largely successful: 111 participants have graduated from Ūsful’s Job Training Program since 2008, and 67 percent of their graduates find employment back in the community. 

Workers learn the eight-step, 100-percent cold work production line process that every recycled product goes through. There’s also a vigorous quality control process where bottles get cut, polished, and inspected across many different stations to ensure that every glass sold is of the highest standards. It’s one of the many reasons that so many local business owners like Mike Sommer, founder of Purple Sage Brewing Company in Middleton (see Fall 2013, page 49), only bottles his herbal kombucha teas in Ūsful’s recycled glass. 

Another true testament to the quality and integrity of the Ūsful Glassworks mission and products is the number of prominent Boise restaurants that have supported the nonprofit through thick and thin by using their glassware exclusively.

Another true testament to the quality and integrity of the Ūsful Glassworks mission and products is the number of prominent Boise restaurants that have supported the nonprofit through thick and thin by using their glassware exclusively—from Bittercreek Ale House, Red Feather Lounge, and Fork to Café Vicino, Àlavita, and Solid Grill & Bar. “It’s not inexpensive for the restaurants who choose to support what we’re doing in this community,” says Blake. “Due to the quality and cost of our products versus cheap glass imported from other countries, our dedicated clients believe strongly in our mission and commitment—providing second chances to the underserved by helping them build work maturity while making our beautiful products.” 

With passion and candor, Blake shares that at the end of every workday she arrives home knowing that she’s made a difference in someone’s life. Perhaps the legacy of Ūsful Glassworks in our community is as simple and profound as turning a once empty life into a more purposeful, Ūsful life lived.

Ūsful Glassworks
5858 W. Franklin Rd., Boise ID 83709
(208) 322-8272 • info@usfulglass.com
They only accept glass bottle donations of wine, beer, liquor, and soda
bottles. Drop-off is Monday–Friday, 8:30am–4:30pm.

Article from Edible Idaho at http://edibleidaho.ediblecommunities.com/food-thought/building-community-one-glass-time
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