Wood Shop Creates Job Opportunities for Recovery Community

By Kelly Burch 08/23/17

Men who are overcoming addictions and homelessness are taught to build handcrafted wood furniture.


It’s no secret that the Midwest has been hit hard by the opioid epidemic. Lost jobs and low wages contribute to feelings of hopelessness that can lead some people to use and prevent them from getting clean, but one Indiana shop is trying to change that by employing people who have just completed rehab and teaching them to make high-quality wood furniture.

"This all began just as a simple prayer asking the Lord if he'd have us do something about the men who were coming out of addiction and having trouble finding a job," David Palmer, the founder of Purposeful Design, told IndyStar.

Palmer started the program four years ago. He trains the men, giving them a valuable life skill and much-needed accountability in early sobriety. Recently, he received a $25,000 grant from The Faith & Action Project, which aims to cut poverty in Indianapolis.

"We looked for the programs that have the greatest potential to create real, lasting change," said Lindsey Rabinowitch, director of Faith & Action. "Our hope is that ... these programs can be scaled up and replicated and ... help more people trapped in poverty.”

Palmer currently employs six people. With the grant money, he'll be able to take on more employees. "We'll put a lot more men to work," he said. He also plans to move Purposeful Design from the church where it is currently housed to a larger industrial space.

The men who work at the shop say they are thankful for the chance to rebuild their lives. Andrew Gibson, 35, told the Indianapolis Business Journal last year that be began working at Purposeful Design after going to rehab for heroin addiction. “By far, Purposeful Design and woodworking is the most satisfying job I’ve ever had in my life, not to mention I’m making the best money I’ve ever made in my life,” he said.

Employees make between $12 and $20 an hour, which Gibson said is a livable wage for the area. “[Palmer] realizes you can’t support a family on minimum wage,” he said.

Products from Purposeful Design have become popular around Indianapolis, and not just because they are handmade and beautiful.

“Clients love our quality, but many also love being part of our mission,” Palmer said. “An easy way to do that is to have a piece of furniture that we made. They get to tell that story over and over again whenever they use our conference table.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.