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Three Rivers event to showcase work of mental health, addiction clients

September 25, 2018

A company that encourages clients of mental health and substance abuse agencies to become entrepreneurs is hosting a “Work & Learn” event at Three Rivers Community College on Thursday, and a New London woman is among those participating.

Hartford-based Street Smart Ventures works with about 25 agencies across the state, teaching people, including domestic violence survivors, children in foster care and those who struggle with addiction, how to turn their passions into profit.

During Street Smart’s Work & Learn events — the company hosts about 10 a year — participants teach morning workshops then sell their goods during afternoon marketplaces.

Some create and sell homemade jam or comic books. Some make jewelry or hand-painted puzzles. Some even launch shops on etsy.com, which highlights vintage and handmade goods.

“It’s experiential learning,” Street Smart partner Britney Brewster said. “It’s a chance for (participants) to explore different types of jobs and tasks they can perform.”

Brewster said the events, which are open to the public, typically draw about 150 participants and visitors.

Elizabeth Soules, a client of New London-based Sound Community Services, is among those who will participate. The 51-year-old, one of 11 children, came to New London in 1996 to escape New Haven, where she had been abusing alcohol and heroin.

Soules said she was clean for about seven years when several family members died in succession, setting her back.

Now eight months sober, Soules credits Street Smart Ventures for her success.

Employees at Sound Community Services saw the crafts she made — marble earrings, copper bangles, painted shells — and connected her with the company.

Soules said she spends about two hours a day working on new products and does as many Work & Learn events as she can, typically taking home more than $100 each time.

Because the events target young adults, Soules also has become a mentor to other participants, whether giving them advice on pricing, or life.

“As long as I impact one young adult, I know I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing,” said Soules, who said many of them hug her when they see her.

Derek Rock, a Sound Community Services employee who has overseen Soules’ case for more than a year, said Street Smart Ventures gave Soules “something constructive to do.”

“They saved my life,” Soules agreed.

Rock, a 1997 graduate of New London High School, works in employment services but soon will spend part of his day at the AXS Center, which helps homeless and at-risk 18- to 25-year-olds with mental health, emotional and/or substance abuse issues.

Among his goals is connecting the young adults newly under his charge with Street Smart Ventures.

“The local youth with any type of mental health issues who don’t have a strong support system ... once they graduate, what happens?” Rock asked. “All we can do is support them and show them the right direction. I can’t make decisions for them, but I can show and give them options.”

l.boyle@theday.com

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