Business provides second chance, life skills for local men

EVART — One business in downtown Evart has a higher purpose, providing a safe haven for local men to receive a second chance following poor life decisions.

Artisan Heirlooms, run by Bill Cooper, is a wood shop featuring artistically designed pieces including cabinetry, furniture, carvings and more. Its primary purpose is to assist local men who have made poor life choices and need help gaining skills to find and keep steady employment.

"Many of the individuals who come through this building have seen tough times," Cooper said. "To help them, we mentor them and hold them accountable in the workshop, with basic obligations and personal issues."

Through the business, Cooper provides an eight-week, 16-class course through the Jobs for Life ministry program. The program includes one-on-one mentoring, resume writing, social workplace training, business and hands-on woodworking skills. It's an opportunity for the men to make something beautiful and say they played a part in its creation, Cooper said.

"This is a way to present normalcy in their situation," he added. "It's hard to get a job here in Evart, let alone a good-paying job, and then combine that with having some sort of record. We wanted to give a chance to guys who didn't stand a chance on their own."

Program participants create projects including benches, a canoe, sporting equipment, a bed frame and more. Pieces are often commissioned pieces or projects by community residents.

Once the men finish the course, they "graduate" and are better equipped to live, hold a job and continue improving on a personal level. The Coopers said they feel the mission of Artisan Heirlooms is their purpose, and their love of people stems from their love of God. The couple said they want to impact the lives of others and see those lives turn around in a positive direction.

"I like seeing the changed perspective of the guys and seeing their changed understanding of what it means to have a job and make something with their hands they can be proud of," Cooper added. "We're seeing some good results. They're able to hold a job down and that's exciting for us."

Jeff Junker, Artisan Heirlooms' wood shop manager and former Evart Elementary School teacher, helps train the men in woodworking. He said he enjoys being a part of the program each day.

"It's a difficult job, but I want to give something to the community it can be proud of and I want to make a difference in the guys' lives. I've been blessed and want to help other people, giving them a hand up," he said. "I want to see long-term life changes in the men and want them to demonstrate the desire to stay on the right path. I encourage other businesses to follow suit and offer something back to the community. We'd like to see Evart pulled out of the doldrums and see it reverse if possible.

"The best part is watching the growth in the guys. It's a small investment for a big return."

In addition to what is created in the workshop, Artisan Heirlooms offers program participants and local artisans the opportunity to sell their products at 7th Street Coffee Co., the sister shop run by Cooper's wife in the same building.

Pieces available for purchase can be found at the store's location at 116 E. 7th St. or at