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Search The Fig Tree's stories of people who make a difference:

Blue Button employs teens to silk-screen and learn job skills

By Anna Marie Martin

Blue Button Apparel, a print-shop on the second floor of Crosswalk Community Church in Hillyard, employs several at-risk teens to make silk-screened, organic, fair-trade, cotton-and-bamboo t-shirts and bags.

Scott Ellis
Jacob Hettich gains tips from Scott Ellis.

Founder Scott Ellis’ goal is to teach the teens to produce a quality product using sustainable business practices, so they can learn job skills and make a living.

The business ties in with the church’s Project Jerusalem mission of being engaged in the community and neighborhood where they are located.

Part of the church’s mission is to speak the good news, said the pastor, Mike Brose, asking: “What is good news to the people of Hillyard?  The good news is, ‘Here’s how to get a job.  Here’s how to feed your children.’

“We want to be a church that loves its community,” he said.  “We want to be in the neighborhood physically.  We want the antique market down the street to survive.”

Scott was studying business management at Whitworth University when he met Mike, who started Crosswalk Church in 2001 near Whitworth. 

The church began as a name, Scott said, noting that “crosswalks provide safety for people going from one place to another.”

Scott, who moved to Spokane in 1994, graduated from Valley Christian School and attended several other churches.  He became a worship leader as the church grew and merged with Terrace Heights Baptist.  Then they purchased the current building in 2006 at 2723 E. Gordon.

The church takes the message of the prophet Jeremiah to heart, he said.

“Jeremiah said the Israelites in exile were to seek the peace and prosperity of their new community.  Crosswalk is committed to do that,” Scott said.  “Jeremiah tells the people to pray for their community, because ‘if it prospers you will prosper, too.’  So Crosswalk regularly prays for the people and businesses of Hillyard.

“We believe in meeting people where they are spiritually,” he said. 

The church’s outreach to the community has included movie nights and dinners for teenagers, an outgrowth of one family’s tradition of hosting weekly spaghetti dinners for teens at their house.  Youth came to eat, leaving drugs, guns and paraphernalia at the door. When the family moved, they suggested Crosswalk Church continue the practice. 

Several teens who came to dinners and movie nights became active in the church and participated in teen groups one to three times a week.

“They are some of the strongest disciples in our church,” Scott said. “Some come from homes where they are not particularly safe.  We seek to provide a practical salvation.”

On their own, the teens, who are paid to babysit during congregational meetings, decided they had too much money.  So they used it to sponsor a child from Ecuador through Compassion International. 

Seeking to connect to the community, Scott said that when the church learned students at Rogers High School needed gifts at Christmas, they decided to give socks, shirts and pants. 

Scott wanted to know more of what was behind the request, which came from school counselor Barb Silvey, who works with students who have difficulty completing their education—dropped out and returned, become pregnant, went to jail or were kicked out of some classes. 

After sitting in her classroom and hearing her tell the stories of students, he was “shocked and baffled” by the teens’ experiences. Barb told him that few of her students had job-interview skills or clothes, and that the paychecks of some who had jobs might pay for family expenses or a parent’s drug habit.

Scott had been reading a book about missionaries going to Africa only to preach the gospel to refugees.  A refugee challenged a missionary, saying the good news for him would be being able to earn enough to buy his own food. 

He realized the gifts the church gave the students would not help them in the long run. 

“They needed to learn how to provide for themselves,” he said.

Scott Ellis and Blue Button Apparel
Nate Ellefson, an intern from Whitworth University, helps fold t-shirts while Jacob Hettich and Scot Ellis work on a print.

Then he thought:  “T-shirts must be easy to print.  I’ll learn how to do it.  Then I’ll teach some to screen shirts, and we’ll go from there.”

Having a “grace-based lens on,” Scott thought it would be wonderful to work with students, in a safe environment, “teaching them job skills and vocabulary.” 

So he started Blue Button, hoping that after a year of working there learning responsible leadership and entrepreneurial skills, the teens would be employable.

The first students were selected from the congregation. 

A typical evening at Blue Button includes work and conversation—about the day’s Scripture lesson, last week’s sermon, work habits or what’s going on in their lives—followed by dinner. 

As an example of the program’s effect, Scott told of one girl, who at first said she was not smart enough to go to college, but later decided to go to college to study engineering.

In five years, he wants Blue Button to be a self-sustaining business, perhaps in its own building.  He hopes it will bring in enough that he can draw a salary, rather than living frugally off his savings. 

Recognizing Blue Button might stay in the Crosswalk Church building, Scott, who is committed to protecting the environment, wants to help the church buy and install solar panels.

He believes success is not measured in numbers of dollars or teens working, but by the transformation of lives.  He hopes the teens become different people, people with increased self-worth, with goals for college or continuing education and with life-skills that transform their futures. 

Interested in investing in the lives of the people, he believes “the people are more important than the product.”

Blue Button is set up as an independent nonprofit that sells a product to raise funds to sustain its ministry.  It rents the space from the church.

Although it is an ostensibly secular organization, its ministry comes from Scott’s belief that “Jesus said the gospel is feeding and taking care of orphans and widows.  Youth we work with are orphans in one way or another.

“Jesus spent his time with people on the margins, the fringes, not with the in-crowd,” said Scott, who takes students who are at the margins and folds them into the center, letting them know they are valuable.

Mike, as pastor, views Blue Button as part of the church’s outreach, because it is housed in the church, serves at-risk teens and is committed to environmental sustainability, fair trade and ethical business practices.

He does not consider Blue Button’s “I (heart) Hillyard” t-shirts a way to manipulate conversations toward Jesus. 

“The outreach has to be authentic,” he said. 

“Jesus befriended people, period,” says Mike.  “Jesus never had an agenda beyond ‘I’m going to deal with this person in front of me as a human being whom I love.’  The point is to show up and love people.”

For information, call 720-8822, email scott@bluebutton.org or visit www.bluebutton.org. 

Copyright © December 2009 - The Fig Tree