Long before Robert Karleskint ran his own business, he was just a young man with a masonry background, a desire to help out in his community and an admittedly limited perspective on cultural differences. He volunteered with the local non-profit Mission: St. Louis for five years teaching people to do home repair on underprivileged families' homes. Karleskint did that until the opportunities in that area dried up, but he found a way to continue doing what he loved with a bit of a twist.
That's when Karleskint founded Anew Nature, a for-profit furniture company with the mission to get felons back into the workforce by teaching them high-demand trade skills. Why be a for-profit company? As Karleskint puts it, “Many of my friends either work with non-profits or own them, and I can imagine there being a temptation to push a lot of guys through to be eligible for a grant and that's not something I want to do. I would literally rather have one guy go through my program in a year and get a job than do that and waste their time.“
However, the real question to ask is why and how they work with these interns? The “why” is simply because it's needed, not just for the young men and women that are trying to get their careers started, but also for the local construction industry that always needs more quality employees.
The “how” is a little more complicated, but can be wrapped in a bow with their RISE collection. This collection is full of modern designs and was specifically developed with trade skills in mind. In fact, Karleskint went directly to construction and trade companies to find out exactly the type of skills they were looking for and built the collection around that. He goes into detail saying, “The RISE collection is a product of creative problem-solving. It's simple and beautiful, but the production requires you to learn to cut, bend and weld steel and that's just on the legs. We go to the wood mill and select a tree, so the guys learn about arborism. They get to operate the wood mills, so they work heavy machinery. We slab the tree, we dry it, we work with inventory and packing. Plus after it's dried it has to be leveled and sanded and spray-finished. So, on these simple little end tables, there are more than 11 different jobs out there that hire for these skills.”
Anew Nature is community-focused and has already put many of their interns into new careers, but what Karleskint finds most rewarding is the connections he makes with his interns. You can see the passion in his eyes as he explains, “I'm still in awe that I am where I am. I had maybe two conversations with African American people by the time I was 22. I had a tiny, little world view. I worked for super-wealthy people, and then I moved to Germany. So, you take the fact that most of my interns are minorities and have criminal backgrounds and add it to the fact that I've built genuine sustaining friendships with them is very personally rewarding to me. That's the thing that keeps me going when it gets hard.“
Anew Nature also does incredible custom work. So, whether you're wondering how to get your hands on one of Anew Nature's unique tables or how you can get involved with Karleskint's program, you can find out more on their website at AnewNature.com.