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MADE IN L.A.

A $90 cutting board born on skid row? Would-Works carves a niche

August 23, 2013|By Carren Jao

Jose Barajas looks happy with safety glasses perched on his nose and an orbital sander in hand. Though a pile of rough boards sits before him, he knows that each hour of work ahead at Would-Works is an hour toward his goal: clothing for job interviews.

Barajas has been in and out of shelters for the past four years, since he lost his job and separated from his wife and two kids. On this Saturday, Barajas is one of four skid row residents whose road to a better life has brought him here.

Would-Works gives the people of skid row an opportunity to make hand-finished cutting boards sold at a growing number of design boutiques. Each hour an artisan works here earns him or her $10 toward some predetermined goal such as first month’s rent, bus fare or eyeglasses. Once that goal is reached, Would-Works cuts a check directly to the vendor. A tag on each finished board indicates which artisan worked on it and for what purpose.

“Rather than giving them a handout, this is a way for them to earn money with dignity,” said founder Connor Johnson, 26.

The operation started about a year ago, at a time when some skid row agencies were experiencing drastic budget cuts, Johnson said. Funds that were used to buy products or services for their clients disappeared.

Would-Works is a small-scale attempt to help bridge that gap. Essentially run by Johnson and his mother, Katherine, who’s in Minnesota, the line of handsome solid maple and oak boards in two sizes (about $30 and $50) and one striped design (about $90) are popping up in Los Angeles stores including Yolk in Silver Lake, Platform in Highland Park, Hammer and Spear downtown and Farmshop in Santa Monica. Would-Works boards are also available on the site Roozt, which bills itself as a socially conscious shopping platform, and on Would-Works' own site.

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