Carlyn Blake had a life-changing moment in 2009.
Little did she know at the time, but that moment would lead to a renaissance in her life, and that renaissance would be sparked by empty glass bottles.
And helping people.
That big moment happened while she was working as a vice president at Key Bank. She enjoyed her job at the time. As a senior business training manager, she was tasked with leading and developing projects and assignments related to performance enhancement and training.
“I loved my job at Key, and I loved the people I worked with,” Blake says. “My job was challenging and it paid for my master’s degree at BSU.”
But then …
“When the economy turned and my position was lost, I literally looked up from my cubicle walls and said, ‘What am I going to do with my life?’”
It took a while for the answer to come to her, but when it did she knew it was the right one.
“I decided that I wanted to do something that was going to make an impact in my own community,” Blake says. “I didn’t know at the time that I wanted to run a nonprofit. I just knew that being a member of this community was important and I wanted to make an impact.”
She found that outlet in the form of Ūsful Glassworks. The nonprofit was founded by Lisa Scales, who wanted to provide job training for people who wanted to work but had barriers to finding employment. She also wanted to find a unique way to recycle glass. The result was a workforce that turns empty wine, beer and liquor bottles into reusable glass products. Ūsful Glassworks was struggling in early 2010, when Blake signed on as executive director. But she was determined to make it work.
“It was everything I wanted to do: help people find jobs and do good things for the Earth at the same time,” Blake says.
Since then, Blake has helped place over 200 people in jobs in the Treasure Valley and seen over 600,000 bottles get recycled.
Not surprisingly, Blake is proud – and passionate – about those accomplishments.
“What the organization has taught me is boundless,”
she says. “Working with veterans, working with people with vocational disabilities, working with people who are homeless, it’s just been rewarding and eye-opening to understand their struggles.”
The company’s finished products can be found at a few retail locations in the Treasure Valley, including Whole Foods Market, The Mixing Bowl and Idaho Made. Customers can also shop at usfulglass.com.
“But the best place to find us is at our facility at 5858 W. Franklin,” Blake says. “We get people who come here all the time who have special bottles they want us to cut. So we’ll give them the tour and show them around.”
If Blake has her way, she’ll be doing just that for years to come.
“2016 was a huge year for us, because we were sorely in need of some equipment, some computers and some of those things we need to take us to the next level,” Blake says. “And we were able to get all that. So 2017 is going to be our year for implementing and getting all that equipment online. Then we can use our grants and donations to expand and grow and figure out how to make an even bigger impact in the community.”
Blake looks forward to the challenge.
“I loved my job at Key, but … this is what I was meant to be doing,” she says. “That was preparation for what I’m doing now.”