Waukesha's Plowshare Center celebrating 25 years

Published on: 3/19/2014

Since its inception in 1989, Plowshare Center in Waukesha has been a pillar in the Waukesha community for promoting peace and justice around the world.

The center is celebrating its 25th anniversary from 5 to 8:30 p.m. Friday at the Stackner Ballroom at the Carroll University Campus Center. The community is invited.

Plowshare co-founder Kate Jolin explained, 'Since 1990, our Fair Trade Marketplace has been giving small farmers and artisans, from over 30 economically developing countries around the globe a market in downtown Waukesha.'

She added that 'Many of our artisans are women who, by working through fair trade organizations, are ensured safe working conditions and a just wage, so that they can provide food, health care and education for their families.' Those artisans, in turn, provide Plowshare with unique items, such as fair trade coffee, tea, chocolate and jewelry, baskets, pottery, clothing and other works of art.

Because of Jolin's teaching background, it was important to her to incorporate an Education Outreach Program to Plowshare's work, which has since offered a variety of programs on topics such as social issues and nonviolent lifestyles.

First fair trade shop

'One claim to fame for Plowshare is that we started the first storefront fair trade shop in Wisconsin,' stated Jolin. Since the opening, many other cities in the state have seen the opening of similar shops.

'Fair trade is actually part of a global initiative to get at the roots of poverty with a market-based socially innovative approach that is entrepreneurial and self sustaining. Fair trade partners with farmers and artisans in economically developing countries, who are socially and economically marginalized,' she added.

In addition to the products they sell, in any given year, Plowshare collaborates with 20 or more nonprofit groups for shared impact, she added.

'Like with all healthy organizations, Plowshare has made many needed changes over the years,' said Jolin. One visible change is the location of the center, having occupied four different locations along Main Street.

In 1996, the board of directors decided to change the name from 'The Waukesha Center for Peace and Justice' to the 'Plowshare Center.'

'Because our fair trade shop is called 'Plowshare Gifts,' naming the organization the 'Plowshare Center' helped the community understand how our two core projects, the shop and education programs are part of one organization called the Plowshare Center,' explained Jolin.

The founders had a vision that Plowshare would be a coordinating center people where could go to look for educational resources, speakers and other programs on issues of social concern.

'More and more, as we become better known, Plowshare is becoming the 'go to' place to find resources.

Groups such as schools, churches, nonprofits and others contact the center for information on current social justice and peace issues. Others contact the center wanting someone to speak on fair trade or wanting us to take our products to them for an off-site sale,' said Jolin.

Community involvement

Over the years, Jolin said that 'So many wonderful people along the way have brought their talents to Plowshare,' including 56 people who have served on the board, 38 hired staff members and hundreds of volunteers.

'All those generous people are a total gift to Plowshare and our peace building work in the community,' stated Jolin. 'It's inspiring to me that so many talented people care so much about what happens in the Waukesha community and in the wider world.'

As Plowshare looks to the future, the Plowshare Center is planning to launch a local 'dialogue initiative.'

'We want to gather together people of differing perspectives to listen and talk openly with each other.

'True dialogue can promote understanding and personal transformation, where creative ideas and solutions can emerge,' said Jolin.

Another dream for the center is to create a collaborative workforce development program, providing people living in poverty in Waukesha County an opportunity for meaningful and productive work.