Granola production is changing lives of Blue Monarch residents

STAFF WRITER

Elena Cawley

 

To Marie Harmon, of Tullahoma, Out of the Blue granola offers a chance to rebuild her life and be a true parent for the first time.

Harmon, 34, has transformed her life over the last several months, overcoming addiction and getting to truly know her children. She gives credit to Blue Monarch and its granola program.

Marie Harmon, left, and Courtney Estes stir the hot granola to promote even cooking and prevent burning at Blue Monarch’s facility in rural Coffee County. Blue Monarch is a long-term residential re-covery center for women and children. The granola is sold to give the women job experience and support the program’s operations.

–Staff Photos by Cameron Adams

Blue Monarch is a residential recovery program in rural Coffee County with the stated goal of “helping mothers who are struggling with addiction to find healing and to restore their lives through Christian values.”

In addition to providing financial means for the residents of Blue Monarch, Out of the Blue granola, which is baked and packaged onsite, offers the residents job experience and references, and helps them acquire life skills and a work ethic.

“Blue Monarch is a long-term, residential, Christ-based recovery home for women and their children,” said Kate Cataldo, director of community relations and fundraising for the organization.

The women and children served by the program live onsite.

“We can have 11 families in our residential program, and five families in our transitional program,” Cataldo said. “The kids go to a local elementary school and the women work in our granola kitchen, which is also onsite.”

The program is free for the residents.

“Every woman and child that comes through our threshold receives all of those services free of charge,” Cataldo said. “We are funded solely by the generosity of our community.”

 

Granola with a purpose

To fund the program, the residents produce granola, which is sold at Kroger, Tullahoma BluBearz, Whole Foods Market and online.

The beginning of the Out of the Blue granola goes back to 2009.

Marie Harmon, of Tullahoma, displays a portrait of her son, Xeven Thomas, age 10, who lives with her at Blue Monarch

“Out of the Blue granola offers job training, work history, references and helps the women we serve build self-esteem,” Cataldo said. “Some of the women we serve have never had a job that was legal. They might have a felony. It’s very hard to find a job if you don’t have a hands-on job training.”

The future “looked black” for most of the women at Blue Monarch prior to joining the program. There were few or no people in those women’s families and communities who could serve as positive examples.

“It was always in and out of addiction, in and out of abusive relationships, or in and out of the prison system,” Cataldo said.

However, the residents’ outlook on life and self-esteem changes and takes an optimistic turn once they step in the kitchen, she said.

“When the women start working at the kitchen, they find out they are great problem-solvers, have something to offer, have skills, have value, and have a purpose,” Cataldo said. “That black future they were seeing before begins to look bright again. They start thinking they could go back to school.”

Every bag of granola comes with a picture of one of the women and her story of recovery.

Purchasing the granola helps restore broken families, said Cataldo.

“It’s a great product,” Cataldo said. “It’s hand-turned, and we use local honey.”

The baking process has been perfected through the years, said Cataldo.

“And 100 percent of the proceeds go to support women in recovery and their children,” Cataldo said. “It’s truly a granola with a purpose. Lives are being changed through the job opportunities the granola offers.”

 

Rebuilding families

“The granola helps women like Marie Harmon to rebuild relationships with their children,” Cataldo said.

Development Coordinator and Out of the Blue Sales Manager Kate Cataldo describes Blue Monarch programs in her office Friday, Jan. 5.

Harmon has participated in the program for 16 months.

Being part of the granola production gives Harmon the opportunity to strengthen her work ethic and get back on her feet.

“My favorite part of the granola-making process is putting pictures and the stories of the women in recovery in each bag – knowing those stories are going to touch somebody out there,” Harmon said.

Harmon hopes those stories will give hope to others who might be in difficult situations.

“I was in addiction for 13 years,” Harmon said. She has two sons.

“Before I got here, I didn’t get along with my older boy, Xeven, who is 10,” Harmon said. “I didn’t know anything about him, and he didn’t know anything about me, because I never parented him sober. We had to find ourselves and find each other at the same time.”

Since joining the program, they have become closer.

“We have been spending time together,” she said. “We’ve been bonding, we got baptized together, and we ride bikes and play basketball together.”

Harmon also found out Xeven loves to read.

“Before, we were always arguing and screaming at each other, never hugging, playing or touching,” Harmon said. “We now hang out and our relationship has completely changed.”

Harmon is currently pursuing her HiSET (formerly GED) diploma, as well.

 

Overseeing the baking process

Deanna Barns, 35, is the kitchen manager who oversees the granola production.

“We measure out the oats, the honey, the molasses and the oil, mix everything by hand and make sure that every oat is coated well,” Barns said.

Then, the mixture goes out in the pans and in the oven.

“Each round in the oven is 12 minutes and there are six rounds,” Barns said.

Hand-turning the granola makes a huge difference, according to Barns.

“The time it takes to make our granola versus other granola products is longer, but the quality is so much better,” Barns said. “A lot of companies run theirs through a conveyer belt, so the toasting process isn’t as good. We make sure there is not one oat that’s too overdone.”

The number of batches baked per day varies depending on the orders.

“On a regular day, we would do two bakes, which is going to yield about 100 pounds of granola,” Barns said. “We do it once or twice a week. We are all residents of Blue Monarch and most of our days are spent in classes working on recovery.”

The two flavors offered are honey and oats and cranberry coconut granola.

“We have them in 12-ounce bags and in 3-ounce snack bags,” Barns said.

The retail price for the 12-ounce bags is about $6. The three-ounce bags cost about $2.50.

Working on the granola production offers Barns various opportunities.

“I handle the shipping and receiving, the online orders, and get to communicate with customers about their purchases,” she said.

Barns said sharing the story of each woman at Blue Monarch is her favorite aspect of the granola process.

“These are our pictures, so it’s really fulfilling and gratifying that we get to share our stories with the world,” Barns said. “We want to inspire hope and change in other people because the program has been successful for us.”

For the women in the program, the Out of the Blue granola has brought a peaceful island amid a sea of devastating life circumstances. It has taken these women and their children into a bright present, which allow them to build the foundation for even a brighter future.

“The job is amazing because we’ve spent so much time among craziness, addiction, being unemployed or doing illegal activities,” Barns said. “Before having this job, we didn’t have work ethics or good value systems, and we didn’t know how to be responsible.”

This job helps to rebuild positive values.

“When we graduate the program, we’ll have job skills and references that we can actually take to a prospective employer, and that will help us take care of ourselves and our children,” Barns said.

Barns is the mother of three children. Through the program, she hopes to fully restore the bonds between them.

 

Another story of success

Courtney Estes, 22, said she has overcome adverse circumstances and is now working on rebuilding her life thanks to Blue Monarch.

“My favorite part of working here is having the opportunity to provide for my children,” Estes said.

Estes’ problems started with an abusive relationship.

The abuse led to miscarriage, and Estes was prescribed pain medication. Not long after that, she was addicted. Worsening of the situation later led to losing custody of her children.

Drug addiction is now in Estes’ past, she said, and she’s working on rebuilding her relationship with her children.

 

About the program

“Blue Monarch was formed in 2003 by Susan Binkley,” Cataldo said. “Since 2003, we have served over 700 women and children, and over 250 children have re-established relationships with their mothers. Our goal is to break the cycle and rebuild the family.”

The program focuses as much on the child’s recovery as it does on the mother’s recovery.

“We serve women that come from generations of poverty, abuse and addiction,” Cataldo said. “We believe those cycles can truly be broken and we can truly heal the destructive patterns of abuse and addiction.”

The life-transformation program focuses on anger-management, self-esteem, building relationships, work ethics and life skills such as budgeting and cooking.

“Each mother has individualized parenting classes,” Cataldo said. “If they have not finished their education, we work with them to get their GED and get enrolled in college.”

Elena Cawley may be reached by email at tngenrep@lcs.net.

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