The idea started in a basement.
Lawrence resident Shine Adams was consoling a friend, recently released from prison, who was detailing the difficulties of finding a job with a criminal record. Adams was inspired to do something more to help.
Adams, a Lawrence Community Shelter employee and avid carpenter, offered his friend a paying gig earlier this year cleaning up his basement so it could be converted to a woodshop to build guitars.
But Adams knew the problem wouldn’t go away once every last cobweb was swept — and he knew there were many more in the community faced with similar problems.
So, the two began “playing around” in the new woodshop, Adams said, breathing in the comforting scent of the cedar wood Adams had purchased for his next instrument. Adams and his friend sketched out a little pine tree in the wood, cut it and hung it by a string as an air freshener. Suddenly, Adams had found his next big idea.
“Maybe I could start a business helping people who need jobs?” Adams said.
Adams began employing his friend and a few others who lived at the community shelter to help make and sell his all-natural air freshener creations. They call the business “Sun Cedar.”
Sun Cedar air fresheners are made entirely from repurposed cedar wood and dipped in natural cedar oil. They fill small spaces like cars with a rich, warm scent.
As the business kicks up off the ground, Adams has been paying his employees $15 an hour out of his own pocket. But Adams has such faith in the operation, he doesn’t mind.
“I’ve been spending my life’s savings on this,” Adams said. “I believe in it. There’s no reason we couldn’t be a solvent, sufficient business and take care of our employees.”
Adams was inspired to live a life of giving back after coming to Kansas for rehabilitation after struggling with alcoholism, he said. When he left treatment, he went to school at Kansas University to study social work and began volunteering at the community shelter.
“I lived such a life of drama and self-serving, it was easy to begin this new life,” Adams said. “Living a life of service means I can go to bed every night sober and know I helped someone.”
25-year-old Abraham White Weasel is one of Sun Cedar’s grateful employees. He came to Lawrence a few years ago to attend Haskell Indian Nations University, but dropped out after a rough first semester. After searching for work for years, White Weasel said he found himself in a dark place.
That’s when Adams approached him with a job offer that would help him reclaim his independence. He works part-time at Sun Cedar, intricately tracing power blades along the fine outlines of sketched pine trees. He has now earned enough to enroll at Johnson County Community College next semester.
“I went to Job Corps in South Dakota and learned carpentry, so this comes pretty easy to me,” White Weasel said. “If I had a job earlier, it could have helped out a lot. I’m glad to be at Sun Cedar.”
But the business isn’t supposed to be an end-all, be-all for its employees. Adams said Sun Cedar employs those seeking income while they look for more permanent positions. Adams’s friend is Sun Cedar’s first success story. The man now works as a manager at a business in Topeka, Adams said.
To help ensure employees are striving for future success, everyone who works at Sun Cedar – including management – submit to drug and alcohol testing.
“The idea is to give a chance, not subsidize bad behavior,” Adams said. “But that doesn’t mean I’m not open to giving third or fourth chances. Sometimes you have to make tough decisions.”
Sun Cedar currently employs about six part-time employees, but Adams wants the operation to grow to provide opportunities for full-time, paid positions. Sun Cedar air fresheners, $7.50 each, can be purchased at www.sun-cedar.com or by calling 913-370-2005.