Academics and Research / DU Alumni / Magazine Feature

Women’s Bean Project founder shares life lessons at Masters Program

Jossy Eyre speaks to a social work class on April 23. Photo: Ce Shi

Josepha “Jossy” Eyre, founder of the Women’s Bean Project, came to campus April 23 to talk to students about her path to social work and the importance of following your passion.

Eyre (MSW ’86) was on campus as part of the Masters Program, which invites successful alumni back to campus as “master scholars” who participate in lectures or teach courses during a regular day in the academic schedule of their department. Speaking to Michael Talamantes’ Social Work Intervention Strategies in Health Care class in Craig Hall, she started by talking about her childhood in the Netherlands during World War II, where she lost a sister and brother during a bombing raid.

“In the 1940s, there was not much to help me deal with the grief,” she said. “I buried the feelings, and they stayed with me a long time.”

After the war, Eyre came to New York City with her parents and surviving siblings. She earned her BA from St. Joseph’s College in Brooklyn before enrolling in Columbia University, which granted her a BS in nursing in 1962. Eyre embarked on a career in public health nursing, which brought her to Denver in the late 1960s. The work started her thinking about the need for intervention and the role of social work.

It was not until the 1980s, after her children were grown, that she returned to school at the Graduate School of Social Work. She found her voice and finally began to process what had happened to her so long ago.

“My passion was there, and my professors were able to channel that into better focus,” she said.

Long interested in helping the homeless and impoverished, Eyre began volunteering at the Gathering Place, a drop-in women’s shelter. There she recognized the same hopelessness that had shackled her. How, she wondered, could she empower these women and help them achieve independence?

The answer came in the unexpected form of beans. In 1989, Eyre founded the Women’s Bean Project, a soup-kit assembly nonprofit to help women develop job skills, work habits and even inner peace through meditation.

“We had a very caring atmosphere — people working together, people learning together, people being supported together and trying to help them to ease their way into the mainstream,” she said. “One of the ways we did that was to take them when we had opportunities to sell the products. At first, they didn’t like the idea at all, but when they found out that the products of their hands had monetary value, they started to believe in themselves a little bit more.”

Eyre left the Women’s Bean Project 14 years ago but still is involved in its mission. She now volunteers for the Ignatian Spirituality Project, which works with homeless women struggling with addiction.

Through all her work, Eyre has emphasized serving people over promoting a cause. When a student in the social work class asked Eyre what advice she had for students going into the health care field, Eyre replied, “There’s a living being behind the symptoms. We need to support that person and make them feel safe.”

Other Masters Scholars for 2013 were:

Daniels College of Business:

Krishen Mehta (MBA ’72), former partner, PricewaterhouseCoopers, LLC
James Unruh (MBA ’64), founding principal, Alerion Capital Group

Divisions of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences: 
Jason Kearns (BA ’93), Senior Trade Counsel to the Committee on Ways and Means, U.S. House of Representatives

Division of Natural Sciences and Mathematics:  
Mark Bozeman (BS ’77), practicing physician in obstetrics and gynecology, Kaiser Permanente

Josef Korbel School of International Studies:

Susan Waltz (MA ’75, PhD ’80), professor of international relations and public policy, Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan

Graduate School of Professional Psychology:
Robin Gabriels (PsyD ’77), licensed clinical psychologist, associate professor in departments of psychiatry and pediatrics at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Center

Morgridge College of Education:
Nickolas Dawkins (MA ’11), principal, Hamilton Middle School

Sturm College of Law:  
Mike Gustafson (JD ’68), president and CEO, Wesco Resources

Colorado Women’s College:  
Shirley Kovar (CWC ’67), trusts and estates partner, Henderson, Caverly, Pum and Charney, LLP
Douglas Wilwerding (BSBA ’85, MBA ’86), managing principal, Optimas Group

University College:
Katherine Blair (MPS, JD ’11), senior health policy adviser to Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper




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