Friday, October 17, 2014

Helping Haiti: Lessons in Love, Jewelry and Making a Difference

Helping Haiti: Our Junior Girl Scouts' jewelry badge project earned enough to sponsor two students for a year in Haiti.Never underestimate some cast-off jewelry and a bunch of fourth-grade girls.

This is the story of how trash became treasure and a life-changing moment for some girls in Indiana and in Haiti.

What started as a simple project for our Junior Girl Scout Jeweler Badge became an act of love and a major fundraising effort for scholarships for children at our mission church in Haiti.

Yes, our girls learned about creating unique designs from unwanted necklaces, but they learned more. They learned about how seemingly small efforts can build together and make a difference.

Our assignment? Design a necklace for yourself and one other person (meeting two of our badge requirements, one to make a piece of jewelry, and the other to make one to share.)

I was floored when one girl asked if we could sell them for Haiti. And even more so when the rest of the troop agreed.

upcycled necklaces for our Junior Girl Scout Jewelry BadgeWhat began as a simple scrapbook paper and Modge-Podge project became a whirlwind of activity. Nearly 200 necklaces were created for a sale to benefit our Hearts for Haiti program, which in part provides scholarships for children to attend school.

The girls started with a dream: Raise money for Haiti.

And then it grew.

Inspired by their idea and business lessons from another jewelry company that helps out disenfranchised women in Africa, the troop set pricing, learned about marketing (as in, no we don't need a website for a one-time sale, but there are better ways to spread the word), and set a business goal.

They dreamt big.
Hearts for Haiti fundraiser

It was a reach, but we hoped to sell enough necklaces to raise enough for three scholarships for students in Haiti. Our eye-opening moment: A year's tuition was a mere $300 compared to American standards. 

jewelry fundraiser for hearts for haiti scholarships

We didn't quite make the full three scholarships, but we were inspired. And inspired others. Tens and twenties were dropped in the donation jar and as the church service times passed, our goal reached higher....

Four services later, these girls raised more than $700 - allowing for two students to attend school worry-free for a year. We're proud. But we're even prouder of the kids in their class, when the results were announced at school, who want to something too.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Disconnected. What Being Offline Reminded Me

Life without blogging, or social media, or even cell phone service. Yes it can be done!

Imagine how we lived without it. But recent moments have reminded me just how truly dependent we have become on those technologies.

I took an unplanned pause from blogging recently due to a major, unplanned project at work (read: ebola crisis communications). I told my kids that "Mommy has homework to learn about a yucky disease." My unscheduled moments were spent learning everything I could about the disease and developing a communications plan that was a flu epidemic plan on steroids. And I hadn't even touched the employee no-show issues before I left for fall break. So far, we'd been blessed to not have a case in the Midwest.

Disconnected: What being offline reminded meWhile blogging admittedly takes time to do, what I didn't anticipate was the drop in my "social" social media use, too. Instead of checking out my friends' latest escapades and connecting with them online, I refocused my attention to the social media use of work. And I learned it's tough disconnecting completely once you've trained your brain that way. On Fall Break, I sent the disaster coordinator and media manager a text about the second ebola patient, to which I was reprimanded to go back to vacation. And here, I thought a 48-hour media blackout on my part was completely remarkable.

It's taken me some time to re-adjust to a life without relying on the Internet and my smart phone. On day 3, we got a group text on an update on a crisis. Immediately I responded with "What do I need to monitor." And I am so glad I was re-reminded to unplug and go back on vacation.

It wasn't until day 5 until I could get on Facebook - to post some of my kids' pictures - without having the gut reaction of "There's activity on the work page; I need to check it" as I react multiple times a day. I am blessed to work with colleagues who are more than capable of filling in on customer service and other concerns in my absence, and I need to trust them.

My moment of realization, though, was on our return trip home. My husband, a loyal Royals fan for decades, was tracking Game 4 on his ESPN app while I drove. KC was one out away from the World Series. And Sprint service cut out. For a long 30-minute drive, my husband sadly stared at the red X at the top of the bars and waited. No text updates from his parents. No way to call them. Nothing but wonder.

And that's when it hit me. Just a few short years ago, we would have caught the scores on the radio when they came on, or saw the headlines later. Or, like my 6-year-old does each morning, ask another person "Did we win? What was the score?"

We don't always have to be recording the moment, or getting an app to track the moment. Sometimes, we can just connect with the moment. Just us. In person. Enjoying it all with our senses.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Learning lessons from Cub Scout Popcorn

This year, we've embarked on a new adventure: Cub Scouts.

After five years of being drug to his sister's Girl Scout activities and three years of the Tag Unit at Girl Scout camp, my little guy is bent on being a Boy Scout. 

Who could blame him? Add the fun of Girl Scouting with Zoom Zookas (or whatever they're called), more campouts and archery, and I have one excited Tiger Cub.

He came home one day from school telling me that Cub Scouts "camp out on the football field and the basketball court and the baseball field and the soccer field and eat popcorn."

Ahh. Popcorn. The  bane of my existence.

Note that I hadn't fully recovered from the disaster of last year's cookie sales, where the co-leader and I, along with our daughters, were stuck with weekend after weekend of cookie booths picking up the slack of the rest of the troop.  I literally dreamed of cookies for eight weeks.

And now we had two kids in scouting. It made me feel more like this:

The reality is our financial situation means that if we want to participate, we're going to have to pimp popcorn. And it's not a simple sell, even with the world's cutest Cub Scout (not that I'm biased).

However, I have a little guy who is quite motivated. If we hit the goal, he earns enough in his account to go to Cub Scout camp instead of just Girl Scout tag units next summer. Oh, and apparently there's a prize for that level of a bow and arrow too.

You have to work to make dreams reality.

My Tiger Cub is learning that goals aren't always easy to achieve. He walked his street yesterday, only to sell $10 worth of popcorn. He sells at the church popcorn booth after many services, and gets more "no's" than "yes's." 

Cuteness may help, but it doesn't always get your way.

My Tiger Cub isn't always eager to go out, but he's learning that if we wants to make camp and this bow and arrow happen, it's going to take work. Not just mom taking a sheet to the office, but actual work on his part.

And at 6 years old, that's not a bad lesson to learn.

And yes, my disclaimer, if you're truly without a Cub Scout to help, we'd be happy to assist! Here is the order link.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Paying It Forward - A Note of Thanks

I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do. ~Edward Everett Hale

I want to say Thank You. Thank you to each of my readers who've followed our family's journey the last few years. And THANK YOU (large caps intended) for each of you who have helped my in-laws.

Our large medical expenses, coupled with the struggle to keep our children in parochial school, means we have very little left, if anything, at the end of the month. However, our in-laws, who live on a very limited income, have it worse.

Because of YOU - those people who have ever clicked on an Amazonaffiliate link - we were able to replace a needed appliance for them, something that would have been unthinkable to do before.

Thank you. You made a difference.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Meeting Ember Arts: A business lesson from Uganda for our Junior Jeweler badge

Jewelry can be pretty, but it can also have meaning and make a difference. That's the lesson we shared with our Juniors at our last Girl Scout meeting.

The girls have found meaning in their upcycled projects, which we are selling at our church next month to support the much-loved Haiti ministry. Our fourth-graders have been passionate about this cause, which in part supports educating girls such as them, and they are thrilled to take their big idea and see it to completion.

Ugandan paper bead jewelry from Ember Arts
At the same time, I'd gotten a pitch from a company called Ember Arts, which empowers Ugandan women by allowing them to have a jewelry business and a market in the United States. They sold them locally in a shop in Kokomo, Indiana, but also have an online component to their business.

The timing was beyond perfect. We shared with the girls what jewelry looked like from another culture - instead of just showing a picture from the web or in a book. We shared the stories (some sanitized) of the women who were escaping poverty and war and simply wanted a better life for their families. The girls could not wrap their heads around the idea that hard labor could earn a person $1 a day - or that they themselves, had they been born in Uganda, might be sharing the same fate of hard labor instead of schooling.

Their response? "Can we help them too?"

Perhaps in time we can. But for now, we are sticking to learning their lessons and sharing our knowledge with others.

Next week, we begin our "business side" of the fundraiser and learn how to make paper beads similar to what the girls admired at our last meeting. The girls compiled questions for Ember Arts - everything from how the beads are created to how to the business is run. (After all, our girls are going to be marketing their own work and setting prices for their sale.)

I was touched that we got a personal letter back that we're sharing with the girls next week:

Dear Girl Scouts,

Isn’t it fun getting all dressed up and looking pretty? Don’t all young ladies love following fashion trends and wearing all of the latest styles?

Well, I know I do. But did you know that some girls, all around the world, don’t have closets full of the prettiest clothes, and jewelry boxes brimming with accessories? Some girls have barely any clothes at all, and their families struggle to make enough money to pay for things like food, homes, and education.

At Ember Arts, we don’t think it’s ok that only some of us to get to go to school, and wear pretty clothes, and have nice homes, but that other people don’t get to have those things. That’s why we are working hard at creating jobs for women in Uganda, Africa that will enable them to build brighter futures for themselves and their families.

Junior Girl Scouts Jeweler badge and Global Action Award: Meeting women who create jewelry in Uganda to lift themselves out of poverty.How are we helping these women in Uganda? Well, Ember Arts gives women jobs crafting beautiful handmade jewelry. We buy the jewelry from the women at a very fair price and then we sell the jewelry to lots of people in the United States.

This business began seven years ago when a man named James took a trip to Uganda and met women who worked in a place called a rock quarry. These women would sit in the hot sun all day long pounding big rocks with a hammer to make smaller rocks and gravel. This was very hard, tiring work, and the women were paid less than $1 a day.

James knew that these women were beautiful and talented and had amazing dreams. All they needed were better jobs that would pay them well.

Junior Jewelry badge: meeting women jewelers in Uganda.
That’s how Ember Arts started. Now, we employ 28 Ugandan women and a couple of men, and together they make hundreds of pieces of jewelry every month. With the money they make from Ember Arts, they are now able to buy clothes and food, to live in nice homes, to send their children to school, and to pursue dreams like starting their own businesses and going to college.

The jewelry these women make is really unique and special. Every piece is made by hand using recycled paper. We also use other materials like wood, seeds from trees, and glass beads the women buy from the market, but the paper beads are definitely the highlight of every piece of jewelry. The women cut pieces of paper into very skinny, long strips and then they roll up those strips into circles, ovals, or cylinders, and then they cover the paper with something like glue. As you can probably imagine, every bead takes a long time to make, but the women now have lots of practice and can make the jewelry very efficiently. About every two months, the women ship hundreds of pieces of jewelry in big boxes to the United States where they are sold.

Junior Jeweler badge and Global Action Award: Meeting Emily, a jeweler in Uganda who has helped empower women there.
Every piece of jewelry is very unique and some of them are very complex designs. The women who make the jewelry get most of their ideas for designs from a woman named Emily. Emily used to live in California and worked as an artist. She now lives in Uganda and spends all of her days helping people pursue their dreams and teaching them artistic skills.

Apart from Emily and the 28 women who make our jewelry, we have a staff of eight people here in the United States who do all of the work that it takes to actually sell the jewelry. We do everything from attaching tags to the jewelry, to updating our website, to making lots of phone calls to stores. We sell most of the jewelry wholesale, which means we work with big stores, and sell them a lot of jewelry at one time at a cheap price, and then they usually raise that price and sell the jewelry in their own store. Each piece of jewelry has a different price, and that price is determined by how the piece was made, what it was made out of, how long it took to make, and how popular it is with consumers. Basically you just have to put a lot of thought into how much you want to price your jewelry and you also have to be willing to work through trial and error to see what works best.

I think it is so admirable that you all are venturing on your own projects with making jewelry and supporting other people. How blessed your ministry in Haiti is going to be because of your efforts.

Here are a few things that you should never forget while working on your project: even small actions make really big differences in the lives of other people; be as creative, unique, and true to yourself as you can possibly be when it comes to creating your art; know that everyone has a dream, and when you do something nice for someone, raise money for them, give them a gift, or just say nice things to them, you are fueling their dreams and giving them lots of joy and hope.

I wish you the best of luck on your jewelry making project! Thank you for supporting Ember Arts!


Kimberly and the Ember Arts family