When I was 8 or 9, I remember looking out the window of our two-family home (aka duplex) on our maple-tree lined street in the suburb of Boston where I grew up. I thought – why was I born here on the beautiful street and not in “Africa”. In my young mind, thanks to the media about war and famine, “Africa” was the epitome of poverty.
I didn’t understand that generational poverty and busing riots were occurring only a few miles from my home.
I didn’t understand racial, gender or socioeconomic inequity.
But I knew my life was different from billions of others in the world, and in the US, because of where I was born.
My mother grew up poor, the child of immigrant parents and my dad grew up in a working-class family. He saw how his parents lived paycheck to paycheck and determined to change that in his own life. By working 2 jobs most of my childhood, he succeeded in moving our family to the “rich” part of town and I graduated from a private university debt-free.
Fast forward to 2008 – I went on a vision trip with Forest Hill Church to Rwanda and Burundi. While on the trip, we visited a genocide memorial where 11,000 men, women, children and babies were brutally murdered. I stood amongst the bones next to a survivor of the massacre with thoughts similar to those I had looking out my window when I was 8… why am I here as a visitor rather than a survivor or victim?
I met MANY people during that week that forgave people who murdered family members. I considered my attitude toward forgiveness - I have trouble forgiving someone for stealing my parking space, yet these people are not only forgiving but rebuilding relationships with people who killed their loved ones? I was stunned.
Back in Charlotte shortly after this trip, I became friends with a young woman who was trafficked into sexual exploitation when she was 16. A friend encouraged her to leave the lifestyle they began helping other young women escape.
I met an artist who survived 30 years in an abusive marriage in order to protect her children. She courageously bought a one-way ticket south to start a new life, leaving everything she owned and everything she knew behind. Now she’s our lead jewelry designer using her skills and her compassion to serve other women.
I met a young woman who came to Charlotte from Haiti after the earthquake to escape poverty and destruction. She taught herself English in a matter of months so she could reach for her dream of providing a better life for her younger sisters and family back in Haiti. She graduated from Nursing School earlier this year and is financially supporting her sisters as they pursue college.
Meeting these people, and many others since, transformed my life. I did not pity them – I was inspired by them and what they were overcoming to help others.
I considered my life in light of these new friends and prayerfully considered how I should respond. I began to dedicate my time, my financial resources and my personal network (or social capital) to walk alongside courageous and amazing women like these on their journeys. The result was Fashion & Compassion.
We started by periodically hiring a few women overcoming sexual exploitation in Charlotte to make necklaces from broken paper bead jewelry and beautiful Ethiopian crosses. As we strung beads, the women opened their hearts and I learned about their hopes and dreams for the future. We invited more women facing other challenges such as addiction, incarceration, and abuse as well as refugees and immigrants to join us making jewelry each week.
Our mission is to create communities where vulnerable or marginalized women connect with God, one another and individualized resources as their lives are transformed.
Our mission has nothing to do with making jewelry… jewelry is merely the tool we use to gather women and provide them with a gentle re-entry into the workforce.
But we do so much more than that, we believe in supporting the whole person and that women need to heal spiritually, emotionally and physically in order for their lives to be truly transformed.
We accomplish our mission in our weekly jewelry project communities that provide part-time, transitional employment to women overcoming the challenges. Each week in Charlotte we host 3 jewelry project communities that serve about 35 women/week or about 120 women/year.
Each woman in our project, who we call Artisans, begins an Artisan Empowerment Plan where she sets her goals and dreams for the future which may be spiritual, emotional and physical. The most common goal of the women we serve is permanent employment. Other common goals include permanent housing, financial stability, emotional healing, reconciliation with estranged children, English skills and spiritual growth. These are THEIR goals – we DO NOT tell them what their goals should be – that would not be empowerment.
These women are our neighbors who did not grow up on a tree-lined street in a suburb and graduate from college debt-free. They have had to struggle for every achievement and they are every bit as unique, beautiful and deserving as each and every one of you, reading this blog.
Our jewelry sales provide 65-70% of the income to needed support our work which is phenomenal and we are grateful!! We also need donations, specifically to support our work with women in Charlotte.
This Giving Tuesday, would you consider making a donation to support our work with women? Each pledge of Artisan support allows a woman to participate in our weekly jewelry project and work toward her future.
If you live in Charlotte, we would LOVE for you to stop by and visit our Boutique at 1717 Cleveland Ave in Charlotte to learn more about what we do!
If you've been to our boutique, please comment below to let others know what a special place it is, both for our Artisans and for all who enter!
Thank you for your support through your jewelry purchases, prayers and financial gifts - our Artisans lives would not be the same without it!