A hydrogeologist who makes soap as a hobby and a retired English teacher who recruits purse makers from a Fair-Trade storefront bring us their very different, but equally fascinating, Sew Powerful experiences.
The Business Owner and the School Teacher with Theresa Dellaport and Vivian Sylvester
IN THIS EPISODE
Soap Maker, Business Owner, Hydrogeologist and Sew Powerful purse maker, Theresa Dellaport, shares her background and how she channels her unique set of hobbies into her enthusiasm for Sew Powerful. If you think you don’t have time to make purses, think again. Theresa’s incredibly busy schedule seems to always include time to make a purse and to help her community.
A retired English teacher and former craft store owner finds fulfilling work as the head of her church's missions program. The mission is connected to the Olive Branch Fair Trade Shop in Vivian Sylvester's Pennsylvania hometown. Not only does Vivian volunteer her time in the shop, but also recruits Sew Powerful purse makers from that very store front. Has the recruitment been successful? With over one thousand purses made in the past two years, I would say so!
purses, sew, powerful, soap, volunteers, soap, craft, Colorado, science, engineering, drillers, storefront, fair trade, geology, business, Olive Branch Fair Trade and Missions store, purse maker from Denver, purse maker from Pittsburg
We are Sew Powerful, How a Global Community of Seamstresses Is Changing Zambia One Girl at A Time, 2nd edition. By Jason G. Miles and Cinnamon, © 2016 & 2020 Jason G. Miles and Cinnamon, all rights reserved.
ABOUT THE SEW POWERFUL PODCAST
The Sew Powerful Podcast shines a light on the people behind the mission to keep girls in school and create purposeful products in Zambia. Join us every week for a new 30-minute episode to meet new people, hear inspiring stories, and learn how you can join us in this global movement. Whether you sew or not, make purses or not, you will find something to enjoy in every episode. Listen today.
Host: Jan Cancil
Guests: Theresa Dellaport and Vivian Sylvester
Welcome to the Sew Powerful podcast. This is your host, Jan Cancila. You know the sound of my sewing machine means it's time for another episode. So let's get started.
On today's episode, we're going to meet two very different Sew Powerful purse makers, though both are fascinating. Before the break, we're going to speak with Teresa Dellaport, who came to Sew Powerful through one of the most unique doors we've ever heard of. And after the break, we will meet former school teacher Vivian Sylvester. Vivian actually recruits purse makers in a storefront shop in her hometown. Stay tuned.
Today I'm going to introduce you to a Sew Powerful purse maker who came to Sew Powerful through a very unique door. We will meet Theresa Dellaport, and discover how her unique hobby opened the door for her to Sew Powerful. Good morning, Theresa, how are you today?
I'm great. Thank you. Happy to be...
Well, yes, I have to say of all the people I've talked to, and how they heard about Sew Powerful, the way you did it is the most unique of all. Tell us how you learned about Sew Powerful originally.
Yes, well, I've been a soap maker for 20 years and I belong to an online forum that, it talked all soap, soap making, and it had been online for, oh golly, maybe 15 years and you know, made many friends through that forum. And there was a section on the forum that talked about other things besides soap, and one of the individuals posted about Sew Powerful on the off-topic forum. So I went there, because I love to do sewing, in addition to soap making. And I was just fascinated by the work that Jason and Cinnamon were doing, and their beautiful smiles and their voice through the online just came through in such kindness and happiness.
And I thought well, golly, that's something I can do. I sew, it's one of my other hobbies in addition to soap making. I got into soap making 20 years ago. I started growing a lavender plant in my garden. And I thought, oh my gosh, this reminds me of soap. I wonder if I can make soap out of it. So I took a class and then just really went down that path and just loved making soap. I had an online website for a while and I sold at farmer's markets. But, you know, now I'm involved in so many things that I just make it for my family and friends.
Wow. I have to say that's very cool. And because we have the soap Co Op in Zambia as part of Sew Powerful, that seems like a marriage made in heaven. That's perfect. So what we'll talk about that. You are quite the career woman. You own a business there in Colorado. Tell us a little bit about the company that you own and run.
Yes, well, I had worked for another company for 15 years. And then I broke off eight years, eight and a half years ago, started my own company. We are now at 11 people. And we are science and engineering consulting firm. Water in the west is not easy to find and not like, you know, east of the Mississippi. So Colorado has some very strict regulations on how you obtain water and how that works. So experts like us are hired to help people find water. So we work for not only residential units, and folks like that, but all the way up through to the federal government. So we are quite blessed. We have just an excellent team of people. I'm a hydrogeologist by training. My husband also works for us. We also do environmental engineering, so cleanup of spills of, like, gas stations and dry cleaners, and monitoring landfills and things like that.
So how does one become a hydro engineer? What prompted you to, I take it it's a course of study and in college? Is that right?
Yes, I am one of nine children. And I'm a number eight. And my older brothers went into geology in college. My parents were college professors so they were very much interested in making sure all of us got to college. And this is why those gals in Zambia speak to me, because I want them to have the same kinds of opportunities that I had. So I was lucky in, we grew up in a middle class family, although we weren't super rich. And that's one of the reasons I got into sewing, is that my older sisters, I had hand-me-down clothes, certainly. But if I wanted something new, I needed to sew because there wasn't a lot of money. So my mother sewed lots of things for us. And so I learned to sew, geez golly, when I was five or six years old, I think, I was sewing. So if I wanted new clothes, that's what I had to do. So, and then I just really enjoy sewing as a hobby. I just love creating things.
But I think I got off track there. Yes, I so I went into geology because of my older brothers and sisters, well, my older brothers. I have three brothers who are geologists as well. And I was very fascinated by that. I was always fascinated by science. And so I took a, you know, I got a degree in geology. I grew up in southwestern Ohio, and got a degree in geology, and then I got a master's degree in hydrogeology. So water rocks is basically what it is. So groundwater wells, how water moves through the environment.
I have to say we have the most brilliant purse makers in all the world who volunteer for Sew Powerful.
And speaking of volunteering, besides running your own company and making purses and, I have the privilege of being able to see over your right shoulder there, a beautiful display of purses that you're, I presume you're about to pack up and ship out. But
Yes, I was holding them off for this so we could see them. I only got seven done this past time. I have done over, I think I lost count at 275. So
Oh my goodness.
Yeah. So I started, I think in 2015. So maybe it was the second year that they were doing it. I think something like that.
Well to our listeners, and if you're a purse maker or want-to-be purse maker, and think well, I don't really have time to fit that in. Wait till you hear what else Teresa does. So she makes soap as a hobby. She owns an engineering and science company, but she also volunteers. Besides making purses, she also volunteers and does some other charity work. Tell us what you do with pollination. This is fascinating.
Yes, so there's a piece of property behind our house that we're working with our neighbors to change it back from residential units to agriculture. So one of our neighbors is a beekeeper and that is an agricultural-type activity. So she belongs to the county Beekeepers Association. And so we got the county involved. And we have, I think, 10 beehives up there now. And it was just kind of open prairie.
So we are, took out a section and we're planting a pollinator garden for the bees. Not only bees, but butterflies and then Colorado is just full of hummingbirds as well. So my sister works for the Denver Botanic Gardens, and she has helped me source local plants. We're in the beginning stages now and try to, I mean, I'm not a farmer, but I'm trying to understand it. A lot of things are coming together with that, with just people volunteering to help out with it. And it's gonna be just a nice little place for neighbors to walk. And then with beehives around, you know, and as you know, bees are so important right now, to make sure that they survive and help pollinate our plants.
Right. Now another volunteer activity that you were involved with, you were appointed by the Governor of the State of Colorado. Tell us about that.
Yes. So in my work as a hydrogeologist, I work with lots of well drillers all over the state. The way that Colorado works, there's, it's called a Board of Examiners, and they regulate our monitor well drilling outright. So they licensed the well drillers and then if there's any kinds of violations or questions or whatever, well drillers come to the Board. So I was asked by the well drillers, they came to me and they said there's a position open on the Board. Would you apply for it? And I said, sure, but I don't know the governor. Happy to do that. And they said, don't worry about it. It's fine. And so I was appointed by John Hickenlooper. And they appointed me as the chairman of the Board.
And so I ran that Board for several years, and that was volunteer work, you know, we didn't get paid for it. And we went through rule changes and things like that, and they asked me to be a Hearing Officer. So, oh my goodness: a Hearing Officer. So it was quite, just a wonderful opportunity for me and I was able to use the gavel, you know, for the person that uses the gavel. So I had that opportunity and met wonderful, the wonderful well drillers throughout the state who are just the salt of the earth, and they're just really hard working folk. And so that was, that was a really wonderful opportunity for me.
So when you're not working, and you're not volunteering, and you're not making soap, it looks like you're making purses for Sew Powerful.
Yes, yes. And I unfortunately, only made seven this time around. Oh, well, I also made probably 300 masks during the COVID crisis. I joined the Denver Mask Task Force. I mean, I had so many scraps.
Well, I've waited my whole life for sewing to be cool. And apparently this is the year, so.
Exactly right. So I'm sure all of us purse makers jumped to that for a while.
Absolutely. So you heard about Sew Powerful through your soap Co Op, way back in 2015. And the name of the story that you submitted and is going to be published in the second edition of the We Are Sew Powerful book, I read every single word. Tell us what happened. You heard about Sew Powerful, and you went to the website. What was that like when you started learning about Sew Powerful?
Well, I just thought that Cinnamon and Jason jumped off, jumped out of the screen and told me that this was something I needed to do. Their smiles are so radiating of kindness and happiness. And they're, they have a true calling. And I thought that they were just the most amazing folk. And like I said before, those young girls like, you know, I remember having my period and just being so terrified that somebody was going to know and as all young women do, and so I just felt like it was so important to help those gals get a good education, get some of the same opportunities that I had, so that they can reach their potential. And I was just fascinated by the pictures of those gals and their stories of AIDS and how they really had nothing. I thought, well, if I could give them something to brighten their day in some small way, that's what I needed to do.
And so as a hobbyist who makes soap, what do you think about the soap Co Op in the Ngombe Compound that Sew Powerful supports?
Yeah, well, before they started that I kept thinking, well, I'm a soap maker, I think I could go there and teach them how to make it. And so that was one of the things in the back of my head. And then this soap Co Op happened. I just thought that was brilliant because anybody who has been to a hotel knows that you don't use all that little bar of soap. Of course I don't use it, I bring my own.
Of course, of course. Well, Teresa, I have to say, you have one of the more fascinating backgrounds and entrées into Sew Powerful. It's been a delight talking with you. And we thank you very much for your time and look forward to seeing those purses behind you in the arms of young women in Zambia. So, thank you so much.
Have you gotten the second edition of the We Are Sew Powerful book? This updated version of the original best seller (4.9 out of five stars by the way) is again authored by Sew Powerful co-founders, Jason and Cinnamon Miles. It is available on Amazon in paperback or for your Kindle reader. This latest edition is packed full of moving stories about how Sew Powerful came to be, the volunteers who make it happen and the way this small movement has grown into a global mission to break the cycle of poverty through education and the dignity of work. And don't forget, when you place your order, if you use smile.amazon.com and designate Sew Powerful as your preferred charity, Amazon will donate a portion of your purchase right back to Sew Powerful.
And now back to our podcast.
Welcome back. My second guest is Vivian Sylvester, a retired school teacher who has a very interesting story to tell about her association with Sew Powerful. How are you today, Vivian?
I'm good, Jan, how are you?
Oh, I'm fine. You know, I don't often talk to a guest and start out by disagreeing with them, but I'm going to quote the story that you submitted to the We Are Sew Powerful book, Second Edition. And I'm going to have to disagree with you because your very first sentence in your story was, "I don't think I have a story that is book-worthy." So number one, your story was in the book. And number two, now we're talking about it in a podcast. So in my opinion, it's a great story.
I guess it must be.
What you, tell us a little bit about yourself. I know you were a school teacher back in the day. So give us a little background about who Vivian Sylvester is.
Well, I, yes, I was a school teacher. And I taught English in junior high. It was, I love teaching. But when I had my children, I left teaching. Back in those days, they didn't have maternity leave, I didn't have too much of an option. So, and my husband was a principal and so as education changed, and he would come home talking about all the different changes in education, I decided that I wasn't too sure I wanted to go back to teaching. So I had a variety of other types of jobs. I had my own craft business for a number of years, which was a source of income so that I could stay home and be a stay-at-home mom. And eventually, my husband retired. And so that we've been retired now for a number of years. And after retirement, I got just that much more interested in doing outreach projects and mission projects, so I've been very active with that with my church.
Well tell us a little bit about the craft business you had. That sounds interesting.
I did a variety of crafts, I changed over the years. But I would work from home so that if I wanted to do something with the kids, or, I could do that. We could take a day off and go and have fun. Or we could, I could work from home and not have to worry about getting sitters and having someone watch them. And then I did, I traveled a little bit of a craft circuit, about 30 mile radius of where I live in Pittsburgh, PA. And it was fun, it was fun. I did it for 18 years. And then, by then my children were getting of college age and I decided I needed to have so, a paycheck rather than the occasional craft income. So I ended the craft business and I went back to a full time job.
Okay. All right. And what kind of work did you do when you went back?
I worked for a glass company. I was sort of office manager, I guess you could call it. I sort of helped to run the company for the for the fella that owned it, and over time, took over many of his duties. And I did that for eight years. And then at that point, my husband retired, and I left my job so that we could enjoy retirement together.
So Vivian, what an interesting background. I understand that your church has a fair trade store that you're involved with. Can you tell us a little bit about that? Start out and explain what fair trade is and then tell us about the store that the church operates.
Well, fair trade is a way of doing business that is very fair and very honest. It involves the, doing business with crafters around the world, who, for the large part, are too small to get out on the world market. So the fair trade organizations, legitimate fair trade organizations, deal with these people and pay them a fair wage for what they do. We purchase from these various organizations, from these various crafters through them. And we don't make a whole great big profit because the idea is for us to just help these people continue. They're working, they're making crafts and doing business by, they're getting the most profit from the items that they make. It's a way for people around the world to sustain their livelihoods and their families. And they wouldn't be able to do that just all by themselves because they are too small to be able to do that.
Our story is actually, I think in its 45th year.
It was founded in 1975. And I came on in the late 1990s, 97-98. So I've been with them for over 20 years. And we decided about four years ago to move out into the community. We were always mostly located in our church. We would do a show here or there, we would take it out on the road, but mostly we worked out of our church and we were a seasonal business. And we wanted to have a little bit further outreach so we moved into a storefront in our community.
And in addition to that, we also opened up, we took two units in this six unit little strip mall, and one side is the fair trade store. The name of the store is the Olive Branch Fair Trade Shop and Missions and More. And while I work in the Fair Trade Store, and I'm on the board and very involved in the Fair Trade Store, I am the outreach coordinator of the Missions and More. And that group is volunteers from the community that come in and work together to do projects. And we do things for people all over the world, including making purses, which is my involvement in the Sew Powerful project.
Well, Vivian, I can see your background as a craft owner and having your own craft business aligned with this. The Fair Trade piece of this work aligns very nicely with what Sew Powerful does, and the philosophy and mission of Sew Powerful. So tell us a little bit about how you came to become involved with Sew Powerful, how you first heard about it, and what you've been doing with Sew Powerful since that time.
When I was first asked to be the outreach coordinator at our Fair Trade Store, my first task was to find a project that we could present to the community and seek volunteers to come in and begin to do mission projects. And I was familiar with the purse project because at that time, my granddaughter was something like about eight or nine years old, and she was into American Girl dolls. So I'm not, I don't consider myself a tremendous sewer, but I could sew a little. And I began to look around for patterns and ideas that I could use, that I could make some clothing for her doll. And I had seen online information about Sew Powerful and I had actually ordered some of their patterns to make for my granddaughter. And in all that I became in, from, involved and interested in the purse project. So like
And that, was that through Pixie Faire or Liberty Jane, one of the the doll clothes pattern makers?
Yes, both Liberty Jane and Pixie Faire were where I was looking around. And then just looking all through their information, I looked and saw information about the Purse Project. And at the time, I thought, wow, that sounds really like a nice idea. And I had mentioned in my article that one of the things I really liked about it was the fact that when the girls got their purses, sometimes they still weren't able to use them because they would take them home and their caregiver or their Auntie would maybe see it and want it. So it wasn't really still helpful to them to help keep them in school.
And I should mention that I did make the trip to Africa; I went with Jason and Cinnamon in 2017. So it seeing that firsthand, too, was just another picture for me of how important it was that these lovely young women get to stay in school. So when they asked me to begin these projects, I had one already in mind that I thought would be good. And that was to make purses.
We had one lady who came on as a volunteer who was a marvelous sewer. And she made the first purse, she sort of made our prototype. So I had one to show to people when they would come into the store. And that was our first example. And as I talked about it and talked more about the school and all that, that became the start. And in the beginning, we had several ladies make purses, and including myself, I sewed purses at the time. That's been about four years now. So since that time, I don't make that many purses. I'm more involved in the coordinating of that project and many others. And I cut out a lot of purses. We've kind of evolved into providing purse kits for a lot of the women who sew and we largely have one woman in particular who makes probably about 90-95% of all the purses that we make.
You want to give her a shout out? What's her name?
Her name is Flo and I've actually wanted to take her picture and put it up on the Sew Powerful, on the first page. She's very quiet, she's very shy. She doesn't want that notoriety or publicity. She just wants to make purses. She loves the project, she's all into the ideas behind it. She's up in years, and was actually looking for something to do, something to give her a purpose, to continue doing good things. And it's almost been life changing for her. We've talked to her daughter a couple of times, and she's, every time we see her, she's like, thank you so much for giving my mom a purpose and something to do. She was in that time of her life. Her grandchildren were gone, everybody was all grown up. She didn't need to be making clothing for the kids anymore, and toys and all. She needed a purpose. And she's a lovely, quiet woman who just makes purses, and makes them beautifully. She's a marvelous sewer.
And when I cut out, I usually get my piece of material and cut several at a time out of the various colors and patterns. And then she does embellishing after she gets them all made. And there are no two alike. There's, we call them fraternal twins, but not identical twins. And it's just been, and we have other ladies too, who enjoy making purses. Flo, I call her my, my Ace purse maker. She's marvelous.
So two days ago, from the time we are recording this, was the Spring Priority Deadline Unboxing Thank You Party (it has sort of a long name this year). And it just seemed like every other box that they were pulling up was from Vivian Sylvester. But now that you explain it, give us an idea of how many purses you sent in from people that you've recruited in your community to make purses. Do you know?
I don't have an exact total for this year, but I'm gonna say probably, I'm gonna say maybe a couple hundred, 200, 250 so far. I do know that in the past two years, we have sent in over 1000 purses,
Oh, my goodness.
Fortunately, Flo keeps count. I always tell people, I'm an English person. I'm into words, not numbers. So, but Flo keeps count. And one year she did over 600, and one year she did over 400. So we're, I know we're over 1000. And my name just gets attached to it because I'm the return address on the box. And I try sometimes to put the Olive Branch name up there. And then "in care of Vivian Sylvester," but it's my name that comes through. And I'm just a small part of that. That is a group project that involves many, many volunteers at the Olive Branch.
If I could give you a tip, if you will include a list of the people who contributed the purses that you put in your box, they'll read out the individual names, if you think people would enjoy hearing their name. So you, they may say that but then separately, you probably heard them doing that the other night where they were reading out names of people who had contributed to group projects. So
It's interesting to hear some of the names. And who was it, the Colorado Sisters? They are, they're some busy ladies, too.
They are busy ladies, they are busy ladies, and we wish we could all be like the Colorado Sisters and Flo. It sounds like those people might be our role models. You know, I have to say, I don't think, well, I haven't heard of any other location that basically has a storefront for recruiting purse makers. I mean, that is just amazing. We go to quilt shows for that very purpose. But you have a permanent setup.
Yes, we work in the store. Largely though, a lot of them, most of them are made from home.
During these last few months when we've all been isolated in our homes, I have just, on a given day, gone out on my front porch, and there's been a bag of purses there. Flo couldn't come into the store; she normally comes in and drops them off and picks up more purse kits. But under the circumstances, she would drive by my house. And I would do the same thing: if I had some kits ready for her to sew I would leave them out on the porch and she would come by and pick them up. So the work continued even though we weren't able to get together in the store.
Sounds like a great system. Before we go I want you to tell us quickly about what you did at your church when you first got involved with the purse project, and you showed me a photo which obviously we can't share over an audio broadcast, but tell us what happened at your church that first year you started making purses.
We have a segment in our in our worship service where we do announcements, and we talk about various mission projects. So I would get up from time to time, we would keep people informed of the progress that the store was making, opening up in the storefront and the projects that we were getting involved in. And after we got a bunch of purses made, I went to my pastor, and I said, You know, I know that the various ladies pray over the purses. Sometimes we do that in the store. When we're working on projects we'll take a minute, we'll say a prayer over the items that we've made and the recipients of these things. And I said, What do you think about giving people a real good idea of what we're doing, if I come in? And I said, What if I bring in a bunch of our purses, and we make a display? She liked that idea. So we did that. We've actually done it a couple of times.
But we did it the first Sunday. We had a fairly great display of many, many purses. And afterward, we invited people to come up and look at them and they were oohing and aahing, and how nice they were and looking at the interiors, the linings and everything. And it just became a very, very emotional wonderful thing. I hadn't yet gone to Africa at that point. Now when I talk about the purses in Sew Powerful, I can share what I know about the school and the purses and Esther and the ladies, the seamstresses. That was life changing for me, the lovely, lovely people in Ngombe, and the beautiful children. It just brings it all home when I can talk about them and the situation there. But that was the start for us, was to go in and take the purses and invite people. We got some participants in the sewing project because of that, and just people interested in the store too, and coming in and checking out what we're doing over there.
Well, you talk about the lovely, lovely people in Zambia. I think we've had the privilege of speaking to a lovely, lovely person who spends her time helping Sew Powerful. Vivian thank you so much for all you do for Sew Powerful and for your time today.
Well, you're very welcome. I was glad to do it.
If what you've heard today inspires you to want to make a difference, I urge you to explore the Sew Powerful website at www.sewpowerful.org. That's SEW POWERFUL dot ORG. The website has great information about the organization. It's where you can download the free purse patterns or even make a donation. We hope you will join us again next week when we bring you another Sew Powerful story. Thanks for listening. Now, go out and have a Sew Powerful day.
ABOUT THE HOST
Jan Cancila has been making purses for Sew Powerful since 2014. She serves the organization as Director, Global Volunteerism, the Area Manager for Shows and Events-Mid/South USA and as the Houston Regional Coordinator. She was a public speaking major at Hanover College and holds an MBA from Our Lady of the Lake University. Jan had a 25-year career with The Coca-Cola Company before owning and operating a linen and party rental business in Houston. She is married with two grown sons, a lovely daughter-in-law and two remarkable granddaughters. Jan’s published work includes more than 100 online articles for Examiner.com. Reach Jan with comments or suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org.