Betty Johnson is one of the newest purse makers to join the ranks of the Sew Powerful Regional Coordinators. Betty finds inspiration from Sew Powerful in the way that lives are changed for schoolgirls and members of their communities in Zambia. Betty enjoyed a long career as the VP of HR for Goodwill Industries. While there, she introduced Toastmasters to her staff to help them speak at public events. Betty is brimming with enthusiasm and great ideas, including ways to make purses that bring fun and efficiency to her efforts. You will enjoy listening to Betty Johnson as she shares her experiences and philosophies.
Meet Betty Johnson
IN THIS EPISODE
Goodwill Industries, Sedona, Arizona, the Grand Canyon, Nashville, Tennessee, Sew Powerful, purse making, sewing, mission oriented
Goodwill Industries, https://www.goodwill.org/
The Grand Canyon National Park, https://www.nps.gov/grca/index.htm
Sedona, Arizona, https://visitsedona.com/
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 Cancila
Guest: Betty Johnson
Jan Cancila, Host 00:04
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.
Good morning. Today we are speaking with Betty Johnson, one of the newest regional coordinators for Sew Powerful. Betty is stationed in Arizona and those of you who live there will be seeing great things coming from Betty and she has such an interesting background. And all of that ties together and makes her the perfect person to be a regional coordinator for Sew Powerful. Good morning, Betty. How are you today?
Betty Johnson, Guest 00:48
Morning, Jan, I'm doing well. And you, how are you doing?
Very well, very well. I live about 10 miles south of the snow line. We had a big snowstorm in Texas, which totally dominated the news to have a few snowflakes in our state. So, it was pretty interesting day yesterday. You joined Sew Powerful recently and then you became a Regional Coordinator. And we're so excited that you did that. How did you hear about Sew Powerful to begin with?
Well, my cousin Donna Moscinski out of Chicago has been I think associated with Sew Powerful for over five years now. And she is a former podcast speaker and all-around great advisor. She shows up on our Facebook page a lot. And she had been posting things on her Facebook along the way. And it wasn't until this past summer when I finally had an opportunity to jump back into crafting that I saw another Facebook post from her with the purses she was making. And I thought, Wait a minute. Let me go check that out. I now have my stuff available. I've got a place that I can craft now. Let me just see what that's all about. So I did and we've literally reconnected because of Sew Powerful. You know how you raise your children over years and you move away? Well now we've reconnected and talk online about the purses we've sewn, and she's given me some great advice over the last few months.
Yeah, well, and as you said Donna was a guest on the Sew Powerful Podcast. And it was really fun to talk with her. And I know that I've seen her posts, she's been encouraging you and others. So yeah, that's a great, a great family connection. That's wonderful. So where are you from originally, Betty?
Well, originally from Chicago area right near Donna. We grew up blocks apart; her family and our family kind of the cousins grew up together. And then after I married my husband, Paul, we've been married 42 years now, we moved to Nashville, Tennessee. He had a job and I had to find a job. And I worked for Goodwill Industries then in the Nashville area, Middle Tennessee region for almost 24 years. And really learned a lot about the world of nonprofits, about donations, about a mission, and serving others - kind of the greater good. And I really feel like I'm now more of a servant leader than I ever was before. I've you know, been a supervisor and that kind of thing before but through the nonprofit world, I became more of a servant leader where my mission is to not just serve others but serve those that volunteer or work with me.
Now you've had a number of positions as you moved up in your career with Goodwill, tell us about that.
Well I did my Master's in Human Resources and so I was able to use that education and skill at Goodwill. I was hired in as human resource director. And during my time there, that organization grew two-fold. And so, as the company grew, I was able to elevate my level to a vice presidency role. And for most of that time there I was in charge also on the mission services. So, our mission was employing and training people with disabilities and other barriers to employment. And my job not just with HR, but with also the staff, the training and the division of the mission services. We developed career centers throughout middle Tennessee, where we had staff there helping people from the different communities add to their job skills, their education and their knowledge so they could eventually get a job. And that's how we measured ourselves: by the people who eventually went back to work, who others might have thought were unemployable.
Now, I don't know if this is true, but my perception is that Goodwill is the largest employer of people with disabilities?
During my time there it was, nationally it was. There have been some changes over the last four years since I've left. And I don't know the numbers to know if that's still true, but the mission has remained the same. What I found so rewarding working at that Goodwill, and every Goodwill was like this, is we had a large group of employees that were people with very severe disabilities. And we were to help them learn single task jobs at Goodwill and maintain the social connections that they needed. They had a job, they made a wage, it was just so fulfilling for me, and for those that I hired in the mission services area.
Mm hmm. That's cool. Well, and one of the things that you instigated and maybe that's not a good word. That sort of has negative connotations, but I don't know maybe, maybe it's the right word. You brought Toastmasters into your circle at Goodwill, is that correct?
I did. Yeah. Toastmasters is a global organization that helps people develop public speaking skills, and they provide a lot of learning and training to help you go speech by speech up kind of the ladder of certification. And before I got to Goodwill, I had worked in Central Illinois at Walgreens and was exposed to the Toastmaster program there and received my CTM, Certified Toastmasters.
When I got to Goodwill, and I then became in charge of the mission services there, and we were opening these career centers, and I hired a lot of career counselors, I needed to help those career counselors be comfortable to speak with employers in their community. And that might mean that they went to small business group meetings, luncheons, that kind of thing to promote Goodwill's mission and the services they provided at their center. So, I developed, and I made the career counselors participate, at least in the first 10 speech process to get their certification in Toastmasters. So that we can then of course, spread the news about Goodwill farther and more comfortably in a more professional manner.
We had a lot of fun with that, you know, it's kind of a once-a-month thing. Come on into the main office and go up to the board room and prepare for our speeches and give our speeches and then nicely critique each other and help each other so that we could develop those skills and be comfortable in a public setting.
Mm hmm. Well, those kinds of skills would be so helpful when we get back to, air quotes, normal, but actually, your cousin Donna and myself and Peggy Creighton are all invited to give speeches via Zoom. So can you give us any tips? How is public speaking via Zoom different than in person public speaking?
Well, with Zoom, you may have a bunch of eyes upon you, but they aren't present in the same room with you. I find speaking on Zoom is a little bit more comfortable. It's relaxing. And in person, at a microphone, at the lectern, in front of a group of people sitting in the audience, you get more of that interaction, and some of it is good and some of it may not be so good. So I think it's a little bit more nerve-wracking when you do it in public with in person than in Zoom. You can see the reaction on Zoom. But I think I know as I'm speaking now, I'm more concerned about how I'm coming off rather than watching anybody else on the screen and what their reaction might be. So it is kind of different for me. I don't know how others would perceive it. But that's how I'm looking at it.
Yeah, so we're all working on our PowerPoint deck and making sure that our messages are in sync. So we're going to do a practice session, maybe we'll invite you to critique us.
Oh, I'd be happy to.
Oh, that would be fantastic. Okay, well look for that invitation in about the next week. You live in a very beautiful and interesting place. Tell us about that, Betty.
Paul and I live in Sedona, Arizona, and you might know Sedona by the big red rocks and the hiking that happens there; the mountain biking that happens there. We decided before we retired from our regular jobs in Nashville that, you know, we could go anywhere we wanted to go. And we had been through Sedona a couple of times, and we kind of looked at each other and said, hmm, let's go live there and try that out for a while. So that was four years ago. We're still going strong there. And actually, Paul's a tour guide in Sedona for people coming to Sedona and going to the Grand Canyon. I won't say he's an expert yet, but four years in as a Rhodes Scholar tour guide, he is learning the history of that area. So, it's fun to learn about the area and talk to him as he does his tour groups.
Wow. Well, that's so interesting because my husband and I vacationed in northern Arizona about three years ago and spent a few days in Sedona and then we also took a tour at the Grand Canyon, but I'm pretty sure Paul wasn't our guide. That would have been an interesting coincidence. Why don't we take a quick break here and when we come back, we're going to talk more about Betty's connection to Sew Powerful and how she sees her role as a Regional Coordinator going forward.
Have you gotten the second edition of the "We Are Sew Powerful" book? This updated version of the original bestseller, 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. We've been speaking with Betty Johnson, one of our very newest regional coordinators. She is the Regional Coordinator for Northern Arizona and covers the state north of Phoenix all the way up to the border, including the Grand Canyon where her husband is a tour guide. So Betty has been telling us about her work with Goodwill, a nonprofit that hires people with disabilities, as well as her experience with introducing the Toastmasters organization to her employees when she worked there before her retirement. Betty, you have made quite a few purses in the time that you've been with Sew Powerful just in the last few months. How did you get started? What was your experience with your first purse for Sew Powerful?
I did the usual things that the new purse maker does. So, I jumped online, I'm reading through all the notes I can find. I found the pattern, the basic pattern. I found the video and watched that a couple of times. And then painstakingly I went through every step that was on that video to make the first purse. That was last August. It's now early January, I've made over 100 purses.
Oh my gosh.
It feels routine to me and it's one of those fall back, you know, I need something comfortable to do where I feel very confident. But happy being in my sewing space and being in my crafting space. And it's whether I'm measuring out the interfacing or I'm ironing up some pieces or I'm sewing some things together, I'm really enjoying the routine of it. But yet the challenge from a design perspective. I've sent in over 60 so far, I've got another 30 ready to go to send to Washington State. I've given a couple away. I've kept a couple and I sold a couple at a craft fair. The ones I've sold helped me offset the cost of the postage of mailing some in.
So, I think I'm doing a well-rounded job with the beginner purse. I haven't yet tackled the intermediate purse. But what I'm doing now Jan, and maybe others are just like me, I don't know, I was doing one at a time. And I figured well what if I did two at a time, what would happen? Could I save a little bit of time overall doing two where I'm sewing the same seam twice instead of once and then moving on. And then I started doing triplets. So, then I was doing triplets and then I was doing twins. So now I'm up to five, I'm doing quintuplets at a time. Now, they may not all be the same design. But I'm sewing that you know flap at the same time I'm sewing the back piece at the same time. I'm sewing each piece five times over. And I find then I can segment off the tasks and group the tasks. You know I'm not a factory line yet, but it feels like what an early factory line would be.
And what is your background in sewing?
Well, I'm a crafter so I've been crafting since the very early days when mom helped me make you know doll clothes and Barbie clothes and little Barbie condos, and I was making some of my own clothes in junior high. My mom would make clothes for us, and she was my inspiration of course and I would use her sewing machine. She would sew slipcovers for the furniture, and they'd be changed out each season. She was a teacher, but that was kind of an avocation for her, and she enjoyed that and passed that along to me. I scrapbook, I crochet, I've done the cross stitch. I've done a lot of these different kind of crafty things. And so, what I think is interesting now is I'm putting some time and effort into the cards that we put into the purses that go to the girls. And I can see as I take on this role of the Regional Coordinator where it's not just about the purses, but also, I want to go after the crafty scrappers, to see if they would be interested in making some cards as well, maybe they don't sew so well, but maybe they can make some cards. Let's see if I can wrangle a good group of people to do different tasks.
Well, and the note cards is certainly going to be an area of emphasis in 2021, as we reach out to people who like to scrapbook particularly, or people in paper crafts. And so that's fantastic that you have that skill set there, too. And Peggy Creighton is heading up the note card initiative. And I saw in today's Sew Powerful Purse Project Facebook group that she had posted some tips for how to really jazz up the note cards. So, I think that's really fun. Part of the role of a Regional Coordinator is to get the word out there. Lots of people know about Sew Powerful, but obviously most people don't. And so, do you have any thoughts or ideas about how you might reach out into the community and help people understand what we do?
Well, yeah, my initial thought is to reach out online, since everything's happening online, whether it's through Facebook, or we have local Nextdoor pages, where we can talk with other folks. I'm going to start with those kind of connections. And I'm going to go out to all my friends and relatives that may be part of a church group, or maybe part of a social group. I have a sorority from my college days, and you know, the alum group we meet, there are a lot of those connections, I think that can be made on a grassroots basis. And that's where I'm planning to start that just shortly in the next few weeks to reach out that way. But there's also a nice quilting store in our area. So, I'm going to stop by and talk with them, see if I can post some information.
And really, when the time's right, I really want to do some in person things. So, let's say the church down the road has a quilting guild or a sewing guild or something, I want to be able to get on their agenda to talk about Sew Powerful, bring some finished purses, and maybe some kits and expand that. Little, little mushrooms, if you will, of expansion, of getting in and then expanding from there. And hopefully you get it into one group. And that group has two or three people that know other groups that I could connect to. So, I'm hoping that's a good way to start the process of making the connections in the northern Arizona area.
Well, that's fantastic. You also had an idea, and I'm throwing you a curveball here, Betty, sorry. But you had an idea for newbies? Can you talk about what that idea is?
So I've noticed since I've joined the group, and I've been watching the Facebook posts, that there are a lot of questions on Facebook from new people. And I'm still kind of a new person too, on different tips and techniques. And what I have found is you can go to the FAQs, and you can go online and get some of the answers to your questions. But I feel like there's an opportunity for new folks. And the great news is we're adding new people every week. I know that Shirley and others have posted all the names. And I try to welcome folks as they come in. There's a lot of new folks.
And my idea is it may help to have a Zoom group that meets a meeting every you know, twice a month, once a month for newbies that may have questions about straps, about fabrics, about interfacing, about all these different parts and pieces. And my thought on top of that was to bring in experts like cousin Donna and you and some others to share kind of your tips and techniques in an in-person Zoom setting, so that anybody that has a question at the time can ask and my guess is a newbie will pop in for one meeting, get their answers that they need. And then the next month we have another one. And it would be a whole new group of newbies that come in. And it's kind of reinventing the wheel each time. But I think having an in-person where I can get all my answers that I need, will help them feel more comfortable starting, getting through their first couple of purses, and then moving on to do more and more. So it was just an idea I had since technology is available to us.
I know well, and Zoom has been I guess we could say a blessing and a curse. But we might as well make use of what we have - take advantage of that. And I think it's a really great and unique idea. And while there's lots of videos out there and people are pretty responsive on Facebook, being able to ask your question and hold up your purse and go "this part isn't working" would be really helpful. You know, on that beginner purse, I struggled, and I got the slip pocket on the back. I can't tell you how many times that I could not figure out why. And then it turns out that when I did the box corners, I did them wrong. But anyway, it would be nice for somebody not to have to go through making four or five purses with the slip pocket on the back. If you know somebody could just give them the answer to their question right there.
I do want to say to our listeners, if you would make comments on this podcast, if you like Betty's idea about the Zoom meeting for newbies, and if you're not a newbie, an experienced person, if you would be willing to be a guest or a host to one of these episodes, and we can make it really easy and fun. And I just think it would be a great thing to get off the ground in 2021. So, I thank you for that good idea. And your recent experience helped bring that to the forefront. So that's really fantastic.
Do you happen to do any quilting? Are you a quilter among all these crafts that you do?
I am a quilter. And I've been a quilter for quite a long time, which is why I have this huge stash of fabric that I'm tapping right now to make all these purses. I also have some outdoor fabric, because we visit Florida each year, and I was making cushions and pillows. So, I've got this outdoor fabric that's very stable also. So I've just got this big, large bunch of fabric. And I make the smaller quilts because the larger ones, I just don't have the right machine to do the long arm quilting and all that. So, I do the smaller wall hanging or tabletop kind of quilt things or I make oven mitts and that kind of thing.
And have you applied any quilting techniques to your purse flaps?
Well, after the first 100 purses I can say now that I am starting to do some piecing, scrap piecing and a little bit of quilting. So, I needed to get comfortable with the basic design and the basic flow and the doing groups and now I'm doing more designing and I'm, it takes longer, you have to slow down. It's not the factory lines, slow down. Think about color choices, think about widths and depths and things like that. And Jan, I did want to tell you because you know I listen to every single Podcast. I am a web strap person; I'm on team webbing.
Betty, when you're making a purse, what is your thought process about the girls in Zambia that are going to be the recipient of this labor of love?
And that's funny you mentioned that because every time I'm working on a purse, whether I'm cutting it out, ironing, sewing, or putting the finishing touches on, I am thinking about the organization and the girls there. I've watched a couple of videos where their excitement is there where they are opening up the boxes, and they're getting their purses. I think about how these girls get to stay in school and finish certain grade levels and certifications, and how impactful that is in their lives. But beyond just that, this organization goes beyond just those girls. It goes to the community and the other women, the other folks in that area, who now have jobs and have things they can do to be productive and earn a wage and support their families. If it weren't for Sew Powerful, that opportunity wouldn't exist for the entire community. Purse making is an important piece to me, but it's one part of a larger mission. And I'm so proud to be a part of this.
We are delighted that you have joined us, and I'm thrilled that you agreed to be a guest on the Sew Powerful podcast. Thank you very much for your time. We appreciate it. We'll talk to you soon.
Thank you very much Jan, bye.
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.