Putting her passion for sewing to good use, Chris McMullen has found a very creative outlet for marrying Sew Powerful, her teaching experience and reaching out to her own community. Listen as a very new Regional Coordinator inspires us with ideas to help, not only the girls in Zambia, but how that same vehicle trains women in her hometown who need to learn to sew as a way to support themselves, bringing blessings in a Sew Powerful full circle.
Bountiful Blessings with Chris McMullen
IN THIS EPISODE
Teacher in a two room school house, Missouri Regional Coordinator, Kansas City Area, Missouri Star Quilt Company, The Sewing Lab, American Girl doll, sewing for charity, retired teacher,
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.
Missouri Star Quilt Company, https://www.missouriquiltco.com/
The Sewing Labs, https://thesewinglabs.community/
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: Chris McMullen
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.
Today we are speaking with a brand-new Regional Coordinator. Chris McMullen comes to us with a wealth of experience and some very innovative ideas. And she's already put them into practice. You're going to love learning about Chris, her background, her family, her very interesting childhood, but how she has applied all of that to Sew Powerful. So today, we're very excited and happy to speak with Chris McMullen. Hi, Chris, how are you today?
Chris McMullen, Guest 00:51
Thank you. I'm very well, thank you. Thanks for such a nice introduction.
Oh, you're more than welcome. We're very excited to talk with you and learn all about you. So where do you live? Where are we talking to you today from?
I live in a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri. We're right in the middle of the United States. Not smack dab, there's a few miles to the west is the exact center of the continent, but we're a metropolitan area. Today it's sunny and hot and the way it's supposed to be in the summertime.
Yeah. Nice. And where are you from originally?
Well, I was born in Nebraska, which is not far from Missouri. But my dad worked for a natural gas pipeline company, and so he was transferred quite a bit when I was a kid. So I've lived in the Midwest United States most of my life and as a child, too. We lived in Nebraska and Iowa and Minnesota.
All right, all the Midwest
Yes, Midwest states. Well and I'm originally from Missouri, and I have family in Kansas City. And I'm planning a trip to Kansas City around November, and we plan to get together and meet in person. So, this is very exciting. So, I'm really looking forward to that.
So am I.
Yeah, thank you. So, what was family like for you growing up? You made some moves. How did that affect you as a child? And did you have siblings? And what was that all like?
I have one older brother. And yeah, it was hard to make the moves, but my mom and dad always made it made it work. And we had friends every place, and they especially kept contact with with their friends as we moved around. I graduated from high school in Kansas, and I'd only been there two years, but it all worked out.
Yeah, yeah. And so, after high school, did you pursue a career or continue at your education? What did you do?
I went to college after high school, and I got a degree in elementary education.
I started teaching right away, and I never stopped until a year ago.
Oh my gosh. So, you were a teacher from the time you graduated from college to last year? Yeah. So if somebody were starting out in education now, how different is it for them versus when you first started out? What changes do you see?
Well, I have kind of a different story, because my very first year of teaching was in central Nebraska in a small country school. I was one of two teachers for grades kindergarten through eight. I had 14 fifth through eighth graders, and this is my first year of teaching. And I, you know, didn't know what I was doing, but it worked. In fact, I always say that those, I had 6 eighth grade girls out of 14 kids, and they just led me along. You know, they helped me through everything because they'd gone to school there their whole lives and they'd been together. You know, it was before technology. Everything was on the chalkboard or paper and pencil. And then of course, when I left my last two years of teaching, it's after COVID had hit, and I spent teaching virtually. So, there was a big change from the beginning to the end over those 42 years.
Oh, my goodness. Now was this original teaching job in like a one room schoolhouse?
It was a two-room schoolhouse. Yeah.
Wow. Oh my gosh, how interesting that you've spanned such a wide change in the approach to education.
I changed sizes of school because my husband at the time was a teacher and a coach too. And we just kept moving up to a little bit bigger places, you know, as we got experience. And so, I went from, you know, that tiny, maybe 30 students in the entire school to, you know, a big suburban school when I retired from public school.
Oh my gosh.
My last 11 years, after I retired from public, I spent in an Episcopal school, a private Episcopal school.
So what is your perception of how your school-aged children took to Zoom. How did they do?
Well, I taught after, after my first few years, I spent most of my career teaching middle school.
Well, the 14-year-olds. They did fine. You know, they are so used to technology and have such ready access to it that, you know, being able to conduct the lessons. It was kind of hard at first, you know, those first couple of months, you know, getting assignments in electronically and all those kinds of things, but I know that over time, they pretty much figured it out.
So did the teachers.
Well, my granddaughters did this last school year virtually, although I think they had some extracurricular activities they did in person, but they, they loved it. They were having snacks on the side, which they normally wouldn't have had in school. So, Chris, when did you learn to sew?
Probably, when I was in seventh grade. Seventh grade Home Ec, you know, in the sewing unit. We made an apron.
I liked it. My mom always sewed and made all my clothes. And so, I had that experience. But then I took all the Home Ec classes all the way through high school, learned how to make a coat and the final, you know, when I was probably a junior, we tailored. And so, then I've just been sewing ever since.
And so did you continue to sew? Because I learned to sew, and I sewed when I was young, and then when I had my kids, my job, I was busy. And then I sort of put it aside, but I, I've come back to it in the last few years.
I've always sewn. My high school graduation gift was a sewing machine. And just less than 10 years ago, I bought a new one. So, I sewed on that machine for 40 years, probably. But it went with me everywhere. It was with me in the college dorm. I sewed there. And I sewed clothes for my daughters. I have two girls and made their clothes when they were little. And you know, in the 80s it was okay, because puff sleeves and cute collars and gathers and all those kinds of things. But as they got older, they didn't want Mom making their clothes,
so, I kind of stopped that.
When I went to college, somebody discovered an abandoned sewing machine in the attic of our dorm. And when people found out I could sew, and this was when miniskirts were getting shorter and shorter and shorter. So, I became the alteration person, and I made all my pin money, shortening skirts beyond what most of the mothers would have approved.
But they weren't around so it was okay.
So you're in Missouri now, in Kansas City. And you know, a lot of people know there's Kansas City, Missouri and Kansas City, Kansas. And I've been there many times and it's just sort of an invisible state line that separates the two, isn't it? So, what brought you to Missouri, originally?
Teaching jobs. My husband at the time had a college friend who is from Missouri, and he was a teacher too. And there was a position open, and he called us and we didn't, you know, we just said sure, let's go.
And we've been here ever since.
And when did you come to Missouri?
- So you've you've been there a long time. It must feel like home by now.
Yeah. And did you come to Kansas City originally?
No, originally we went to a small town in southern Missouri, but we went to the Kansas City area in '85 I believe it was, 1985. And we live in in Blue Springs, Missouri. It's a suburb, but
Yeah. Yeah. Cool. And do you have children and grandchildren?
We do. My husband and I together have four kids. They're all grown. We're lucky they all live in the area.
And each of the four have children. We have seven grandchildren all together, from 16, (she just got her driver's license) and the youngest is three.
Wow. Wow. And so, what kind of activities do you do with the grandchildren?
Well, my six-year-old granddaughter, she's really excited because she likes to come to Grandma's now and sew. Of course, for the last many months we weren't able to do that. But I, the first time I had her over here after you know we had all had our vaccinations, she wanted to sew, so we made a little quilt for her dolls. And you know, I've sewn for her American Girl dolls. But we have a pool in our backyard and so that's a big magnet in the summertime for everybody to come over.
Oh, absolutely. And those Kansas City summers get hot, don't they?
They do, and we were so lucky because Memorial Day we had the entire family together for the first time in well over a year.
Oh, how wonderful. Oh, that's fantastic. Why don't we take a quick break, Chris, and when we come back let's talk about your involvement with Sew Powerful.
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. We have been speaking with Chris McMullen, and she's been telling us about her family and her career as a teacher in both elementary and middle school. But as I mentioned in the intro, Chris is a relatively new Regional Coordinator for Sew Powerful, and I want to explore with Chris what led her to that role, and how she's already started doing really great things in that job. So, Chris, how did you hear about Sew Powerful originally?
Well, like a lot of people, I was making clothes for American Girl dolls for my granddaughters. I have two of them that were that both got American Girl dolls for Christmas. And I had some old patterns from when my daughters had their American Girl doll. And then I found like some commercially made patterns that I had. And so, I used those to make their Christmas doll clothes. But after Christmas, I was like, oh, there's you know, there's everything on the internet. So, I got online, and I started finding patterns, and I ran across Pixie Faire like people have. And so, I you know, got some patterns there and made and then I saw the tab, you know, the Sew Powerful Purse Project and clicked on it and read about it and immediately got hooked. The purpose is as I read the story, that was the age of girls that I've taught for years and years and years. So, I, you know, I really felt like I was really drawn to the project. And I had also been making bags, tote bags and zipper pouches and things like that for for quite a while.
Wow, this seems like a great fit for you.
You know, it really is. In my last two years of teaching, I had a sewing elective. And so, I was teaching about eight kids in my class at a time, and it was so much fun to watch these, you know, seventh and eighth graders get really excited about sewing.
I wish I had seen the project before then because I would have loved to have had them make the purses.
Sure, absolutely. And, you know, not many schools these days are offering Home Ec or sewing, and so what a blessing to be able to teach that. That's cool. Well, and I don't know if this is a recent connection, or if you knew about them all along, but there's an organization called The Sewing Lab in Kansas City. Tell us about The Sewing Lab. And then we'll find out what they're doing with us in the Sew Powerful arena.
Okay, well, I had never heard of it, but around Christmas time, there was a news story on TV about The Sewing Lab that had bags that they were giving to the homeless. And they were, another company had printed them, but they needed people to sew them. And I thought this is easy, I can do that. So I went down to the lab, you know, found out where it was, checked all that out and got packets of 10, sewed them up. And then as I got to looking at their website and talking to people, they needed volunteers to help sew. But what their program is, is they teach people how to sew, encouraging job growth. And they work with with companies in the Kansas City area too who need people to sew. And a lot of the students are recent immigrants to the United States. They work with an organization, you know, helping to teach English, and it's just a really, really incredible program. I've been really impressed with it.
And it's a nonprofit. Is that correct?
Yes, sorry, it's a nonprofit.
And how are they funded?
A lot of it is donation. We had our first fundraiser in May. And you know, we're of course wanting financial donations and, but it it also got the word out. We also work with women to start their own businesses, entrepreneurship.
Wow, wow. If you're in the Kansas City area, and you know how to sew, it sounds like you should make a connection with The Sewing Lab.
So after you volunteered on this project around Christmas time, I understand you were talking to them, and you told them you could sew and now all of a sudden, you're no longer a retired teacher. You're teaching again, aren't you?
I am, I am. They had a program, a fabric grab; I think it was probably about April. And I volunteered for that. And I hadn't really done anything, but I signed up to volunteer and I went down. And as I was talking to the volunteer coordinator, I said, you know, I'll do anything, what do you need? She goes what we really need are teachers, people who can do a class. I said, what do you need, and I actually had one of my Sew Powerful purses with me. And she pointed it that she goes, that would be something great to make, to teach. And then it just went from there. I explained to her about the Sew Powerful program. And you know, and once they learned about that, it was like, they were all in, in support of Sew Powerful.
Oh, my gosh, that is fantastic. And so how many classes have you taught or tell us a little bit about about that, how it works.
I've only taught one class. And you know, they all donated their purses to Sew Powerful, and I think most of them are going to be making more hopefully. And I'm teaching another one in a couple of weeks for them. But this past week, I took a group of my friends down. And we went in there and sewed, used their machines and everything and made purses for for Sew Powerful.
Okay, and I understand that The Sewing Lab recently made a donation, in kind, to Sew Powerful. Tell us about that.
Well, I was I was down there one day just doing some volunteer work, and the director had a trash bag, just a big black trash bag, full of fabric, and it said Sew Powerful. And she said somebody donated all this and it's just small pieces. They're really too small to put on our shelves, but I think they'd be great for the purse project. And they are. It's just wonderful.
Well, and you posted a photo of that on the Sew Powerful Purse Project group. And I mean, the fabrics look fantastic.
They are so much fun. I mean, it was it was just a stash, I think that someone had had in their closet for a long time, probably. And so, I pulled it all out, sat on the floor and sorted the colors, and I think we'll get good use out of it.
Oh, that's fantastic. So, you're about to teach another class. And do they complete the purse in the class or is it more than one session?
No, they can complete in one class, because I have the kits made. I already have them cut out and interfaced if the fabric needs it.
Well, that's nice. And so, what is the age group of the attendees in this class? Is it young people or adults or who comes?
Mostly adults. Mostly, most of them are retired age, because that's what most of the volunteers are there because they're the ones who have the time.
I asked them to do it.
Oh, that's wonderful. And I sent you some materials. Were you able to distribute those as part of the class?
Yes, I give those out with a class. And then with the fundraiser they had, they had a swag bag. And we got to put one of the Sew Powerful cards in each one of the bags and advertise the class that I'm doing on the 18th. So, we have over 100 people now have notification of Sew Powerful, and I'm hoping that at least some of them will go to the website and learn more about the organization and the project.
Oh my gosh, Chris, that's wonderful. And I mean for a new Regional Coordinator to be so passionate and so involved with Sew Powerful already, that's just phenomenal. So, thank you for doing that.
Well, thank you. And I've been, you know, very pleased with the reception from the coordinators at The Sewing Lab. They're just, that's just what they are, what they're like, and I I feel so so blessed to be part of it, and the Sew Powerful project.
Well, and so you are the Regional Coordinator (let's clarify this a little bit) for the Greater Kansas City area. And so, we sort of talked about that before. So that's if you live in the Kansas side or the Missouri side, you can, you know, find Chris and The Sewing Lab, but you're actually also the Regional Coordinator for all of Missouri, and we're going to try and hook you up with some people in different parts. But I mentioned something about the Missouri Star Quilting Company. Do you have connections there? Tell us about that.
I don't have any connections, but it's not far from us. And I'm not sure how I'm going to do it, but I would really love to get them involved, or at least aware of Sew Powerful project. So any advice you have would be very much welcomed.
Well, honestly, we would love to have Missouri Star Quilt Company involved, but we don't have any connections there. So, it's on your plate.
I'll work on it. My husband does have a high school classmate who used to work there. And she said she'd meet us in Hamilton sometime this summer.
Oh, nice. How fun.
I don't know if she'll be able to introduce me to somebody that might have some influence, but I'm hoping.
Yeah, that would be great. Don't forget to wear Sew Powerful purse when you go.
I will, I will. And they also support The Sewing Lab, the Missouri Star Company does too. So, I think maybe if I use both of those connections...
Well, well, you know, if you're a Regional Coordinator listening, boy, Chris has really really done some great things. And hopefully that gives us all some ideas of what we can do in our local communities. Chris, can we talk a little bit about your faith? Can you tell us how is your faith important to you? And how does that relate to what you're doing and volunteering for Sew Powerful?
You know, I've, I've always gone to church. And you know, like a lot of people I have had ups and downs, and things like that. But during this whole pandemic, it's been an emotional ride. I mean, between ending my career, and my mom passed away during this. And it was after mom passed away and I needed something to do. And this this all came together just right. I mean, I just feel like, I really do feel God's hand in the Sew Powerful and The Sewing Lab and giving me passion for something that I love to do. I mean, I already have the passion for sewing, but now, I really feel like there's a use for it.
I just feel blessed by it. And by all of you that I'm meeting virtually.
Well, you know, I'm retired and a little older than you, and I never expected in my retirement to be making such good friends and to find people that have so much in common with. But A) thanks to technology and B) thanks to Sew Powerful, all of that is happening. It just makes for a very rewarding retirement. Yeah, so anyway,
And then when I see what it's doing for the girls in Zambia.
I think what really clinched it was watching one of the purse distribution videos, and the excitement from the girls, and what they said about being able to stay in school, and really seeing someone. You know, you hear about them not being able to go to school and all that kind of stuff. But, but for individual girls to talk about it and say how, how much better they feel about it and how they can stay in school. That's real.
Yeah, yeah. And to put a face with somebody holding a purse saying this is going to change my life.
Absolutely. Well, Chris, it's been delightful to spend this half hour with you and I look forward to meeting you in person in a few months. And I'm sure our listeners will be really interested in what you had to say here and the inspiration that you're giving us as different ways that we can introduce Sew Powerful in our local communities. So, thank you for your time.
Well, and thank you very much. I really appreciate it.
All right, well, we will talk to you soon.
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 SEWPOWERFUL 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 email@example.com.