Meet Our Guests: Susan Pfaff, Russell Conte, Katherine Winchell, Doryce Fitzgerald, Freweini Mebrahtu, Jason Miles
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.
God's Heart for Orphans with Jason Miles
We continute our series, 'Jesus and the Poor' with Jason Miles. Today's topic is God's Heart for Orphans. We explore how Sew Powerful serves the orphans of Zambia, how this ministry may differ from others, and then Jason shares scripture that extols us to care for those in need. You will hear how Sew Powerful seeks out those most in need and why we do that. Learn what is truly at the heart of the Sew Powerful mission.
orphans, feeding kids, 3 Esthers Farm, Tikondane, Zambia, heart for orphans, gardens, large household, Zambia, sewing for charity, James 1:27, Deuteronomy 10:17-19
Host: Jan Cancila
Guests: Jason Miles
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.
Compassion International, https://www.compassion.com/
Save the Children, https://www.savethechildren.org/
World Vision, https://www.worldvision.org/
YWAM, Youth With A Mission, https://ywam.org/
Deuteronomy 10: 17-19
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.
In our Sew Powerful podcast today, we continue our series called Jesus and the Poor with Jason Miles. Have you ever wondered why Sew Powerful is tied to helping widows and orphans? Why this tugs on all of us, but maybe especially our co-founders, Jason and Cinnamon Miles? Stay tuned, because we're going to explore this topic from a scriptural and personal point of view. Welcome, Jason. How are you today?
Jason Miles, Guest 00:52
I'm great. Thank you so much.
I'm glad you're here. Can you sort of take us through your personal story? What relates you so much to widows and orphans? And I know that Cinnamon has something going on with that, too. We read a little bit about it in the We are Sew Powerful book.
Yeah, well, it's a topic that's near and dear to our heart for many reasons. We both have our own sort of stories and experiences related to just a heart for caring for widows and orphans. We approach it differently; I think a little bit. I guess. My story to put it shortly or quickly, as you know, my dad disappeared when I was nine. And for 17 years, we had no idea if he was alive or dead. And that really shaped you know, my childhood and my thinking. It obviously devastated our family but created a scenario in which I was just so desperate to understand the love of God, and how the Lord could be my father. And the amazing power and healing that can occur when God gets a hold of you, when you're hurting in that way. And so that was my journey. Cinnamon's journey is a little bit different. She was really, really impacted in the third or fourth grade when she saw, I think it was Dateline or 60 minutes, something like that. They did a huge expos day on Romanian orphan crisis. And some of you who are listening might remember that TV show. It really was just a massive tragedy at the national level. And she'll never forget that, and her heart was broken for the kids who were, you know, caught in that scenario. So, when we married, we just quickly found that we had this common passion for serving and for caring for kids in particular. I served at World Vision for 16 years. She was in YWAM, before we got married, and was serving in Eastern Europe. We both been to Romania multiple times together and been in orphanages there. An orphan ministry care ministries for the kids who leave the orphanages at 16 and how that works. Our whole heart has been oriented toward these topics for a long, long time. And so, you know, when I went into Ngombe compound in March 2009, and met the moms there and saw the scope of the tragedy, I guess, say it in no other way than this, it just mesmerized my, my heart and my mind and my spirit; made me wonder how in the world, we could be a part of helping so many orphans that were there.
Can you elaborate a little bit on what Sew Powerful does, specifically maybe with the Needs Care School? And I know we've expanded beyond that, but that was sort of a starting point for us. And then maybe we'll talk a little bit about the 3 Esther's Farm too.
Yeah, well, the state of affairs in 2009, when we first visited the Needs Care School, was that it's in a place called Ngombe compound. And those of you who know our story in a part of our journey in ministry know the details, but it's urban slum in Lusaka, the capital city. And basically, at that time, the HIV AIDS crisis has devastated the population there. And I think the the average life expectancy in the nation of Zambia at its lowest, I believe, was 36 years old or 39 years old. Statistically,
Oh my gosh
because all the parents, many of them, had passed away. And when you combine TB and Malaria and HIV AIDS, you end up with just a devastation of the adult population. And when we would go to Zambia, back then you would literally see kids everywhere and then grandmas. And that's what you'd see, just socially, I mean, just walking around. The middle-aged parents demo was just eviscerated in that country, sadly, by those joint diseases, and so you would find many, many children who would be without one parent or both parents. Now, technically for development practitioners, people who work in international relief and development, they'll refer to a child who's lost one parent as a single orphan or a child that's lost two parents as a double orphan, sort of, technically to clarify. But in Zambia, they'll tell you there are no orphans. They'll say that their children are the community and the kids there are living with an auntie or a grandma; they're living with their cousins or whatever. And the household sizes are just huge. There are no orphanages there of note or of large size. And when we first met Esther, she had two thirds of her children as double or single orphan and just a radical number of kids that were just without. And that was the context. And of course, in a country like Zambia, in the villages, you'd have a lot less orphan crisis situations where small villages out in very rural areas, but as you get closer and closer to the city, the percentages change. And when you get to the worst, in essence, you know, socio economic community in Lusaka, then you have this massive intensive collection of kids without parents. And that's the circumstance there. And so, so Sew Powerful's context was to begin helping the moms who were helping those orphans. That was the intent of our program work to help them figure out how to care because we obviously couldn't. And they're the ones who are really the people who can impact and care for the kids. So our job was to come alongside them. And so, we do that. And you know, the specific ways in our programs, both with feeding programs in the farm work Tikondane gardens program now, as well as the sewing cooperative efforts.
Now the Tikondane is new. Explain that a little bit?
Sure. Yeah, we're so excited about it. We started a pilot program early this year, with a couple boys who had ended school, they had finished school early. They were done at seventh grade, but they were in the community. And we have this vision for making a difference with food and food security in Ngombe compound, which is a very, very desperate place. And there just isn't food at the household level. And people as households are happy to get one meal a day, because economically, that's kind of what they can afford. So, we envisioned a program where backyard gardens would be grown, and beyond just the food that would occur that we would also have this piece of employment strategy for these boys who are just just in the community, and they have no academic pursuit, and they have no vocational pursuit. So, we wondered, could these boys be trained to do these gardens, and it can be girls too, but her heart and the emphasis of it to start with was these young boys. And they're not boys, they're, you know, between 16 and 22, in that range. And so, it we started with a pilot, and we had each of the team members had a number of households they could serve. And they started setting up gardens, and after a few months the vegetable started to grow. And they would go in the morning in the evening and tend it, care for it. And it has just flourished into this little backyard gardens program where these kids are getting a stipend and making money and they're all using it guess what they're doing. They're going back to secondary school.
Oh, that's wonderful.
They can get back into school because they have the funds to get into school. And so they're, they're using it to reenergize their academic success. And so, we did the pilot, we've done phase one now. And so we've got just a growing group of young men doing it. And we're really excited about the impact on the community. And so we've got videos coming out now of the the moms who, you know, these moms will have 7, 8, 9 kids in their household and have no food in their house. They have no food production on the property there in their little homes. And now they've got this side garden, where they're harvesting cabbage, and tomatoes and other vegetables, and being able to feed their families. And the boys are learning a trade skill, learning about gardening and all that. So that's the new program. And we're, we're thrilled about it, and we hope to grow it in 2022.
Well, when the way it's set up, they can go before and after school and still earn their stipend, keep the garden going and go to school. I mean, what a perfect program and like you said, it's for young men ages, what 16 to 20.
Yeah and, you know, I guess what's different: here, we think of school in the West, maybe by ages and grades, but I think it's a little more fluid there, isn't it?
Yeah, it absolutely is. You'll end up with, you know, kids who are in fourth or fifth grade who are you know, 12, 13, 14 years old, because they've had to stop, or they've never gotten the chance to attend school. Their parents or guardians didn't have the little fees or whatever to get them into school for uniforms or that kind of thing. And then they they don't want to stop though. They want to go back, and they just go back to the grade they left and they start up again. So we have people who are in are in our sewing cooperative, Frienda comes to mind who was in a recent video, who's just working her way through ninth grade, and she's in her, you know, 20s. But it doesn't matter they want to get their schooling done. And it's really, really nice to be a part of that.
Yeah. Oh, that's wonderful. Now, how does the 3 Esther's Farm play into all of this?
Yeah, the Farm Program is at scale working to produce food for the Needs Care School and, and it's quite its own enterprise. We have three people who work there as the farm team. But you know, what's been kind of neat, too, is that Esther's actually taken groups have these older kids out to the farm. And I guess you'd call it field trips to the farm. And these kids had never been outside Ngombe compound and having them go out to the farm and learn about all of it, you know, the big wide world that's out there is just a very, very fun thing. So, she does that kind of thing. And she's even had some of the kids come out before, like, some of these boys go out and help with harvesting the maize corn and, and that kind of thing. And so, she's used it as sort of this destination location, not so much for work for employing them or anything like that. But just as more of a exposure to what else is out there in the world in terms of working at farms or working, you know, outside the city, that kind of thing.
Well, and you know, agricultural education is so important for feeding everyone. So that's fantastic. Now, how is what Sew Powerful does in terms of feeding and employing the young men, how is that different than the work other charities are doing in terms of feeding hungry children?
Yeah. Now, it's a great question. There are many, many ministries that do a great job. The challenge related to helping with with orphans in particular is a hard one. You know, a lot of organizations like Compassion International or Save the Children or World Vision, where I used to work, they'll do child sponsorship programs. And the child sponsorship programs frequently assist in situations with orphans. They'll try to, you know, have orphans be in the program. But most of those programs are run in rural areas, like small villages. They'll have villages that they serve. And you know, there'll be a collection of 15 villages or something like that, that they'll have child sponsorship be a part of the programming work. And the reason I do that is because in the villages, the transitory nature of families and kids is a lot lower. In essence, they just don't move around. But in an urban context, like in Ngombe compound, the fluidity of where people live and their circumstance of being in a school or not in a school in the community are not changes frequently. And so those large organizations generally don't do child sponsorship in these desperate urban slums. And it's sort of sad, because it's a program that's designed to help kids and yet the kids that are the most needy in a way, I mean, that have the biggest obvious intensity of or challenge of their circumstance, are in slums. And so, our heart, and our program started, and obviously, the Ngombe compound, but our heart is to serve in that context. So, for example, when we expanded into Livingston, the first thing Esther did was go there and meet community leaders and school teachers, and that kind of thing in the four most challenging neighborhoods or slums in Livingston. And we found the one that we felt like was the most challenging, and that's the one we wanted to serve in. And so that's our heart. And we want to be a part of what God's doing in the life of the kids. And to create programs that really help them like the, you know, school uniforms being made, the reusable hygiene pads and the purse program occurring, and the feeding program. These work together to create employment, that creates an impact in the community. And that's the heart and soul of our our mission and our purpose.
Well, thank you for that. Throughout the Bible, there are several scriptures that speak directly to us about caring for widows and orphans. Can you can you talk about the ones that are most meaningful to you and maybe sort of tie that into exactly what we're doing?
Sure, yeah. There are so many passages that remind us, that as believers, we're called to serve orphans and widows, James 1:27 comes to mind; it's a beautiful passage. It says, "Religion that God our Father accepts is pure and faultless is this, to look after orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." That's a beautiful reminder of the importance of what we're doing. I just came across this verse in the Old Testament as I was looking at various passages related to orphans. And this passage in Deuteronomy stood out to me so vibrantly. If it's okay, I'll just read this. It's just a striking, striking passage and it fits us perfectly. It says this in [Deuteronomy, Chapter 10] verse 17, "For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless, and the widow.  He loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food, and clothing". I thought to myself, when I read that, man, we're working on these school uniforms and the reusable hygiene pants, obviously fits under clothing category broadly, and feeding programs. And I just love that passage. And it goes on to say in verse 19, "And you are to love those who were foreigners. For you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. Fear the Lord your God and serve him." And I am just reminded by that passage that God's heart and if you look, do a study of Scripture, you'll see that phrase, the foreigner, fatherless and widow, repeated throughout the Old Testament, as our requirement as believers. Foreigners, Fatherless and Widows. And it was almost like a thematic three phrase thing, which just comes up over and over. And so that's our heart. And it's grounded in our love for the Lord and for his call on our lives to make a difference in the world. And that's how we feel like we can do it.
Well, Jason, thank you so much for sharing that. This has been very enlightening. And I love how you've added new elements to the ministry, the Tikondane farm boys, farm young man, you know, and as we expand into new places like Livingston, and maybe eventually further out, continuing to serve widows and orphans, and clothing and feeding those needs. So, thank you so much for your time today.
All right. Well, we'll talk to you next week. Bye-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 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.
Local Hiring for Local Impact with Jason Miles
A recent blog post on the Sew Powerful website features a young woman named Frienda who recently graduated from being a trainee to a junior seamstress in the sewing co-op in the Ngombe compound in Lusaka, Zambia. We wanted to delve deeper into the impact local hiring has on a community, especially when extreme poverty affects more than half the population. Sew Powerful co-founder, Jason Miles explains how the jobs we provide, are life-changing for an employee, their family and an ever-growing circle in the community. Jason expands on the critical role donors play in ensuring children have an aspiration nurtured by working role models in their own homes.
Zambia, sewing for charity, purse program, vocational training, community impact, entrepreneur, Atelier Angels, donors, local hiring, sewing co-operative, co-op, Ngombe, Lusaka, Livingstone, Acts 8, Eph 2:30
Host: Jan Cancila
Guest: Jason Miles
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.
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. This is our third episode in the 'Jesus and the Poor' series Podcast. I'm very excited to delve deeper into this concept. And you know, there was even recently a blog post about local hiring for local impact. And, Jason, I want to ask you some questions about this. Are you ready?
Jason Miles, Guest 00:41
Yeah, this is gonna be a fun conversation. I think I'm really looking forward to it. So how are you?
I'm good. I'm good. So in this blog post, there was a video and it featured a new junior seamstress named Frienda. And number one, I love her name, Frienda.
Oh, no, that's great.
Yeah. Talk about the video and what is Frienda's situation? What was she doing before she came to us?
Yeah, well, it's just a heartwarming story. We got to meet her a couple years ago when we visited the program with a donor group. And she is just a wonderful, vibrant, young person. And so it was fun when we received a video from our team in Zambia that she was, you know, featured and got to tell her story. So if you haven't seen the video, it's her telling her story, the impact of the employment work and the sewing training that she's received. And it's a wonderful acknowledgement and thank you, I guess, to the donors, that her life was transformed. Before she was part of the program, she didn't have anything going on. She had two kids; she was just in the community. It is very, very common situation where young ladies in school, usually at seventh grade, and they're just in the community. And that leads to all kinds of, you know, life outcomes, early marriage, or no marriage, but early, you know, childbearing. And so they're just very, very common. And so there she was, and we have people who have heard and seen about the sewing cooperative and are just eager to get into it. And so, whenever we have an open enrollment, there's, there's no shortage of people saying, Please, you know, let me into this program. So she was one of the people who came in as a trainee, and was a part of the six month training process and then joined us as a junior seamstress. And in the video, feel free to watch it. It's on the website. Now, she talks about how the job totally transformed her life as in allowing her to care literally financially for her 11 people in her household, her two kids and her extended family. That's how many households in Ngombe compound are constructed. They include nieces and nephews. Many times, there will be the parents who have gone, and you know, left and are now residing in the village far far away, or they have the parents who have passed away. Their cousins or their sister or brother, or whoever, adopts their children. So, you end up with these composite households that are not small. And frequently, there's just no breadwinner. And there there is no one in that household who has gainful employment. And so Frienda tells her story and the impact for feeding the family, having the kids in school being able to provide. The first thing that happens in that context, if there is no employment is that kids won't go to school. And so, it just destroys the kind of long term prospect. So anyway, so that's Frienda's story and it just it's very heartwarming video. I think it caught your attention and certainly caught ours as well. So.
Well, it sounds like the job is given not only Frienda, but her whole family some stability they didn't have before.
So before Frienda joined us, was her situation fairly typical for women living in poverty in Zambia?
Well, it's certainly common to encounter ladies in their late teens or early 20s, who have several kids, frequently not married and no employment prospect, no educational prospect. So, and that was one of the neat things about her story was she's going back to school to finish first primary school just through seventh and then through 12th grade. She's on that journey now. And she's really proud of it. And the video was also interesting because it shares her story in English, which she was not comfortable speaking in few years ago. So, it's very fun. And yeah, I would say that there you know, certainly huge number of moms that are there in that same situation. Yeah.
So, the title of this podcast is Local Hiring for Local Impact.
Explain what that means. What is the philosophy behind that?
Yeah, well we talked about theory of change last time and about kind of our approach to how to be helpful in the situation we find ourselves in Ngombe Compound with and, and the first work we started to do was to help the moms, you know, raise money for the school that was their dream and part of that was, you know, what could they make and what could they sell? And would they have some personal benefit from it, it's it's turned into over a decade later is our emphasis on local hiring for in good jobs created for impact locally; impact where the result of the work makes a difference in the community. And so school uniforms was our first program; we ran that for four years. And now you know, reusable hygiene pads and soap and on and on. So.
Yeah, and you know, we see photos from the children in the uniforms and it's just so gratifying to know that they were made by the women in the sewing co-op. So that's fantastic. When Sew Powerful created the setup in 2010, you called it a Sewing Co-op. Why that approach?
So we call it a Sewing Co-op, because a lot of Western agencies do sewing training in Africa. And it's been done many times in Zambia. And their thesis behind their work is they'll gather together a group of ladies, and they'll give them Singer treadle machines, and they'll do like a six-month or like a nine-month training program. And the thinking behind those programs is that they're training those ladies to be entrepreneurs; that they're just going to then at some point, say, see you later, you know, go forth and sew in Jesus' name and make yourself a good life out of it. And that operating thesis is, in our view, flawed, because if you just go talk to 100 people anywhere in the world, in America or Zambia, anywhere, very few of them want to be entrepreneurs. Who would want to sign up to be an entrepreneur? A masochist? I don't know. So that's just not the common thing. What most people want is a good job. And so, we wanted to orient the whole program towards we're training people so they can work with us in community for the long term. And we call it a Co-op because they share the space, the machines are gifted by donors. And it's not an entrepreneurial training ground where we're spinning off these entrepreneurs, who then would, I don't even know what, all go compete against each other, you know, within 150 yards of where they live? So, so this is very different than what other you know, charities do. And that's why we call it a sewing cooperative. And it sounds a little communal, I guess you could say, and we want it to sound different and to be different. Because the thinking behind it is just a different twist. And so, the team there needs to know that it's different, because they've been oriented to those entrepreneurial 'learn to sew and go go make a business' type models. And so there you go. So that's sort of the thinking behind it, and why it's to some degree different than the know what else is out there.
Yeah. You know, that's interesting, because I do see that from other organizations where they, you know, go forth and start your business. And here's a here's a $10 loan. And...
Yeah, and what what I like to say is the people with no disrespect at all, but Cinnamon and I have been kitchen table entrepreneurs since 2007; started on eBay with the result of her sewing and design work. And the people who are out in Africa, proposing those programs have never been in a sewing entrepreneurial venture, I don't think. I think they're good-hearted charity workers who think that the idea of training for like, you know, a vocational skill, and then the assumption you could be an entrepreneur, makes sense. But it's a huge, huge burden. I mean, to say to somebody be an entrepreneur, I don't care where you're if you're in Silicon Valley, or if you're in, you know, Houston or New York, to say to somebody go be an entrepreneur after nine months of training is like, what in the world? That's hard. We don't want to make this hard.
It's a huge blessing, you know, make it easy for him. So.
Yeah, no, I've been there. It's a 24/7 obligation. And you're spending a lot of time not even making your product. So yeah, exactly. It's huge.
So let's pivot a little bit. Back in the spring of 2021, in our Spring Summit, you talked about the spectrums of poverty. And if I remember, right, if I was paying attention, I think there were nine different ones that you shared. How does the spectrums of poverty tie into this approach we have to local hiring?
Yeah, yeah. It's a great question. I think we're going to have to do a whole podcast on the spectrums of poverty conversation. But the thinking here is pretty straightforward. And that's just that poverty is not just financial. And everyone knows that. But if you really think about, like, what are we trying to do and how we're trying to be helpful. There's relational poverty, there's educational poverty, in physical environment poverty, and on and on. And so, when you see somebody like, Frienda, part of the story is that they were in an educational deficit. And were in a context in which they were really challenged because of the family relational context. And so, you know, how do you come alongside someone like that? And our sewing cooperative is designed to be a beautiful, physical facility. And it's designed to build trust and camaraderie. The people in our team know that they're showing up for something that is healthy relationally; the environment is healthy and productive. They know the mission. They know, they're not going to be taken advantage of. These elements that I'm describing these sort of softer skills, kind of relational job issues, are many, many reasons why, in some context, poverty exists so extremely, is because people have been ripped off, cheated, stolen from, used, abused, all of the elements that go into the negative use of people. Communities that are challenged are rife with those problems. It's not just financial. And so that's, that's the idea here is that the environment needs to be a wonderful place to work. And the relationships need to be warm and supportive. And the deal needs to be a good deal, financially. Sure. But there needs to be other elements that come alongside that make it way more than just money. And that's what we're trying to do with our program locations.
Well, you know, one of the things that I think is so important about this is these women become role models in their community. Young girls see these women supporting their family in a way that maybe they hadn't seen an example of before, you know. And I think of my childhood, and I don't know, adults always seemed to be asking me, what do you want to do when you grow up? And so, I mean, I said something from an example that I had seen, you know, what, teacher, a nurse, you know, whatever. But now, now, the young girls in school have an idea of something else that they can do; what their future could look like.
In that context, that you, when you talk to the girls, they all have a dream in their heart. And it's, you know, what's challenging or frustrating, or, I guess you could say heartbreaking, is that when you talk to them, you know, when they're fourth grade, fifth grade, they're just so optimistic. I'm going to be an airplane pilot, or I'm going to be, I'm going to be an astronaut. And you know, we've all been in that frame of mind when we're kids. What are we going to do? I wanted to be a professional football player. And then I grew up and I was five, seven, and that just wasn't gonna happen. But sad in a way is, by the time that kids in those communities have gone through 6th, 7th grade and realize they're not going to get to go to high school, their dreams quickly unwind. And they find themselves settling into life in a community that has no employment opportunities; no dream fulfilling mechanisms. And for all of us, we know school is that on-ramp to a bigger opportunity. And so it is frustrating, but equipping students with academic success is central to our thesis outcome of the local hiring that we do there. And that's why we're so passionate about it, because it does allow kids to say, you know, I do want to be a teacher or a doctor and, and I actually can get into secondary school now. And for the girls in the purse program, it's because they, you know, they can attend school all month, even while they're on their period. Because Frienda helped them. And that's the local impact, you know. It chokes you up when you think about it. Frienda is the hero of our story. We're not the heroes of the story in this one. Frienda is the hero of the story. And it just so gratifying to see her make a difference in her community with the result of her work. Yeah.
Well, how can donors to Sew Powerful support the program and make sure that we do have local hiring for local impact?
Yeah, we're honored to be able to continue to grow to the program. It's our dream to continue to grow the program. We have the facility in Lusaka. Now that was completed last year, it's a beaut, if you haven't seen the videos, you know, on our website, beautiful facility, Vocational Training Center. And it's a wonderful environment. We have room there to have more trainees and to grow the team. We think we could grow the team there by you know, about 20 people and not have any kind of space concern. And we also have a facility in Livingston that is rented. It's not our own property, but we can grow the team there by 10 people. And then we dream of expanding to other locations. There's another part of Zambia called the Copperbelt area, and we want to have an an office there and grow the team. And you know, it's amazing is literally, in the last I'm not exaggerating, in the last seven days, I got contacted by two different agencies, one in Kenya and one in the Congo, both asking how we can work with them in their countries. And that happens very frequently. So, the system we're growing is dependent on a few things. First of all, of course, financial giving is central to it. So, giving gifts to help us is a wonderful blessing that helps us get the systems in place and the stipends for the trainees and that kind of thing. And then we also, you know, want to expand the purses that we received. The number of purses for the Sew Powerful purse program is sort of this balancing act. How many purses do we have? How many team members do we have in Zambia? And we kind of have to have a matchy-matchy kind of equivalent, where we have enough team members in Zambia to make the reusable pads and run the program to match the number purses that we received. So we can't get too many purses, and I have enough money for that local hiring. And we can't get too much money for local hiring without enough purses. So we're in it together with seamstresses around the world, making purses. And so there you go. So those are, you know, a couple ways. And of course, prayer, I would, I would say is the third thing, and maybe that should have been the first. But many people have a heart for Africa, heart for serving, they've maybe been to the mission field or wanting to go some point in their life. And they realize this is this is an opportunity to be personally directly involved. And so making purses and then praying for the team members, like Frienda, but also praying for the beneficiaries, the children in the program who will be blessed by the work would be a huge gift to us as well.
Well, first of all, I want to compliment you for using air quotes, sewing term matchy-matchy.
Oh, that's a term, right?
Yeah, we talk about that. But you know, as individuals, we always say, I want to change the world. And, you know, when you're a volunteer for Sew Powerful, you sort of feel like, maybe that's possible. Can you talk about that feeling? And what as we as individuals can do? How can we change the world?
Yeah, yeah. Well, one of the beautiful parts of the Sew Powerful purse program is this sense and realization that changing the world doesn't mean you have to go to, you know, Zambia. You can change the world right, in your you know, sewing room or your you know, at your sewing machine, by making a beautiful gift for the girl. So, you know, people are there; our team members are there; you don't need to go there. You really don't. I know we want to all go there, we want to see it and experience it. But we don't need to be there. So, the purse program allows for us to, to not have to do that. And a lot of people can't anyway. And so, you know, there's there's that element of it. But I think there's also many people who have what you might just call it a personal calling, or some sense of the leading of the Lord in their life that they're supposed to be helping in ministry some some way. And we're so excited that for those who are sewing purses, this is an expression of ministry. And it is it is Biblical, man. I mean, Acts, chapter eight, where Stephen and the deacons are serving the community. This is a beautiful, beautiful expression of service and ministry. And I just, I'm always honored and encouraged when I hear people express their enthusiasm and passion for it. And they kind of get it that they are not just, you know, an American donor that's giving money. They are a minister. They are a part; they are a team member. We're not making that stuff up. Just you know, that's we really believe that. We're in this together. And it's central to the idea of our organization that we literally cannot do this. Without team members around the world rallying together and serving Christ in a very challenging place. And we're in it together. We always say we're together; we are so powerful. And that's what we mean by that.
So Jason, Ephesians 2:10, For we are God's handiwork created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared us in advance to do. That really speaks to me, but how do we incorporate that into the Sew Powerful mission? And and just what we're all about?
Well, yeah, I guess I would just go right back to that local hiring for local impact. We believe we have a model. It's a small model. I mean, we have 63 people, you know, working on the ground there, but it's a small example. We do believe this philosophy has a lot of value, which is have people work locally, to make a difference in their community locally. And I guess to say that the apostle Paul in Ephesians 2 had it hardwired into the Bible 1000s of years ago is how does it get any more clear than that? We're God's handiwork created in Christ to do good works. As believers who were, I guess you could say financially blessed and and we're so lucky, to be honest, to live in America. You know, Warren Buffett says he won the genetic lottery by being born in America and I agree with that. We have in my estimation, a duty or responsibility, a blessing in our life, a calling, to help Frienda and the other team members. I can name them, I just go through the list and we have an obligation; I think to say how do we come alongside Frienda and help her do the good work in her community? And that's the goal of local hiring for local impact. It's the goal of what we're trying to do with Sew Powerful and and I believe we're getting there. And our dream is to add another 30 trainees in the near term. We'll see whether we can get there or not. It's dependent on donor giving to be completely candid. But we're growing and we want to have more people like Frienda added to the program and her life, those those ladies' lives will be changed, but also the community will be changed because of the local impact that they can make together.
Well, you know, what, if I just quickly do the math, Frienda is impacting 11 other people. So, you talk about the 68 staff members, I mean, that easily could be 700 people in the community. And you know, every person tells another person and is an example. And so, it just grows like that. If somebody is inclined to donate after they've they've heard this or they've been wanting to do it, how can people donate to Sew Powerful?
Yep, right on our website, sewpowerful.org, there's a Donate button in the top menu right in the middle. And we can give a gift of any amount; you can give it one time or recurring. And we have an Atelier Angels program, which is our monthly recurring donor support program where you join the Atelier Angels. That's a sewing term that means 'workshop' in French. So, if you want to be a workshop Angel, and give a monthly recurring gift, you can do that. So, I would challenge people to do it. Help us grow the program. If we get some large gifts will grow really fast. If we get a lot of small gifts, we'll keep adding as we can, new people to the program. And we'll just continue to see God's blessing in the lives of people like Frienda. So, I just want to thank everybody who has given to get us where we're at and are continuing to give faithfully, it's just an incredible honor to be able to partner together and to be a steward of the gifts. And I'll just say as a final plug, we have zero staff in the US. If you look at our 990, you won't see any director salaries or anything like that in the United States. All of the funding we receive, to the best of our ability, goes right to build a team in Zambia. Our overhead rate in 2020 was 2.9%. This year 2021, I think mathematically, I'm pretty sure it's going to be lower than 2.9%.
And so, we just are passionate about being frugal and you're a volunteer; I'm a volunteer; we ask people in the US and abroad to be volunteers, so that we can really focus all of the giving to building that team locally there in Zambia for local impact.
Well, and I just want to give a plug for a new easy way to donate called Donate to Honor a Loved One. And we're recording this in November so with the Christmas holiday coming up. Gift giving all over TV, they're saying, you know, order your gifts, early supply chain issues. If you go to the Sew Powerful website, you don't have to worry about that. You can give a gift in honor of your loved one for Christmas and by return email will give you a lovely Christmas card that you can print and give to that person, so.
You can do that tonight before Christmas. There you go.
Yes, yes. Last, last-minute procrastinators.
We also have some really cute t-shirts too. So, you can find that under the merch section under the Donate button.
Yeah. And hoodies too. T-shirts and hoodies.
There you go. There you go.
So yeah, yeah, some brand-new designs. So, if you haven't, if you haven't looked for a while you need to check it out.
We've laid out all the options here.
Yes. Yes. So anyway, well Jason, thank you so much for your time. It was an honor to talk about this with you. And next week, we are going to be talking about God's heart for orphans and widows. And this is going to be a really touching episode, and I'm very anxious to talk to you about it. So, thank you so much. Have a great day. Thank you. All right, bye 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.
Our Theory of Change with Jason Miles
In this second episode in our 'Jesus and the Poor' series, Sew Powerful co-founder, Jason Miles answers the central question: Why do we do what we do? And what's next? Following Eliyahu Goldratt's (The Goal) and Peter Drucker's (Management by Objectives) models, Jason talks us through our theory of change. What needs to change; what do you change to; how do you change? Jason compares and contrasts motives and priorities Christian versus non-Christian organizations implement when working with those living in in the most challenging and desperate conditions, as we do with those in Zambia.
Ngombe compound, Livingstone, Lusaka, Zambia, Jesus, control freak, theory of change, motivations, organization, believers, culture, passionate, community, gospel, change, world, messiah complex
Host: Jan Cancila
Guests: Jason Miles
The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement, by Eliyahu Goldratt, 30th Anniversary edition, © 2012, North River Press
Management by Objectives, by Peter Drucker, © 2019, independently published
Scripture Citations: Matthew 25, Matthew 28, John 10:10, Acts 2, Acts 8
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.
Jason Miles, Guest 00:19
What in the world are we doing as an organization? What motivates us? And why do we do what we do? This question is central to the mission and effort of Sew Powerful, and we're going to talk about it today, we're going to explain what we mean by our theory of change, and what we hope to see happen in the world in the communities that we work in. And I'm really excited about this topic. Jan, are you ready to jump into this fun one?
Well, I am, but I need you to start us out. Define theory of change?
Oh, sure. Yeah. So, it's a great phrase that is being used more and more, it has its origins in a couple amazing people, Peter Drucker is one and then Eliyahu Goldratt is another. I'll describe it this way. Imagine that you're in the most challenging, desperate place you can imagine on the planet. And you're there and it's a complete social, cultural, financial, economic, environmental disaster. The question is, what needs to change? What do you change to? And how do you make the change? And those three questions come straight out of the book, by Eliyahu Goldratt called 'The Goal'. And as soon as you're that that person in that context, you have to ask yourself, if I want to be a part of something that's happening here, how do I participate? What is my thinking, or my theory of what change needs to occur? And that's really the gist of the phrase, 'the theory of change.' And we get to grapple with that and think about it in the context of Ngombe compound in Lusaka and in in our communities we work in in Livingstone, in Zambia, and it's something to really unpack together, I think, is in a conversation and as an organization.
Well, you know, I have a corporate background. And so I'm familiar with Peter Drucker's Management by Objectives, which I think maybe sort of feeds into this a little bit. And...
Yeah, and I know that he talked about short term, intermediate and long-term goals. So yeah. Okay, so now I'm with you here.
So Jason, now that we know at a high level, what the theory of change is, how does that apply to Sew Powerful?
Sure, yeah. The biggest ideal is really the thing to ask ourselves about, like, what is the big change the biggest change we can imagine? And the way I like to imagine this as sort of a, like a mental metaphor. Imagine you're in that place of total desperation; that place of brokenness and challenge, and you could plant one seed. And that one seed would grow into something that was beautiful. What would that seed be? And as believers, as Christians, we would say that seed is the good news of the gospel; that we would say the number one thing that we're motivated by that we're inspired by, is the idea that if people will turn their heart towards heaven, magical change, I guess, to use the word magical, if that's okay, change can begin to happen in their lives, in their relationships, in their society, and culture. And that is the highest ideal for a Christian organization, is that the good news of the gospel makes a difference in us. And if you don't have that mindset, if that's not your thinking, if you approach these issues of global need, without that with, you know, non-Christian point of view, then the question is, what is your highest and best idea? What, what is that seed that you would plant? Some people would say it's money. Like, well, poverty is defined as lack of money, if you just give him money, it'll solve the problem. Some people would say, it’s freedom, that people are in bondage, they're in oppression, people are not, not free to be the actors of change and change agents in their own life. And so, freedom is the central idea. And those are not wrong ideas. Those aren't bad ideas. They they have a place in, you know, the idea of change happening in the world. But as, as believers, it's important for us to say we clearly believe Jesus is central to the heart change and life change of people in the world. And we believe that and that's what our organization is founded on, that we are a Christian organization. And that's what it means for us. And so that's kind of what we think is our most important theory of change. Now, one piece that comes out of that is we're operating in Zambia, and in a context in which all people, many of the people in the community are passionate believers. They have said yes to the gospel. They're, they're on fire for Jesus to, you know, use the charismatic phrase, and yet they're in desperate poverty. And so that begs the question, then what do we do?
Well, right. And, you know, a lot of churches emphasize evangelism, does that get us to the goal?
I think it starts the conversation. And the question is, after the evangelistic message goes out, and people say yes, to the good news of the gospel, what then do we do? That is really what we, as a Christians in the West, have to ask ourselves and grapple with, and people have been grappling with this literally, since the birth of the Church. Go look at Acts, Chapter 2. People began laying down their financial gifts at the feet of the apostles, and they were not used by the apostles for a good life. They were distributed to the poor, Acts Chapter 2. Then in Acts, Chapter 8, you see that the Jewish widows who began to believe in the way, in Christ, they were needing help, and the apostles appointed deacons. Stephen was the first Deacon to literally wait on tables. And so that first call for the gospel of good news to believe, to turn your heart toward heaven, is one step in the journey. And, and I believe, we believe as an organization, that second step where we begin to walk with people, disciple them, work with them, stand with them in solidarity and their struggle. That's at the heartbeat of who we are and what we do. And I believe that every church who's operating in international missions needs to think through those things and many do many have, and thought through what happens if they say, Yes, you know, and I think it's important to think about.
So the churches that are emphasizing evangelism, is that wrong?
No, not at all. I don't think it's wrong. I think the question is, are you called to a community of people, and to present them with the good news? And if they say, yes, then what's your calling after that?
And it's, and Jesus said, in Matthew 28, "Go you therefore into all the world and make disciples and teach them." And that 'make disciples' piece, and that 'teach them', it's like, what do you teach them? Well, you teach them the good news; you teach them about the New Testament teaching the Bible, but there's also reading, writing and arithmetic. There's also teaching them, you know, and I think a lot of times we can over spiritualize the message of Jesus. You know, when Jesus said to Peter, for example, "Feed my sheep", many people over spiritualize, that in my view. What if He meant feed his sheep? What if He meant literally feed the people? Like, oh, no, He didn't mean that. How do you know he didn't mean that? Maybe He did mean that. Clearly, you know, Peter was a fisherman. And then in the New Testament, book of Acts, you start to see them literally serving people, serving the poor, making sure people had their needs met, and discipling people and training them up. And, and Paul goes on to become a tentmaker. And he teaches people how to make tents to supply their own needs, so that they can go out and do outreach work. So, I'm passionate about this idea that 'going' is important. But also, you know, that's Matthew 28. But also, Matthew 25 is important, which is, you know, Jesus said, "At the end of the age, I'll come back and divide the sheep from the goats." And then what will he do? What will he find? The the people who were 'the sheep' doing? Well, they will be clothing the naked, they will be feeding the poor, they will be literally, you know, making a difference in society and culture. That's what they're supposed to be doing, according to Matthew 25. And I think a lot of times we just kind of, you know, that doesn't; it's hard to hard to implement.
But that I mean, what a great analogy to what you said, if you apply that to Zambia. I mean, it almost ticks every box there. Right?
It does. And I think I'm passionate about this topic, because we've talked about our program for over a decade with people. Our program at first was helping moms with jobs sew school uniforms. And we would talk about it and people were like, well, do you share with them the gospel? And I would say they are already Christians. So, when people say that, do you share with them the gospel? And then I say they're already Christians. You can see what their theory of change is. Their theory of change is just tell them about Jesus. But we did that. That happened. That was that was good. That was a good first step. Now what's next? And and many of us who just have that, 'Did you share with them the gospel?' commentary haven't really articulated what does step two look like? What does it mean to say, oh my gosh, these people are all passionate believers? They're desperately poor. They're sick and dying of HIV, AIDS, TB, malaria. They have no food in their houses. They don't have any education. There's no school in their community. How then should we act as the people who and I wasn't a part of the evangelism of Zambia, that happened by a guy named David Livingston, 100 years ago, and many, many other missionaries. But here we are today with beautiful people who are just so passionate for Christ. And their belief is that they have good news and hope. But they also are taking action in their community. And it's exciting to come alongside them, and to really understand what God is doing in that place, before we got there, in those people's lives, and you know, that we're part of what their story is, in a small way. We're not the heroes. We're not the, you know, we're not the saviors, anything like that, we just get to come alongside what God has been doing in that place, and what those people feel passionate about. And many times, that's education, like for the children, or it's clinic work, or it's clean water. I mean, it does become practical very quickly. It's why when you go to Ngombe compound, you see many, many, many little, tiny, underfunded, schools that are community schools that are faith based schools, because the Christians there know that if they can get their children educated, they're going to have a next step in their journey towards you know, life in all its fullness to quote John 10:10.
Right? Yeah. And, you know, I think about the children, especially at the Needs Care School, because I'm more familiar with that, but I'm sure it's true throughout Zambia, and many other places, but to send the children to school on an empty stomach, and to expect them to, to learn and progress. I mean, it's just all so tied together. You have to have the basics to sustain your life so that your life can be lived in all its fullness. So.
Yeah, and if you're not familiar with that verse, and you're listening to this, John 10:10 is a beautiful passage, Jesus said, "The thief comes to kill and steal and destroy." And by that he meant, you know, Satan. And then He said, "but I have come that you might have life, in all its fullness." And that life in all its fullness, that's what we all want. That's what you want in Houston, Texas, and we want and Seattle, and what they want and Lusaka. They want a beautiful life. And they're working towards that. Yeah.
You mentioned that, you know, there's a lot of Christian schools but there's a lot of organizations that have come into places like Zambia, and sometimes they come in and start something and leave. And other times they try and do a little better job than that. But what kind of motivations do these organizations and people have when they start these programs?
Yeah, yeah. It's a wide gamut. You know, I've been in this business if you call charitable, nonprofit, international work, a business, I've been in the industry for a long time. Since I guess I was 19, I started going on short term trips, and then really spent my whole career professionally in international relief and development work. And you end up seeing many, many motivations of people. The worst of them, the worst of the motivations are blatant ego, you know, egoic needs, I guess you could say, people have a need for making themselves feel important. Vanity, status, a lot of status positioning stuff can happen in the worst, you know, motivations. You also see a ton of control freaks in non-profit work. I mean, if if you gave a control freak, a perfect opportunity to literally just go crazy, you would say, hey, go try to change some incredibly desperate place.
Are you talking to me?
No, not all. No, but you get my point is that if you you know, if you see an urgent need, like, you know, and there's many many projects that are run like that, like they need water. Well, we're putting in wells. Well, this is how it's gonna work. Like well, do you know anything about the culture? No. The climate? No. The water table in that part of the world? No. Chemicals that could be in the water like arsenic? No, I don't know any of that, but I'm getting those wells dug. You know, you see stuff like that you're like, okay. You know, so you see control freaks. You also see people who are responding to a feeling of guilt, which is a whole different, you know, kind of a mental trap, where people feel very blessed, very rich, and they know it and they know that there's something that feels very disturbing about their opulent, amazing life in the context in which people have crushing poverty in their lives. And so that guilt can play a part in responding. So those are the negatives, but they're also very altruistic motivations that you see. Obviously, having a compassionate heart is top of mind for people. There are people, and I'll just be completely candid, there are people who are passionate Christians. And when you talk to them, you immediately see they do not have a compassionate heart. And then you can meet people who don't have any interest in faith, no, not not interested in the Jesus thing. But they have really, really compassionate hearts. And you know, you can see that, so that's cross cutting. And then you know, there are people who are just really, really altruistic in their, in their thinking, and compassionate in a way that they want to serve fellow humans in a way that is humble, and egalitarian, I guess. And you see those things. And so, you get the broad swath of all of this. And the real question is, for all of us, what is our heart motivation? What what is our highest ideal versus our, you know, base desires and ideals that we're trying to operate on? And we will have to think through this stuff as we do work and cultural contexts that are different than ours.
You know, I think a lot of the people who make purses for Sew Powerful, probably myself included, when I first heard about Sew Powerful, and the situation that the girls were in, as women, we can relate to that and then empathize with a situation we might have had, and then imagine it to be 10 times worse. So compassion certainly comes into play. And, you know, I think it's like being a more mature believer, as you're a more mature volunteer with Sew Powerful, you start to learn the subtleties. And this theory of change. I mean, you know, this is, this is more of the underlying reason for our compassion.
Yeah, that's right. I want to be really clear about this. This is not a criticism of people who aren't, you know, faith-based organizations doing good work. There are many organizations doing good work that aren't faith-based. But this is important for us to be clear on: we are a Christian organization. I was a part of an organization for a while that was founded by an evangelist, but never got incorporated as a Christian ministry. It got incorporated as just sort of a non-defined, nonprofit. And there was so much confusion. Part of the people were believers and thought they were on a Christian mission. And part of the people there were just, you know, kind of humanitarians and didn't want anything to do with that. And it was just a big jumble. And so, I think it's important for us to be very clear about our role in the kingdom, and in serving the Lord, and in serving the least of these with passion. And that's what we're excited to do. And, and hopefully, that doesn't offend anyone. And hopefully, it doesn't make us alienate anyone, or make people feel like they can't participate in an enthusiastic way. But hopefully, it makes it clear what our heartbeat is, and what our motivations are, you know.
You know, sometimes organizations come in, and it's sort of a combination of everything you've talked about, where we're from the West. We know what's best for you. We're gonna come in and tell you how to do it. Now, maybe that's the control freak of me saying that, but can you sort of talk about what that is? And what the danger of that is?
Yeah, sure. It's so common. It's fair to say Americans think they know best in this context. And when you actually go and walk with people and spend time in a culture with people and start asking questions, the onion peels back real quick. And you realize you don't know what you're talking about. And you don't know anything about their culture or context, you do not understand the way in which their society has merged into reality, at the household level, the individuals in it and the culture and society. And it's just one of those things where, in my view, all I can tell you is I've worked in different places around the world. And all I knew to do was try my best to spend as much time as possible in the culture, and with the people of the culture, learning from them, and asking them questions about reality in their context. And you know, there's a phrase called the 'Messiah Complex'. And, and this is a sort of a twist on it: and that is that if you're Christian, that goes to serve, your role is to point towards Jesus, because that's the motivation of your life. If you're not a believer, and you go to work in a community, the question is, what are you pointing to? What is your highest theory of change and who is the agent of change that you're pointing to? As Christians, we should be pointing to Jesus as the the author of change in those people's life in the community culture. And if that is not the context in which we enter a culture, then we're pointing to either ourselves or to some other thing like a, like a legal entity or government or something like that. But we will, we will, we will have someone on the throne, being the ultimate change agent, either as believers pointing to Christ, or as you know, nonbelievers, pointing to something, and that something frequently is themselves. And even Christians can do this, where they think they're the agent of change. They think they go; they make the difference. If they didn't go, nothing would happen. That's just not true. God is working amazingly, in culture, and in people's lives around the world. And we get to step into that story. We're not the heroes of the story. It's just not reality. And so I think that's important to think through.
Thank you for that. Final question. As we wrap up here today. Can you sort of summarize, what do you hope listeners take from this conversation?
I think the presiding idea here is to know that our number one goal, our desire is to shine brightly, and live out our highest and best ideals, which is that Jesus changes individuals and changes culture. And we can work together to see that really, really play out in people's lives in an exciting way. When I see the moms in Zambia, whose lives have been transformed because of a good job. And they can then impact their household, I think, okay, they're passionate about their faith, checkbox, number one. They also have been educated and have a vocational training that gives them the agency to make a difference in their household level and to pay their bills, and to have a good life, checkbox number two. And we get to be a part of that. And there's nothing better. We get to be a part of an amazing story that's unfolding around the world. And it's just a joy. So, I just hope that everybody understands kind of more about why we're doing what we do more about the thinking behind it. And hopefully it clarifies who we are what we're all about.
Well, thank you. That's great. And you know, that was a great segue, because next week, we're going to be talking about local hiring and the impact that that has a local communities so good segue. Thank you.
Awesome. Now this has been great. Thanks so much for having this fun conversation. Jan. It's always an honor. These are these are turning into just just fantastic conversations. But this is our second one. But this is really, this is exciting.
So yeah, so our series is called 'Jesus and the Poor' and there'll be ten, twelve, or so and maybe more topics as we we start to peel back the onion. So, thank you so much, and we will talk to you next week when we talk about local hiring local impact.
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.
Episode 0 in the Series Called 'Jesus and the Poor' with Jason Miles
Welcome to the first in a series of about a dozen discussions with Sew Powerful co-founder Jason Miles. Today we kick off the series called 'Jesus and the Poor' with some background information about Jason himself, and then we look ahead to upcoming episodes. In these future episodes, Jason will present the concepts and I will ask questions and even play devil's advocate. The idea is to bring all of us to an in-depth understanding of the planning, thought process, back stories, challenges and difficulties of operating the Sew Powerful ministry in Zambia. Be sure to include your questions in the comments section below.
Sew Powerful, Zambia, World Vision, Youth With a Mission, Bob Pierce, Tena Hoelkeboee, Jason Miles, Cinnamon Miles, Eastern University, Romania, Ukraine, Mexico City, Honduras
Host: Jan Cancila
Guest: Jason Miles
World Vision, https://www.worldvision.org/
Youth With a Mission (YWAM), https://ywam.org/
Eastern University, https://www.eastern.edu/
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.
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. Hello, Sew Powerful podcast listeners. We're kicking off a new series of podcast episodes where Jason and I are going to discuss the work of Sew Powerful and the 3 Esthers’ Farm. Everything that's happening on the ground in Zambia, the backstories, the planning, the thinking that goes into the programs, and even the challenges and difficulties. So, Jason, welcome. How are you today?
Jason Miles, Guest 00:44
Thank you so much. I'm really, really excited about this. It's an honor to be able to jump into the episodes like this with you, and I'm really looking forward to it. Yeah.
Yeah, this is gonna be fun. I thought in this episode, we could just talk about the format that we're embarking on so that people will know what to expect. Sure. And so why don't you share with us, what are some of your thoughts on why you want to do this?
Yeah, you know, I think that there are a lot of choices and decisions that we're making on the ground in Zambia, with our team. They're about how to build programs and how to do the work effectively. And candidly, people just don't know about it. They don't know what goes into it, and hard choices and the models that we're using for, you know, the programs we are building. And I really hope that in these conversations, we can start to really walk through some of that, and really share with people more about the work of Sew Powerful and the farm in the lives and society and culture of the team there in Zambia. Yeah.
Jason, you have a long career and a background in international development. I don't think everybody is totally aware of that. Tell us a little bit about your background and that journey.
Yeah, so we basically devoted our whole lives to international relief and development and missions work. We, we got married. And before, but before that Cinnamon was in Youth With a Mission, which is a short term missions program, and she served in Eastern Europe. And then I started at World Vision. And I was there for 16 years, I had the honor of working through graduate degree program there, my undergraduate degrees are in organizational management and biblical studies. And then my graduate degree is technically an MBA, but the emphasis was international nonprofit management. And so we've traveled the world together, we served in a lot of places. And we've devoted our lives to this. We consider ourselves tentmakers, which is sort of a weird thing. They will talk about that in an upcoming episode. But this is central to sort of who we are in our life. And we're passionate about it. And hopefully that comes out and the Ministry of Sew Powerful.
Okay, well, so let me ask you a few questions about what you just said. So, you worked for World Vision, probably most people know what that is. But just sort of give us a quick synopsis of what is World Vision?
Sure. Yeah. Christian, international relief and development organization. It was founded in 1950, by a Baptist evangelist named Bob Pierce. He was traveling in Asia. His story goes something like this. He was traveling in Asia. He did a evangelical meeting in, I think, an island off of China. And I don't think it was Taiwan, but I think one of the, you know, in that area, and he, he made a call for, you know, commitment to Christ and ask these kids, it was like, you know, elementary and junior high kids to accept Christ, and to go home and tell their parents about it. And the next day, he came back to the school and the lady, the head mistress, the principal, basically had a girl in her arms sobbing. The girl had been beaten and thrown out of her house, because she did what Bob said to do; go home and told her parents about this commitment to Christ. And the missionary, her name is Tena Hoelkeboee, put the girl in Pierce's arms and said, I cannot take care of this girl. You have to take care of her and deal with what you did here. And he was just, you know, he was devastated. And he begged her to take the girl in and it was a no going back situation. The parents were clear; she was out forever. And so, Bob Pierce begged the missionary lady to care for the girl. And he promised to send $5, every month for her support, and he went back to the States. And he really pivoted his ministry to understanding more about the plight of children. And what was happening in the world. And he started literally by just finding orphanages, and missions-minded people who were serving around the world and just fundraising for them. And he was a super effective fundraiser. And he, he built a whole ministry, World Vision, and many, many people came out of that ministry to do international relief and development work, Christian, international work. And so that's the story. And so, I was there for 16 years. I started as a compensation analyst, and in human resources. I did that for eight years. And then I was in fundraising and working with donors.
Well, you know, I knew about World Vision what they do now, but I never knew the origin. I mean, that is fascinating. Okay, so you had your graduate degree in?
International, nonprofit leadership, I guess you would say.
International, I wasn't sure the exact degree. And where did you study?
Yeah, Eastern University, in St. Davids, Pennsylvania. It was actually a program that World Vision created with Eastern University for, for their executive leaders or senior leaders. And the goal of the program was that there were, they had basically identified a problem in their system, and they have like, over 40,000 employees around the world. So, it's not a small organization, it's like multi-billion dollar organization. But what they had found is that in a lot of countries, they would have senior leaders that were locals to the country, but weren't qualified academically, or just didn't have a broad base of, you know, educational background and experience, you know, with theory of changes and things like that. And that was problem. But the other alternate choice was to bring in an American or, you know, somebody from England to run the in-country staff, and that was less than ideal as well. So they created this program to really be sort of a high higher academic opportunity for these in-country leaders. Well, they allowed some Americans to apply for the program, and I applied for the program, but I was literally with almost all African. You know, people in my cohort were from there were amazing direct program directors from the World Vision Africa countries. And so that was the gist of the program. We studied for four years together every summer for actually, our cohort met in Toronto, and that we would all fly in and learn from each other. And I always like to say that I learned more from my roommate. His name is Chikondi Phiri than I did from the professor's you know. But Chikondi, the first year we got assigned as roommates. And I met him, he was wonderful; he's from Zambia. Side note, he's one of our board members in Sew Powerful Zambia. The second year we went back by random lottery, random chance, he was assigned in my roommate again. We were paired together. The third year it happened again. It was completely random, so I always said like my graduate degree was learning from Chikondi basically, so.
Well and so Chikondi was employed by World Vision in Zambia. Is that correct?
He was a deputy national director for World Vision Zambia. He's since moved on to another organization. But yeah, that's his role was in World Vision, Zambia at the time, yeah.
Wow. That's really cool. Okay, so you mentioned that you traveled the world, as as part of this work? What are some of the places that you visited?
Yeah. Well, before our World Vision, experience, Cinnamon and I traveled to Mexico City together and did Vacation Bible schools and sort of the inner city, how you see caught the slums of Mexico City. She served in Ukraine, but that was before we got married. And then together, we've mostly gone to Romania, and had the chance to go repeatedly to Romania, there was a lot of work there that I was doing in my World Vision days and so she got to go as well. She's always had a passion for Romania. And so there's that. And then I did a lot of program work in Honduras, and with a people group called the Lenca people. And so that's a whole different journey in my life, and passion for that, and it was about housing. And so yeah, I guess, probably other places we've been to as well, but obviously, you know, the Southern Africa countries. And I've been in other African countries as well.
Well, you have traveled the world. Is there any place you haven't been?
I've never been to India. Never been to Southeast Asia, or the Asian countries. Yeah.
No, so there's a lot of places I haven't been. So, yeah.
Yeah, okay, cool. All right. Well, you know.
Oh, yeah. You heard it first here.
Yeah. Breaking news.
Sew Powerful Antarctica. Okay. All right. So, we've got, we've got some of the background. This is going to be quite the conversation coming up. Jason, are you ready for me to ask you to explain things and clarify ideas as we go forward?
I would love that. Let's totally just make this a casual conversation for real. So, this doesn't need to be doesn't mean need to be fancy podcast stuff. Let's just talk about these issues and, and learn together. And I think it'll be a great, you know, format. So yes, feel free to ask me anything; help me explain myself when it seems confusing, or I'm being unclear. I'd love that. Yeah.
Well, I'm easily confused. So that that will give me plenty, plenty of opportunity.
To ask for clarification. So what what kind of topics do you want to cover in these upcoming episodes?
Yeah, I've kind of made a list of things that I think would be really helpful for us to talk through, that people might be interested in. It's amazing how fast that list and kind of stack up. But I think the first thing is probably the Theory of Change that we're working as a group towards, and what we believe is sort of the foundational aspects of our program work. Our theories related to local hiring, for local impact, we talked about that; our theories related to purposeful products. I've used that phrase a lot. I love to talk through that. Of course, the 3 Esthers' Farm and how that came about; the work that we're doing to feed, you know, the children and, and how that work is, is coming together. Gosh, James 1:27, comes in mind, you know, God's heart for orphans, God's heart, God's heart for widows. Other topics in the space would be things like sustainability; you know, how Christian ministry works, or doesn't work in communities and culture. I think there's a lot of stuff for us to talk about. So yeah, that's probably a short list. But I don't think we'll run out of topics. So.
Well, and I know that you're working on the third edition of the We Are Sew Powerful book.
Yeah, we are. That's right.
Are any of these topics going to be covered there?
Well, you know, I think, okay, this is breaking news. I think what we're going to do with the third edition of the book, is really create a new interior structure where we lean further into the stories of purse makers, and our community members like the seamstresses, and Zambia. And we just have more of those. And I think what we're going to do is probably compress the front of the book and try to just make it a simple story of what we're doing. And then I'm going to take some of the stuff that was in the second edition, that's about being tentmakers, or, you know, other aspects of the program. And I'm actually going to take those out. And I think I'm gonna just make standalone small booklets or, you know, separate books that talk about the various issues like purposeful products or things like that. So we might end up with actually sort of a collection of books going forward. The third edition of We Are Sew Powerful will really camp on the stories of the participants. And I think that's what I'm really excited about. I know, we've been talking to people who've done podcast episodes with you, and asking them, Hey, do you want to convert your podcast conversation into a book contribution? And I think that's underway. And so I'm really excited about those aspects of it. Yeah.
Well, I'm, I'm looking forward to it. You know that I've read the first edition and the second edition. And the second edition book is always a sponsor of the Sew Powerful Podcast. So yeah, we might have to update our little commercial there. So, anything else that we want to cover here in this first episode, as we talk about what's coming up?
I would just say, thanks, everybody, for taking the time to listen to this one. And we're really grateful for everybody's hard work in the ministry, and collaboration with us. It's just such an incredible honor to be able to work together. So Jan, thank you for allowing me to bend and morph the format of the podcast a little bit to do these. But yeah, I'm really thankful and looking forward to them.
Well, and you know, just if I can just sort of recap when we started the podcast, I went back to the people who had written stories in the first edition of the We Are Sew Powerful book and brought them into the podcast to talk about what Sew Powerful means to them. And, and so many of those stories were so meaningful and then as time went on, after we covered all of those, we started reaching out to people who were more in the community who had a connection to Sew Powerful, and we've interspersed that with episodes with, with you and Dana and others talking about the ministry in more depth and so I'm really looking forward to this, this next few episodes, probably eight or 10 or so, where where we take this new approach. So, thank you so much for for suggesting this and I think this is going to be great.
All right. Okay, well, listen next week. We'll talk some more with Jason. Have a good week. Bye-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 is 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.
What Happens When You are Named CNN Hero of the Year with Freweini Mebrahtu
Meet Freweini Mebrahtu, the 2019 CNN Hero of the Year. A native of the Tigray region of Ethiopia, Freweini leveraged her university degree to change the lives of women in her home country. She obtained a patent, took out a loan and opened a factory manufacturing sanitary pads. She employed women who had never held a job. She offered day care for her workers so they could continue to earn a wage to support their families. All of this hard work came to a halt when a civil war erupted in Ethiopia in November 2020. Freweini educates us on the dire situation in her homeland that includes destruction, brutalization of women, and famine for a half million people. Freweini wants to use the platform afforded her by the CNN award to bring resolution to the conflict and resume her work in support of women at home. While much of the content of this episode is uplifting, there is some disturbing discussion of the horrors of this war.
Ethiopia, Prairie View A&M University, sanitary pads, Mekelle, Tigray region, patent, business loan, Mariam Seba Sanitary Products Factory, famine, women and children.
Host: Jan Cancila
Guests: Freweini Mebrahtu
Tigray Development Association of North America, https://tdana.org/
Health Professionals Network for Tigray, https://hpn4tigray.org/
Prairie View A&M University, https://www.pvamu.edu/
Jan Cancila 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 going to speak with the 2019 CNN Hero of the Year Freweini Mebrahtu leveraged her education and passion for helping women to win a patent and secure a loan to produce reusable feminine hygiene supplies in her home country of Ethiopia. She established a factory there and employs women in a model very similar to that of Sew Powerful in Zambia. We are going to learn Freweini's backstory and how the civil unrest in Ethiopia has disrupted her important work. Please join me in welcoming Freweini Mebrahtu to the Sew Powerful podcast. Hello for Freweini. How are you today?
Freweini Mebrahtu, Guest 01:05
Pretty good. How are you? Thanks for having me.
Oh, we are so excited to have you. Where are we speaking to you from? Where are you today?
I'm back living in the US.
All right, for nearly 20 years.
Tell us a little bit about your home country. It's Ethiopia, correct? And help those of us who are geographically challenged. Where would we find it on the map in Africa?
Well, it is on East Africa. And we're so proud. We were heading to the right direction. But now situations are completely different, going downhill.
Yeah. And I'm going to ask you a little bit more about that. In my introduction, I gave our listeners a brief overview of your background. But we want to learn more, of course. Let's start with your childhood. Where did you grow up? And how would you describe your family life?
Well, I grew up in a small town called Adigrat, which is in Tigray. A large family. There were eight of us. My father worked hard. He drove a truck for a while. And he then opened a small hotel. My mother was a homemaker. We were your typical Tigrayan family. We were town kids; we had a little bit more than the families in the village. And it didn't seem relevant in the past, when I was telling my story. Because war, it was something we were supposed to have put behind us. Never again, only look forward. When I was a child for a huge chunk of it, the Tigray region was in war. When I was a young adult in 1983, to '86, there was a terrible famine. We lost so many lives; so many relatives. They starved to death. And now it's happening again. And God knows how many relatives we will lose now. So it is really, really troubling. You know. So the experience of childhood up to now it's been very challenging. At the same time, you know, we were hopeful and going the right way. But now it's just going downhill.
Oh, gosh, I'm so sorry. In your biography that I read online, you've been pretty open about your first experience with menstruation for both you and your classmates. Can you tell us about that and how that experience may have shaped your desire to help other girls and women in Ethiopia?
Well, when faced with a challenge, you have two choices. You can do something or you can do nothing. The damage is there. There may not be a physical scars. So you take that and you decide what to do with it. You can do something or nothing. We grew up in Tigray in Ethiopia facing so many challenges: war, conflict, malnutrition, everything. So this work with menstruation, making reusable pads available, this was something doable. It addressed an immediate need. It made an impact on people's lives and livelihoods. With what it is happening in Tigray now, we have no chance. We have no choice, but to do something. But we can't do it alone. We need everyone. We need all human beings to be involved. And to do something. I can't do it alone. Tigray cannot do it alone. We got to do it. And we got to do it now.
And so what what kind of help are you looking for?
We need to open our eyes. We need to be voice for the voiceless. Not only just voice, but we need to act. The people who have power, they need to lead and so important not to lose one child is too many. It's almost a year now, since the war started. So we gotta act; we got to work together; we need to be human again. I mean, right now I'm so heartbroken. I am so upset. I'm numb.
And is humanitarian aid coming or is it blocked or what's the story?
It is blocked. We are under siege at the moment. Nothing is going in. The basic medications are not getting in. They're blocking.
If somebody wants to get involved and help what would be the best thing that they could do, Freweini?
There's a lot of ways to help. There is the Tigray Development Association, which is TDA. They can help out, whether it's donating money, donating medical equipment. You know, we need everything. We have absolutely nothing. I mean, the sky's the limit. We are talking about people are starting to eat leaves. Kids are eating leaves at the moment to stay alive. What I'm trying to say is, you know, we have women who are being raped and psychologically tormented. And on top of it, they have nothing to eat. And it's just on the verge of famine, there is almost like close to half million Tigrayans are in the famine condition at the moment.
There is Health Professional Network for Tigray, who are really looking into helping women and children's health. So I urge you, HPN4Tigray, please do help so that when it is possible to get into Tigray so they can help. At the moment they are helping the displaced women and people in general in Sudan, and they're they're doing whatever the best they can but we need everyone to be involved and help out to save lives. We got to get help as quickly as possible. Otherwise, we will see a famine that we have not seen in decades.
Freweini, thank you very much for that. Why don't we take a quick break and when we come back we're going to talk a little bit about the work that you did to establish your factory and hopefully be able to return to that so let's take a quick break and when we come back we'll continue our conversation with Freweini Mebrahtu. Thank you so much.
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 have been speaking with Freweini Mebrahtu. Freweini been sharing with us the dire circumstances in her home country of Ethiopia specifically in the Tigray region. There is a conflict that's been going on for almost a year resulting in near famine conditions for a very large segment of the population. And Freweini is asking and pleading with all of us to get involved to help her family who's still there and friends and workers that were in her business. Can you give us the name of the organization? Again, the HTN for Tigray? What does that stand for again, please?
It's Health Professionals For Tigray (HPN4Tigray).
And I presume there's a website there where people could make make donations to help this cause?
Okay. All right. Well, good. Well, thank you. If we can go back a little bit so that we can get more of your background. I surprisingly learned that a woman from Ethiopia went to university in the United States, 30 minutes from my home. Where did you go to university? And what did you study?
I went to school Prairie View A&M, which is, as you know, it's just on the outskirts of Houston. And I did study chemical engineering.
And why did you choose that major?
Well, it's interesting. Actually, I was introduced to Prairie View A&M through a friend of mine, and has been telling me how great engineering technology is, there was in, in Prairie View A&M. So I went for a tour one day and starting touring all the departments. And finally I landed to the chemical engineering department and I, I seriously remember the the dean that I met, his name was Dr. Patu. And he was from Egypt. Then I told him, I was in Ethiopia, he said, we're the same people; we drink the same water. And that to me, was like, oh, my goodness, he's one of my brothers. You know, that's how I really felt. So I had a great GPA at community college. I was mainly focusing on math and science. You know, international students tend to study engineering or medical. You want to better your life. So I was hoping to study the pharmacy or even go to medical school and some sort of engineering. So when I met Dr. Fatu, he's like a very nice man. I was too young and he was trying to mentor me and convince me to study chemical engineering after spending the whole day with other departments like electrical, civil and what have you. So I finally convinced to do a chemical engineering degree with Prairie View A&M, and I was also awarded some scholarships. So I'm just glad I made that decision and grateful for Prairie View education. It was just an enjoyable memory that I had with Prairie View A&M.
So after you graduated, you went back to Ethiopia. What were you doing at first when you came back home?
Well, you see, I had a wonderful life here in the US. And I was just like any ordinary citizen. And it's been wonderful. But my heart is always been back home. And if I ever decided to go back home, I want to do something good to better the lives of the underprivileged. And again, the subject of menstruation was always in my heart, because it was very horrifying experience as far as having my first period and how I suffered like any other girls. And we didn't have access to sanitary pads. So as soon as I got home, I was wondering if things have been changed. So I started looking into that. And to my horror, nothing has changed. And this is 20 years later, and me was like, You know what, I got to do something about this. When I was trying to interview women in the villages in the outskirts of where I grew up, they telling me that use any any rags, they can find around if they can or any grass. Hard to believe that after 20 years, nothing has changed. So my focus was like, Okay, I've got to do something. That was it. So I started researching and looking into different options on what would be the best product for for the underprivileged women. And also, the one thing I was not going to compromise, however, is the effectiveness of the product. So based on that, that's when I started doing my research in those first two, three years.
And then in 2005, and 2006, you did something remarkable. What transpired during those two years?
I mean, those two, three years, I was just going to a different material analysis, you know, and the one thing I had to consider was the effectiveness of the product, but the same has to be affordable, it has to be environmental friendly product. So putting those all in into consideration, I came up with the product that I think it would work. Then I started, you know, testing it, and the ladies that who had, you know, tried my product, they just were so pleased to in fact, someone like myself who has been in the US or learned stuff, and then they could have a good life here, but decided to go back and do something about it that was pleasing for them. You know, in Ethiopia, especially in Tigray, we wear white clothes at very happy moments. You know, festivals and what have you. So wearing white clothes during your period is is not something new, even here in the US. So they the way they describe it is You made us wear our white clothes, every day.
It's a turning point; it was a worthwhile of a cause to to pursue. So then once I developed that product, then I got to apply for a patent here in the Ethiopian Science and Technologies. I was granted a patent after that. Of course, is the bigger step, you know, how do we really get this product, you know, to produce and so that we can get it to the people who needs it so.
Well then in 2009, you were awarded a loan of $150,000. And you started the factory to produce the sanitary pads, right?
Yes. So tell us about all of that, what would happen then.
So like any other business, you do apply for loan. And however, since this product is so new, and also at the same time, we're not sure who is going to afford to use it, it's new. We're talking about people who have very little money, so it was hard for me to get that loan. However, after so many tries, and one guy was a vice president at that time, he was nice enough to hear me out and understand what I was trying to do. After two years of trying, I was granted the loan to build a factory and buy machineries. And of course, to start the factory. So that was the challenging part to convince them. But there were times that I wanted to give up. But it was not an option for me to give up.
And you named your factory after your daughter. What is the name of the factory?
It is Mariam Seba Sanitary Products factory. I only have one daughter. It's also named after my grandmother who was dear to me. And basically that's why I named it. And I want every daughter to feel like as lucky as my daughter. So it's just a significant name for me and for the rest of women in Ethiopia as a whole.
Now I've seen actually a short video of your factory when it was operational. How many women did you employ? And what kind of equipment were they using?
We started with 10. And we're now about 60 women. Yes, we hire women around the community. And basically why we do that is because we really wanted to give an opportunity to women who never held job before. All they needed to be 18 years old, and also at least some education. So we train them for a month. And this is an intense training with various sewing machines to make sure that, you know, they understand these are semi automated. It is pretty intense training. So we never turn down anybody we trained. It's a paid training. And once they are finished with their training, we just basically put them where they can fit in with the maximum of efficiency that they could do.
And women who had these jobs, did you see the difference in their confidence, the way they were able to live their lives as a result of the job that you gave them, Freweini?
My goodness, the confidence is just day and night. You know, they come in and they just shrinking you know, and then by the end of the week, they're like ready to operate a sewing machine and producing pads that they could use and they could also take home and to be used by their families and they're so proud. You wouldn't believe, right now we have women who's been with me since the very beginning and they have their children. They're like almost like I have grandchildren basically and that's exactly how I feel. So the one thing that we also do is that we never hire manager from outside. We basically get them to grow within the company. So the production managers, the supervisors are always come from the factory workers. So they're always have have hope to grow. So there's always room for improvement. So basically, the confidence level is amazing. And we're the first company in Ethiopia to provide a daycare center. The reason being that is because, you know, they're young, they tend to get married, young, which is customary, especially in the villages in Ethiopia, all over and of course, then the Tigray region. So when they have their children, they tend to stay home because they have no nobody to take care of their children. So that means they're losing their income, they're losing their confidence and what have you. So we decided to start a daycare center in the factory. And that's been amazing add on to their confidence, and also to, to keep them hopeful to better their lives.
So you have supervisors and managers, but you also have daycare workers, I presume, right?
Wow. Oh, that's amazing. That's fantastic. So now, unfortunately, we have to talk about the war again. So a year ago, the war happened. And at that point, how long was the factory opened after the war started? What point did you have to close down?
Wow, I was there when the war erupted. And it was a nightmare. There was a bombardment and it was a shock. So everybody has to stay at home. And we basically had to shut down for a good two months. And of course, that really made a shook up to everyone. And of course, we had to continue to help our workers to make sure that they get their salaries and make sure that they are feeding their families. And it was quite a shocking experience. And then we had to open it again, after the the Ethiopian government took over the capital city of Mekelle, where the factory is at, and start operating very slowly, but it was not safe at all. So we had to close it again. So basically, it's been closed. And the other thing is also we cannot get any raw materials, in and out even to ship out our products to other parts of Ethiopia. So this happened, you know, a while back, and of course, even before the war started, the transportation was blockedade from the Amhara region to Tigray. So we were going through Darfur [in Sudan]. So it was already a problem in the last three years. And of course, it's been a year now since we have not done much of anything. And all we've been trying to sustain with what we've got and try to help as much as we possibly can to, to make sure the workers are are eating and being taking care of. But at the same time, there were a lot of workers they had to go away from Mekelle so that they can look for other family members that they have lost in various parts of Tigray. So that was quite devastating. So basically, the factory is not, you know, operational.
Is the building still in good condition? Is the equipment still inside?
I would hope so. Because from what I hear, Mekelle is not a place that they damaged so much. And our factory is not that big. So I'm hoping that it's still intact. But the point remains is if you have no workers, or...
You're not doing your job, what good will it do? So, of course, as you know, factories have been looted all over Tigray. The big factories who were providing jobs, they no longer there. This was purposefully done. They have looted and destroyed everything. And on the top of it, women been raped and this is what's been happening. So that's the reason that the workers, they had to go look for their loved one, so I'm not quite even sure if all of them are alive, or you know, how they're doing in fact, at this point. So it's really, really troubling.
Sure. You were awarded the 2019 Hero of the Year Award by CNN. Has that brought awareness to the plight of women? Did that advance your cause?
It was such a hopeful moment. The fact that you have invited me to talk to you today, in 2021 is the testament the effect that award has had. We're still talking about menstruation and the needs of women in the developing world. So by any measure, this is a great thing. So we are talking about it, then we use it to inform our planning and decision making around intervention services that we offer in the developing world. So yes, the award has been wonderful, but my whole hope is shattered.
Okay, I know that you're a friend of Torey Elwell. Tory is a volunteer for Sew Powerful. Shall we end the podcast here by you saying hello to Torey just so that she'll get her name here in the podcast?
Well, Torey, I can't believe it's been almost six years since we started conversing. And of course meeting you was a great pleasure. And I can't believe how much difference you're making going across the continent and helping out girls. And you certainly exemplified the humanity way of doing things, you know. And that's the reason we are all involved in this noble causes to help out women and children in need. And I seriously think that Torey exemplifies humanity. So I truly, truly appreciate her friendship and the difference that she's making in Ethiopia.
Well, very, very well said, Freweini. Thank you so much for your time. And you, and all of Ethiopia, especially the Tigray region, will be in our prayers and we will look for Health Professionals for Tigray as a way that we here in the West might be able to make a difference to help those in need in Ethiopia. So thank you.
Thank you. Bye-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, is 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.
Meet Doryce Fitzgerald of the Santa Clarita Valley Quilt Guild
Doryce Fitzgerald had never heard of Sew Powerful until her favorite quilt shop newsletter featured Sew Powerful earlier this year. When she read the article, the light bulb went off and soon Doryce and friends were off and running. In less than six months, the Santa Clarita Valley Quilt Guild's 81 members, with a little help from their friends, churned out 126 purses. Making it a true family affair, Doryce's daughter and son in law made a very generous donation to cover the cost of labor and materials for all those purses. Purse makers and members of quilt guilds everywhere will enjoy hearing how Doryce sponsored and supported Sew Powerful to get this project off the ground for 2021. Spoiler alert: We are on their books for 2022 also.
Santa Clarita Valley Quilt Guild, Turtle Camp, Veterans Hospital, guide dogs, Habitat for Humanity, purse kits, note cards, financial donations, purses, quilters, Sew Powerful
Host: Jan Cancila
Guest: Doryce Fitzgerald
Santa Clarita Valley Quilt Guild, https://scvquiltguild.org/
Paul Newman’s Turtle Camp, https://www.thepaintedturtle.org/
Veteran’s Hospital of Los Angeles, https://www.losangeles.va.gov/
Guide Dogs of America, https://www.guidedogsofamerica.org/
Habitat for Humanity, https://www.habitatla.org/
Quilty Pleasures Quilt Shop, Simi Valley, CA, https://www.quiltypleasuressimivalley.com/
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.
Hello, Sew Powerful Podcast listeners. Today we're speaking with Doryce Fitzgerald and Doryce came to our attention because she is a member of a quilt guild that sent in an astronomical number of purses, and they were presented at the August Go-Live. So, we're going to learn a little bit about Doryce and how she was able to influence her quilt guild to make all these purses and what the quilt guild is all about. So let's get started. Hello, Doryce. How are you today?
Doryce Fitzgerald, Guest 00:52
I'm very well, thank you.
And where are we talking to you from? Where are you?
I'm in Santa Clarita, California. And it's a little bit north of LA. It's in LA.
Okay. All right. Very good. And how is your weather there today?
It's windy today, though. Not too hot. So, we'll see.
Yeah, very nice. Very nice. Tell me a little bit about your profession. Are you retired now?
Yes. I'm a retired teacher. I've been retired for five years.
And what did you teach?
I tried elementary school, mostly second and third grade.
Oh, wow. That sounds like a really fun age where they're still attentive and eager to go to school and haven't gotten cynical yet. Or am I wrong?
I like them.
And, what are some of your hobbies? I presume you're a quilter. Is that right?
That's correct. I'm a quilter. And I'd like to do a lot of reading and jigsaw puzzles and do some hiking and walking.
Okay. And so earlier this year, you became aware of Sew Powerful, right?
You didn't know about it before this year?
I did not.
So how did that all come about?
One of the newsletters I get is from a quilt store in Simi Valley called Quilty Pleasures.
Oh, and stop you because that is like the most clever name ever. Quilty Pleasures, okay.
And they send out their newsletter on Sundays. And in their newsletter, they highlighted Sew Powerful. At the time when I read it, I thought that they were collecting purses, but they were just getting the information out to people.
Okay, and so you read about Sew Powerful in the newsletter, and then you and a friend were talking about it right?
That's correct. I walked with a friend who's also a quilter, who at the time wasn't a member, the guild has joined since then. And the two of us had just read Melinda Gates book called "Moment of Lift". And she does a lot of work with with girls in Africa. And she said, oh, did you read about Sew Powerful? She said that'd be a very Melinda Gates thing to do. We should do that.
And you said?
I said, well, let's try it out first because the when you look at the directions, there's a lot of directions to make the purse because they're so in depth, which is great. And so, I tried one out made one and said yeah, we could do this. Let's let's go ahead and get started. So, she and I got together and made a couple of purses. And she said, well, you should take this to the guild or to one of your mini groups.
And and so did you take the beginner purse, the one with the plain flap or the one with a pocket on the flap?
We made the beginning purse.
Okay. Yeah, you know, and that one came up after the intermediate purse. And so many of us switched over to that one because we like that real estate on the front to do lots of fun things with. Okay, so you and your friend made two purchases. What did you decide to do with those two purses?
Well, we just held on to it to start with. And I found out that the treasurer of our guild, Penny Lawrence, had also sent that article into the board. And so, when I started to talk to to different people about it they already had some background, and it seems like two people seems to be the catalyst to get things going.
Sure, absolutely. And why don't we give a shout out to your quilt guild? What is its name? Say it so that people can look it up.
It's the Santa Clarita Valley Quilt Guild. And we do have a webpage and the webpage shows, there's pictures, there's pictures of our opportunity quilts. There's a list of all the community service and things that we donate to. There's a block of the month; there's information about joining. There's pictures; there's some informational videos, improving your quilting skills.
How cool is that? Now you mentioned other projects that your guild has done. So besides Sew Powerful, can you tell us some of the other things that you've done? Who else has benefited from your work?
So we work with Turtle Camp. Turtle Camp, it, there's one in Lake Elizabeth out here and it's part of the Paul Newman group of camps for kids with illnesses and each child who comes to camp, takes home a quilt. And they have parent weekends, and their siblings get quilts so we're one of the quilt guilds that donate to that. We also do pillowcases for them. We do the Veterans Hospital of Los Angeles; we make pillow we make bed quilts and wheelchair quilts for them. We work with the Senior Center in Santa Clarita Valley, the Pregnancy Center, Guide Dogs of America. Habitat for Humanity did homes in Santa Clarita for veterans, and we make quilts and every time a veteran got a home they'd have to pick out a quilt for their home. We provide quilts for the sheriff's department, quilts and pillows for children that are picked up from domestic abuse.
Wow, well Sew Powerful was so honored to be included among that very impressive group of recipients. That is just amazing. You all must have to just worked your fingers to the bone fulltime to make all these quilts. So how long has the Santa Clarita Valley Quilt Guild been in existence? When did it start?
It started in 1990. In March of 1990 was when it was established. It was established with just six members. And at one point it was over 100. And now we're at about 81.
Wow, well, that's a big size. And do you meet in person or virtually or...?
When there's not a pandemic, we meet once a month, we meet on the second Thursday of the month. And some months we have a speaker, usually followed by a class so the speaker speaks on Thursday night, and then there's a class with that speaker on Saturday. Sometimes we do community service. Sometimes we have some game nights and, and things like that.
Wow. Well that's that sounds really, really fun. How long have you been a member, Doryce?
I've been a member since 2017. So, four years.
And how did you get involved?
Well, I've been a sewer and I like to quilt and once I retired it was something that I want to get involved with. And it's a great group. There's quilters out there they know i think that all quilters are a great group of people but it's a great group of people to be with and, and a good way to spend your time.
Well, I might be throwing you for a ringer here but if I look over your left shoulder, I think I see some award ribbons back there. Are those for your quilts?
Those ribbons were from a quilt show we had three years ago, and I won People's Choice.
Yeah, and Chairperson's Choice.
Oh good. Oh, very nice. Well, congratulations. I think sort of observed that and at first, I thought that little white doodad thing was maybe a little flower and then I look closer, and I realized it was a ribbon. So, you've been sewing for a while. When did you learn to sew?
I learned to sew in junior high when they still made you do that.
Then in seventh grade, you had to take a semester of cooking and a semester of sewing. You took sewing first; you made a gingham bib apron. And then you got a choice of making a jumper or a skirt. And I think I finished those projects pretty early and then I made another skirt from a pattern that I liked better, and I took off from there.
I think everybody's mom has one of those gingham aprons. You are in very good company [with] people who make Sew Powerful purses, I have to say.
Okay, what we're going to do is take a quick break and listeners, when we come back, we're going to hear what the Santa Clarita Valley Quilt Guild thought about the two purses that Doryce made and what happened after that. So please stay tuned.
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 have been speaking with Doryce, and she's coming to us from California where her quilt guild sent in an astonishing number of purses earlier this year and the box was held up at our August Go-Live. And we've been learning about the history of the guild and how Doryce found out about Sew Powerful to begin with. So Doryce, you and your friend made two purses; the board had heard about Sew Powerful through the newsletter from, and I just love saying this, The Quilty Pleasures Quilt Shop, and somebody made a decision that this was a good project for you all to participate in. What was that process like?
Well I showed it to a couple of board members and told them that I was interested and thought that we should do it and they really wanted to do it. And one of the board members, Carol Carter, said we really want this to be free to our our members. So, when we have a speaker come, we pay that speaker when she that speaker does a class, that class costs also. So, I want it to be at no cost. So, no cost for the class and I want to put together kits so that everybody has all the materials that they need. So my mini group, Monday Mavens, got together found we always have fabric that's been donated. One of our quilt maven members who wasn't going to be able to be there, she was absent, said I have a gift card from Joanne's that I haven't used. I'm going to go get the interfacing. So, she did that. One of our local stores, Rye Canyon Supply, offered to sell us the webbing for the straps, at their cost. So we started gathering supplies; different people volunteered to wash the fabric. And we got together on one morning and cut half yard of fabric and half yard of lining and put together kits.
Wow. Okay, so how many kits did you make? Do you recall?
Well, we made 30 kits and I thought oh, well, if we get 30 people, I'll be so excited. We're never going to get 30 people but that'll be great. And we put it out what day to pick up your kits. And the day to start was on a Monday and by Sunday, every kit was gone. We've done 30 kits; they were all gone.
So I was like oh my goodness, we need to make more kits. What are we going to do? So, Kris, who leads our Monday Maven group, she had some more fabric, and we had some leftover webbing, so she started making kits. And I went through my my stash and started pulling out fabric to make kits and I ordered a bolt of the interfacing, and I ordered another 50 yards of webbing and Shani, she made 20 kits and I made another maybe 30 kits, something like that. And most of them were picked up. And the ones that weren't, I harassed people. I said, oh, don't you want another one? We have another one. I only have this many kits left. And people took them. And then because we did a half yard and a half yard so people could decide what was the outside and what was the inside. Here's extra fabric and people went to their stash and added to that and made more purses. So, one kit, sometimes made more than one purse.
Well, that is so cool. And now did you conduct a class for how to make the purse?
Yeah, that's what happens when you volunteer. You say we should do this. And they say, well, you teach the class. So, they had me teach a class on Zoom. And being a former teacher, I'm like, oh my goodness, I'm not just doing this. So, I practiced once with my with my original friend Laura. And then I made other people sign up to practice on Zoom with me on three other occasions so that I could go through my directions and make sure everything was as clear as I could make it. And another guild member Melissa, who's very techie came over to show me how to set the phone up as a camera. And then the iPad is the speaker so that everyone could see what we could do that. I don't know we had more than 20 people signed up for the class.
Oh, wow. Well, that's fantastic. Okay, so I was sort of doing the math. It sounds like you distributed 80 kits there to begin with and then people were adding to what you had done. So, I guess this is the spoiler alert and they held up their box, you could see it written on the outside. It said 126 purses.
So that's a lot so obviously some people made more than one, correct?
Some people made more than one; some people went into their own stash. A friend who's not a member of the Guild, but is another retired teacher made a bunch of them. And I was surprised after the fact that Laura, my original friend and I who I've talked to one of the aides at her school made 18 purses. She says I have lots of fabric I and she turned it another 18. At one point we were at 99 which was like oh my goodness, we're one short of 100 and we have to do 100 but we got over 100.
Yes. You sure did. And did you fit all those in one box?
I put it in one great big box. Not in...
Not in flat rate boxes.
Sure. Yeah, yeah, that would be a lot in one flat rate box. But yeah, I remember Jason talking about how heavy that box was. That was very cool. So I have to say 126 purses changes the lives of 126 girls in Zambia. And they get to go to school; they get to provide for their families who then have an opportunity for education and jobs. I mean, the trickle effect of 126 purses is just outstanding in one community. I mean, you could totally transform one, one whole community with that. So, thank you.
Could I do a shout out?
It's just. So, in addition to everybody who sewed, I also talked to other people about it. So I go to a Wednesday sewing group and some of the ladies there made purses also. Some people said I don't sew; can I give you a donation? And so, I had a few $20 bills handed to me, and that helped to pay for postage. And one group wrote a whole bunch of extra cards. So, we had cards in all the purses, but we also sent an extra 40 cards.
Oh, that is great.
And then the other shout out is to my daughter and her husband, who do a monthly donation, charity donation. And she said, oh, we'll take care of the $5 to cover the donation that's asked for but not necessary for all the purses. And she said, we're just going to do 100 purses and I said, oh, we'll never get 100 purses, but that's so generous of you. And she did the original donation for 100 purses and send it in online and told Sew Powerful that it was to cover the Santa Clarita Valley Guild purses, and that is was a donation. And when we went over 100 purses a couple months later, she sent in for the extra purses.
Oh, that is so nice. What is your daughter's name, if you don't mind?
Well, Rachel and Michael Zonshine. Yeah.
Oh, very nice. Okay. All right. That's fantastic. And, you know, the $5 covers the cost of materials and labor in Zambia, so that the purses can be filled. So that's so fantastic that your family was so involved in the entire process. There are you know, there's a lot of pieces to this puzzle and it's just amazing to see how you picked up that gauntlet and led the charge to make this happen. So, we're just really, really appreciative of that. Now, the people in your guild, do you think any of those as individuals will continue making purses on their own?
I don't know if they'll do it on their own. But I am on the schedule for next year for July, to be a speaker, to speak about Sew Powerful, and then to conduct the class again. So, we'll be making another 100 kits. People are already saying, oh, we got this donation, this fabric would be good for this. And I'm already looking for the supplies that we need to buy to see what I can do that won't cost too much money, and I should have 100 kids for next year. And so we're hoping to have at least 100 purses next year too.
That is amazing. Doryce, this whole story is so inspirational. We really appreciate it. And I want you to know, when you're getting ready to put your training together, contact me because we have lots of little, short video clips. We have one though that's seven minutes and it's of the girls receiving their purses. I don't know if you've seen it, but if there's a way to incorporate that in, there's not one person who's ever watched it that didn't need a tissue by the by the end. It's so emotional, but it's so inspirational. It really explains why we do what we do and how much they appreciate the efforts of our volunteer purse makers. So that is fantastic. So next July, you're going to do it again. So sometime in early fall of 2022, which sounds like a long ways away, but it'll be here before we know it.
Well, thank you. It was it was a pleasure and, and it was a great project for us. And I hope to do it yearly.
There should be looking for another big box from the Santa Clarita Valley Quilt Guild. Doryce, thank you so very much for your time. It was a pleasure to talk to you and hear the story of how this big box of purses came to be and what the little history was there and how you brought that all together. And I just want you to know that for you personally and for your friends and your daughter and all the members of the Santa Clarita Valley Quilt Guild, we're so appreciative of everything you've done for Sew Powerful.
Well, and if you are a listener and a member of a quilt guild be inspired by what Doryce did and bring the information forward to the Board of your guild, and maybe we'll see if you send in a box over 100 purses next year too. So anyway, okay, well, thank you so much. Have a very nice day.
Thank you very much.
All righty. Bye-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, is 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.
Meet a Star Wars Costume Maker with a Surprising Connection to Sew Powerful with Katherine Winchell
Meet a Star War aficionado who serves on the global leadership council of the non-profit Rebel Legion Star Wars Costuming Group. Katherine Winchell's hobby is costume making, all things Star Wars, and she is one of the principal organizers of the October 16, 2021, Rebel Reads webathon. Sew Powerful will benefit from the sale of special enamel pins offered during the event. In addition, Katherine has challenged each national and international Rebel Legion outpost to submit a video showing their Sew Powerful purse making progress, stirring up a little intergalactic rivalry. Please listen to the end because Katherine reveals her very surprising day job and it is literally out of this world. Literally.
Star Wars, Lucasfilms, Rebel Legion Star Wars Costuming group, Rebel Reads, Make a Wish, Save the Children, enamel pins, lightsaber on airplanes, costuming, Jedi, Mara Jade, Mandalorians, Mars Curiosity, Mars Perseverance, geology, NASA, purse making, Sew Powerful
Host: Jan Cancila
Guests: Katherine Winchell
Rebel Legion Star Wars Costuming group, https://www.facebook.com/therebellegion
Star Wars Rebels, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt2930604/
Mars Exploration Program, Curiosity Rover camera, https://mars.nasa.gov/msl/spacecraft/rover/cameras/
Mars Exploration Program, Perseverance, https://www.kqed.org/science/1976908/perseverance-pays-off-first-successful-rock-collection-from-mars-complete
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.
Hello, Sew Powerful podcast listeners. I have a treat for you. Our guest today is Katherine Winchell and Katherine happens to be the daughter of Julie Winchell and Julie is a Sew Powerful chapter leader of our chapter named Sew Sisters of Northwest Washington based in Washington State. And Katherine is on the Global Leadership Council of the Rebel Legion Star Wars Costuming group. Now, you may think that I've gone really far afield to be talking to someone about Star Wars Costuming on a Sew Powerful podcast, but let me assure you that is not the case. And please listen, because Katherine is going to tell us the most astounding thing as we get near the end of this interview. So welcome, Katherine, how are you today?
Katherine Winchell, Guest 01:14
I'm great. Thanks for having me.
Oh, we're excited that you're here. We invited you because on October 16, the organization where you are a volunteer is having an event and tell us the name of that event and explain a little bit about what it is.
Yeah, so our event is called Rebel Reads. And it is focused around the books and comics of the Star Wars universe. Every year, there is an event that Lucasfilm puts on called Star Wars Reads. And typically that involves us doing a lot of events with schools and libraries. But last year due to the pandemic, we weren't doing that. And a lot of our members love those events, love the books, love the comics, so we started doing a webathon to celebrate those and encourage literacy, which is what the Star Wars Reads event is about is about and also raise money for an education-based charity.
Wow, that's, that's amazing. And so the event takes place on Saturday, October 16. And it lasts how long?
10 to 12 hours.
10 to 12 hours. And so, what what does the day consist of? What would it look like?
Yeah, so we have a lot of interviews with authors, artists, editors, audio book narrators who have worked on Star Wars books and comics. We also have videos that our members submit talking about their like their favorite books or comics. And one thing that we are doing this year is we are encouraging our members, there are a lot of people who sew to make these costumes, so we are encouraging people to sew purses for Sew Powerful and we're gonna have some people showing off their purses.
Alright, we're gonna we're gonna get to the details there. So listeners now now you know the connection between Sew Powerful, and the Rebel Legions of Star Wars Costuming group. Every year when you do these events, you pick a nonprofit to support and tell us who you've chosen this year.
Yeah, so it's only our second year doing it. But this year, we are doing just a straight fundraiser for Save the Children which works globally, helps educate kids around the world. And then something that's been more special is we are doing a competition between our members. Like you guys have local chapters we call our local groups, bases and outposts and we can get very competitive with each other and so it is a competition to see which base or outposts can make the most purses. And then we'll also be doing a fundraiser for Sew Powerful. We're making an enamel pin with Padme on it that we will be selling to raise money as well.
And the pins are available to the general public or to members?
Yeah, we are still working on that. Everything that we do, like all of this is the intellectual property of Lucasfilm so we have to ask their permission when we are selling to the general public. We've turned that paperwork in. We're still waiting to hear back but chances are that it will be available to the general public. It's it's kind of a formality to get their sign off on it.
I never thought I'd hear Sew Powerful and Lucasfilms in the same sentence together. That's really exciting and I know our listeners would really really like to have one of the enamel pins and then the pins are part of the fundraiser, is that correct?
Yes, the pins will be raising money for Sew Powerful.
Oh well, even better. There's gonna be a high demand for them. I will tell you that right now. Well, let's back up a little bit. Katherine, how did you get involved with Rebel Legion to begin with?
Yeah, well, I have been a Star Wars fan since roughly Middle School. I enjoyed the movies before but it's really the books that got me like deep dive into it and middle school is when I discovered them. And being a rabid fan girl, you know, looking for community, you know, there's online community, but it's better in person. And my second cousin actually is part of one of our sister organizations, 501st. 501st is all the bad guys; Rebel Legion is all the good guys. Yeah, so she told me about it about her 501st experience, and I went over to somebody's house and got a pattern for a Jedi from them. And we've really just been going ever since. You have to be 18 to join the club just for you know, various legal things. So I submitted my application a couple months after my 18th birthday, with a generic Jedi costume. And I have not looked back since then. It is really definitely like my main hobby. And I love sewing. I love doing what we do. And like you said at the beginning, I'm now on the Global Council. So.
Well, wow. And so, when members make these costumes, where do they wear them? What happens with the costumes?
Yeah, so we will do any charity or community event.
So anything from trips, hospital. It is so amazing, when we get called in to help with a Make a Wish event. Those are the best. But we also do any kind of like school event or library event, where having some people in Star Wars costumes would be beneficial. There are a lot of like, very individual focused organizations for kids with various cancers and other debilitating issues. And they often invite us to come to their annual summer picnic hanging out with the kids take pictures, and conventions. We love to do huge display with large pieces that our members have built so people can come in and like take pictures with us in our costumes with this ambience of a huge prop piece. And we raise money for a local charity when we're doing that. So wide variety of stuff, basically anything that's charity related, that could benefit from people in Star Wars costumes. We're glad to show up for it.
That's amazing. So what kind of costumes do you have?
Yeah, um, so the first one that I made is a generic Jedi. And this one is more obscure, but there's a cartoon called Rebels and I made the Twi'lek Hera Syndulla. That was fun. The kids were like that one because the cartoon is a bit more kid targeted. She's an alien. So, there's all green makeup, and I built her headpiece like the alien tentacle-like things that are coming off of her head. I made that out of neoprene and a metal dryer vents.
Yes. So, if that one and then we did a group build of X-wing pilots. There was 28 of us in our local base that started this venture and 25 people finished, so that was a party. Oh my gosh, I'm trying to convince my mom that she should have her Sew Powerful chapter do the same group build method because we spent most of the time serging 28 pilot costumes. You know, other people did other pieces of it, but it really assembly lined it. For our costumes it's awesome. Because shortly after that I moved out of the state, I got to bring this costume with me that had been worked on by 28 people within my former base. So it was kind of like bringing a piece of them with me. Yeah, so that and then also my favorite costume right now, which is again, a more obscure one, Mara Jade, who is from the Star Wars books.
Okay. And because I'm not as involved in Star Wars as you, who are the authors of these books? I mean, are they analyzing the film or coming up with backstories? Or what?
Yeah, totally new stories.
Yeah, what's really fantastic about Star Wars universe, everybody always talks about in their original movie, where they walk into that Cantina, and it's just full of aliens, and you know, all these different people. What the beauty of Star Wars to me really is, is that it is such a vast galaxy that you can explore in. And that's why the books really appealed to me as a middle school or high school. And even now, that since all these stories are interconnected, to some degree. I've always been like a voracious reader. And there's hundreds of these books and if you read 100 books, everything is interwoven to some degree so it's more benefit to like reading more of them. There's no other series can read 100 books and everything builds on itself.
So yeah, it's it's all new stories, new characters, as well as you know, familiar faces. It's like the timeline of it spans between 1000s of years before the movies to hundreds of years after the movies, so, yeah.
Okay. And our listeners can't see but I can see over your shoulder. There's a lot of Star Wars paraphernalia behind you. Tell us about your collection.
Yeah, well these are mostly my Star Wars books. This is the like setup that I've had while I've been doing the interviews for Rebel Reads. But yeah, I've got some action figures. My favorite piece that I'll just pull off the shelf here this is my lightsaber for my Mara Jade costume. And a friend of mine made this for me. He's actually in Washington as well. He is an elementary school science teacher and, on the side, for funsies he builds lightsabers. And when he built a significant amount of them his wife said if you're going to continue to build these lightsabers you need to sell them to other people. But yeah, they're basically just like a giant flashlight. There's an LED in the top, batteries in the back. You are allowed to take them on airplanes; there's a special like webpage TSA has about how you can fly with lightsaber. I have it like pulled up on my phone whenever I'm taking one through security because airport security looks at this and they're like, Bomb? So yes, I have to, you know be like no, no see, it's just a big flashlight. But yeah, I love it. The creative process of this is fantastic. And like this, you know, Mara Jade is a book character. So this whole Sabre design comes off of just pictures from book covers and comics and descriptions in the text.
Wow. That's that's amazing. And to think that there's a page on the TSA rules and regulations for that.
Well, Katherine. Why don't we take a quick break. And when we come back, I want to explore a little bit more about your connection to Sew Powerful and how Sew Powerful was selected to benefit from this year's Rebel Reads event. And then we'll get a little bit more into your career when you're not doing Star Wars things. So listeners please stay tuned. We'll be back in one minute.
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 have been speaking with Katherine Winchell, who is on the Global Leadership Council of the Rebel Legion Star Wars Costuming group. And she has been talking to us about her background in costuming, but specifically with Star Wars and how she became involved with this group. There's an event on October 16th and Sew Powerful is one of the beneficiaries there. On October 16th the format is you're going to be interviewing book authors and people who have an opinion about all of these things.
In between all of that, what will our Sew Powerful fans see?
Yes. So, we've encouraged all of our members to send in various types of video submissions that the theme of Star Wars books in education and since our challenge to our members for this event that goes through the end of the calendar year is to sew purses because we make all these costumes. And a lot of the material from these costumes actually would be from, what my mom has said about them is great for purses, because those bright orange X-wing flight suits that are a nice like twill, canvas material. We've got scraps of that. So, we will be seeing members showing off some purses that they've made and they will be continuing to make them for our competition through the end of the year. And hopefully after that. We have to you know, put the end of the competition at some point so
Well and I read the letter that you wrote that you sent to all the bases and outposts and I have to say it was so well written. And I really liked how you ended it that this was a situation that demanded dignity and respect. And it really tugged at my heartstrings the way you did that. Now you have people around the world who might be making these purses, right?
Yes, absolutely. In fact, the person that I know is making the most so far is in Australia.
Oh my gosh. Well, and so as you know when you put this in your letter, you put a link to the different shipping addresses. And I probably need to alert Pat Grafton in Australia to be on the lookout for some purses coming her way soon. So that's fantastic. Now, how did you first hear about Sew Powerful to begin with Katherine?
Yeah.Well, my mom got involved with your organization. And you know, we talk on the phone every day, and I really support it. Global Education is something that I care about, especially equality for women and girls. And I cannot fathom not having proper menstrual products. I'm a geologist by trade and doing field work to be TMI, like, it's really awful doing field work on your period, even with good quality products. So I can't imagine like being in Africa and, you know, having just rags to work with so it's something that really is important to me. And so my mom got started with it. I kind of thought about making purses as well myself. But at that point, I was churning out masks to give out to people instead. So but now now we're moving on to, to purses and something that I can sew when I'm not sewing costumes.
Well, you mentioned you're a geologist. How have you applied your educational background to your career? What do you do for a job?
Yes, so I am actually a Mars geologist.
Wait a minute. Backup. Mars? Like the planet Mars?
Yes, the planet Mars.
Okay, keep going.
Yes. So, I operate scientific cameras on the Curiosity and Perseverance Mars rovers. We work with an international science team. Every day we log on, you look at where the rover’s new location is from navigational cameras that just take like a big 360 degree panorama for us. And scientists are like, ooh, I want a close up of that rock. And one of the cameras that I work on is on the arm of the rover. So we can take that camera and get right up in that rock's face and you can see the individual grains within sandstone on Mars. So I love it, it is the best job ever.
And I have to say, of all the people I've interviewed, I'd have to say this is the most out of the world job anybody has ever had. Have you found something surprising on Mars that you could tell us about?
Yeah, I mean, well, nothing, nothing is secret, honestly. Like.
We have to publish all of our stuff within 24 hours since NASA is a public organization. I mean, every day on Mars is a gift. That's something that a one of the project heads said at one point, which totally resonates with me, because it is such a complicated endeavor to be keeping these rovers functioning. You know, they're roughly the size of a car. And they have, you know, very complicated computers within them. And we're running them for 10 years, hopefully more than that, without any ability to service them. So, the only thing we can give them a software updates. So honestly, the most amazing thing on Mars to me is the fact that we can keep these rovers live. So, Perseverance right now is exploring a river delta, which I love. Mars at one point had as much water as Earth, which is crazy, because Mars is so much smaller than Earth. And there was water for a long enough time for this river delta to form, which takes a very long time. So, we are driving our way up this delta. And we are picking up samples of wonderful sandstone cores that will tell us about how the delta changed over time, because it's, it's a snapshot of what was going on environmentally for Mars, and we will eventually be bringing those samples back to Earth.
Now, if you had a chance to travel to Mars, would you do that?
I don't know. Honestly. NASA is amazing. Everybody does amazing work. But we are underfunded. And with that underfunding, it would be scary for me to get on a spaceship and go to Mars because we don't have money to do it right.
Well, we're very glad you're here. So, you just stay here and we'll go from there. There are a couple more points that I do want to talk about. Rebel Legion has quite the extensive videos in their channel on YouTube. What is the nature of those videos? What what can we see if we go over there?
Yeah, well, this is going to be our fourth webathon. We started doing them with the pandemic because our usual conventions were not available to us to raise money for. You can see past videos, interviews with actors and writers, people who worked on the costumes and because we have such like a wonderful relationship with Lucasfilm and that you know, in turn, we do have a great relationship with a lot of people who are actors and whatnot. So, there are some really fantastic interviews there. People from the Mandalorian, the original trilogy, people trilogy, all that. There's also videos about there's some tutorials and videos about what we do. Yeah, just everything about our organization, honestly.
Really? Wow, it sounds like a complete library. And then besides the You Tube channel; you have a Facebook group.
You know something on Instagram, a Twitter feed, too. So yeah, you all are all over social media.
So yes, we are.
Is there anything that you want to add about this event and how the general public might be able to support you? Or is this for internal people only?
No, this is absolutely for the public. We will be broadcasting it starting at 9am. Pacific time, on October 16. It will be streamed simultaneously to our Facebook page, our YouTube, and then we think we're also going to use Twitch for the first time as well. That one is not totally solidified yet. But yeah, we think we'll be streaming those three places. You can search the Rebel Legion on Facebook and YouTube right now and give us a follow so that you will be notified when that kicks off.
Well, that sounds like fun. Well, Katherine, thank you so very much for your time. And I know our listeners will be anxious to participate in the webathon on October 16. And if we're allowed, I know that everyone is going to want one of these enamel pins. So, you can tell George Lucas that we really want those pins. So.
Well, and thank you so much, and you keep a good watch on the planet Mars for all the rest of us, and hopefully we'll talk again soon.
Yes, absolutely. Thanks so much for having me.
Okay, thank you. Bye 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.
Meet Baby Lock Ambassador, Russell Conte
Meet the proprietor of SewpBox Productions based in West Hollywood, California. Russell Conte owned a retail sewing shop until he discovered his true passion: teaching others to sew. His portfolio includes fashion sewing, leather goods, shoe making and more. Russell is a university instructor in advanced sewing techniques and also serves as a Baby Lock ambassador. His video sewing lessons are very short and tackle just one targeted subject in a hyper focused approached.
Baby Lock, sewing instruction, pattern making, leather works, shoe making, boot making, tailoring for men, SewpBox Productions, Hollywood, Sew Powerful, purse making, Hermes bags
Host: Jan Cancila
Guest: Russell Conte
Jan Cancila, Host 00:04
Today you are going to meet a very dapper gentleman who is the proprietor of SewpBox Productions based in West Hollywood, California. Russell Conte owned a retail sewing shop until he discovered his true passion, teaching others to sew. His portfolio includes fashion sewing, leather goods, shoe making and more. Get ready to take some notes because even for we experienced sewers, we're about to learn something new. Welcome, Russell Conte.
Russell Conte, Guest 00:56
Well, thank you, Jan. Pleasure.
How are you today?
I'm really well.
So I'm talking to you from West Hollywood, California.
Indeed, actually, that's my mailing address. But I'm in Hollywood proper.
Oh, even better, even better. And how is the weather in Hollywood today?
Oh, it's beautiful.
Yeah, I can see that. Sunny skies in California.
You own a business called SewpBox Productions. Tell us about the name.
Well, SewpBox. It's just a play on the word soapbox. You know, I'm very passionate about sewing. It's the one thing that has carried me through my entire adult life. And anytime I can get on my soapbox or talk about it and extol its virtues I will do so.
Now before you had this business, and we'll talk about it in more detail here in a moment you owned a retail sewing businesses. Is that correct?
Exactly. I bought a business back in 2000 that had been in existence since 1955, in Santa Monica, California, and it was a little mom and pop sewing machine shop. They did sewing machine sales and repairs. And I purchased it in April Fool's Day of 2000.
Yeah, the jury's still out. No, actually, it was quite fun, you know, kind of redeveloped it and reinvented it a little bit and ended up doing a large educational component to what we did. So we sold fabrics, we sold notions, we did a lot of machine sales and repairs. And then we started adding education into it. And we had a really large educational component to what we did. So when I ended up selling the business back in June of 2017, at that point, we had over 150 sessions of classes, every trimester, we had more than 1000 students coming through the shop every year. And I had learned over that breadth of time because people when I first bought the shop, they kept saying, Oh, please teach sewing and I'm like, I'd rather you know, take you to lunch, I'd rather do anything else in the world than teach somebody how to do something. And then I realized that was actually the thing that I really enjoyed. And so it became a really large component. And then it became the launch board for me to sell my business. So at this point, I'm on faculty at a local college and I teach fashion and tailoring and shoe making another works all kinds of stuff.
Wow, that is that is really interesting. Now, what is your affiliation with Baby Lock?
When I owned my business, we carried their sewing machines. And then I realized when I sold my business that I didn't have a sewing machine at home anymore. I was like, I'm gonna have to get a sewing machine.
This is like a car dealer, who drives all the new models and then doesn't have a dealership any longer.
Yeah, exactly. I was like, oh my gosh. So, you know, we carried several different brands. And I had always worked really well with Baby Lock. Baby Lock, it was a company that I really enjoyed, because, you know, they didn't sell boxes. They sold a lifestyle. They were really passionate about sewing and anytime that if we ever had an issue with a sewing machine, we never had an issue because we called Baby Lock, and they would tag it. Next day, we'd have a new machine, there would never be an issue. So, it was always quality and customer first. And I always felt like I was dealing with family. It was really fun to do business with them. And so, when I sold the business, I was like, Okay, well, I'm gonna need a sewing machine. So, what do I want? And then I thought, well, I'm also going to want to kind of put my allegiance with somebody as well. And so, they invited me to become a Baby Lock ambassador. And that's how that kind of developed.
Okay, and what does it mean that you're an ambassador?
Yeah, it's such an odd word, isn't it? Because they also use the term influencer.
Right. You were the ambassador and not the influencer. So, I want to know the difference.
Actually, I don't think there's much of a difference. It was just simply that term influencer's around. And I think the intent is the same. It just the word influencer, always just as one of the things to me like going, I'm going to influence you into buying something. I really appreciate the word Ambassador more. But what it simply means is that, you know, I go out and when I talk about things, I just talk about my experience with Baby Lock. And I provide patterns for them. I do different tutorials for them and that kind of stuff online, and I just support their means for bringing a product to market.
Nice, very nice. Okay, let's go back in history.
How did you learn to sew to begin with and what was your motivation to do that?
Well, I majored in dance at a biomed school, and that was my passion. I wanted to be a dancer and then shortly thereafter, I realized that I didn't always like the costumes. And I'm always kind of those people that I think I can always do it better even if I can't, I will try to. And so, I bought my first sewing machine at Sears. So, I just started modifying my costumes. And then that kind of led into me making costumes for other people. And that led me some years later into walking into the store to buy a sewing machine. And then I ended up buying the shop. So that's the really condensed Reader's Digest.
Wow, wow. Wow, wow. Well, you know, my granddaughter is on her school dance team. And they have these very sparkly sequin encrusted outfits, but they weren't lined. So, I mean, it was it was just so scratchy. And so, I put a lining in her costume. Well, pretty soon, I was putting linings in lots of costumes. So, word gets out when you can work on costumes, apparently.
Exactly. It's kind of like owning a truck. Can you help me move?
That's the strangest analogy to sewing I've ever heard, Russell, but okay, I'll take it. I'll take it.
I think of it very much. Because as soon as people say, you can sew, can you do this? I'm like, yeah...
Yeah? You've been sewing for a while. So, are you self-taught? Or did you take lessons?
As I've aged, I've kind of smartened up. And I realized that I could probably learn from somebody else's mistakes instead of making my own. But I'm the kind of person who kind of likes to drive into the wall myself about 90 times and figure it out on my own. And so I'm completely self-taught, because I wasn't raised in this fashion that you look for a tutor. If there was something you wanted to do, you just bought a book and you figured it out. So that's how my upbringing was. So, it never occurred to me that I actually could pay somebody to teach me to do something. And so that was a challenge for me, when people kept asking me to teach them to sew, I'm like, well just go buy a book. You know, it didn't occur to me that you, you know, you could actually do this as a lifestyle choice.
Mm hmm. Okay, and so right now, you're an instructor at the university. Is that correct?
Yeah. And work in a place called Los Angeles Trade Technical College. It's a community college in downtown Los Angeles. And I worked there full time, actually on faculty now. I It wasn't my intention, but the universe kind of opened doors all at the right time and this is what occurred. And so yes, I'm there full time. I am the head instructor for the tailoring program. We do men's tailoring there. I'm also teaching shoe making right now. And I'm also teaching, what else am I doing, pattern drafting for men. Whatever they kind of throw at me, I will teach history of costume, all kinds of stuff.
And are the classes in person or online now?
Yeah, we went online like everybody else in the world did and I was really reluctant to do it. I was very concerned that it wasn't going to be successful. However, it turned out to be remarkably successful. And I really ended up enjoying it. However, we are back on campus, not all faculty about 40% at this point are back on campus. And that's including the students as well. So, a lot of people are still doing things remotely. However, I'm teaching my classes hybrid. So, in the classroom, I've got basically a docking station where I can do all my camera and video stuff. And so, students can elect to stay home or they can elect to come to class, or they can do any combination thereof. So that's how I'm teaching right now.
That's interesting. So, talk to me a little bit about shoemaking. Because, well, I don't know maybe when I was a kid, I met somebody who was a cobbler, and they would just sort of repair your shoes. Now you just get a new pair but talk about shoemaking. What led you to want to do this and how difficult is it?
Well, there there's an adage in the shoe world that anybody can make one. But do they match?
I'm one of those kind of people that I like to keep my hands busy. And so, I love to make things with my hands. My first thing out of college was actually jewelry design. And then I don't know why it led into sewing. But that's where my sewing started up as well. So, I just keep the hands busy. As long as my hands are busy, my brain is healthy.
But some years ago, I decided I wanted to take a more advanced leather work training classes. So, I actually took a whole series of like leather work for really high-end leather bags, European leather bags, and I met somebody there who had done shoes. And it was one of the things is like Well, that's kind of cool, but it didn't really appeal to me. But it had always occurred to me that I wanted to make a pair of cowboy boots and I had always been something in the back of my head and I do not know why other than I wanted to do it, and somebody said, Well, I know this person in Albuquerque, New Mexico, that makes cowboy boots and teaches it. Really? And so, she sent me the information. And all of a sudden, I was making a pair of cowboy boots in Albuquerque, New Mexico about 10 years ago. And the bug hit me really hard. I was like, wow, this is a great fun. It's also a lot of work. There's nothing easy about nothing easy about it. And then I thought okay, cool. Once I'd done that, I was like, Okay, well now I want to learn how to make these other shoes. And so, I started making other shoes, and that's kind of how it kind of happened. It's just one of the things I like to do.
And do you teach others to make shoes?
Yeah, indeed at the college we actually have a shoe making course, Fashion Design 207. We start with a pair of sandals, because it's pretty easy. They're going to call to continue strap sandal, teaches people how to start working with leather. And then we actually do a classic Derby men's shoe.
Wow. That's amazing. And so, the students in your classes, what are their aspirations? Why are they signing up for these classes typically?
Well, at the college level, it's a big fashion program. And a lot of the people want to be fashion designers. And we have people all demographics of all ages because that's the nice thing about fashion. It's not age dependent. And I find a lot of people come to the program after they've done other things in their life, and they always want to try it. I think also some people come into the program, because they think fashion is going to be easy. Right, because it's just clothes. And like, yeah, it's just brain surgery. It's all of a sudden, they realize there's math involved. And so, it becomes a bit more challenging. But I think a lot of people have aspirations of being fashion designers. We have also a lot of people who are already in the industry of some sort. And they're developing more skill sets so they can do something else. So they come in for more training. That kind of stuff. I think other people come in because they want to test the waters to see what it's about.
Well, Russell, why don't we take a quick break. And when we come back, I want to delve in a little more about some specific tips that you teach people so that our volunteers who make purses can sort of learn from you on this podcast. So, we're going to get a really great tip for sewers here. So, hang on, and we'll be back in one minute.
Have you've 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 have been speaking with Russell Conte, who is the owner of SewpBox Productions and is also an instructor of fashion design in many different formats. And we are about to learn even more. So, Russell when people are first learning to sew, what would you say is the most common mistake that beginners make?
Common mistake? Wrong needle, wrong thread.
Wrong stitch length. Because you know for the most part people when they first learn how to sew, they think they need rope. So, they use you know, really heavy thread. They think they need a big nail of a needle to go through this fabric. And then they don't know anything about stitch length. So, I think it's just one of those things. I typically tell people use the smallest needle you can get away with us the smallest thread, and small stitch lengths are typically going to get to give you the most optimal results. And I would say the other thing, if I were to say people tend when they first begin and this is not necessarily just predicated upon beginners, many people get very precious about their work. And I mean that in the sense that they get so concerned that they're going to make a mistake. And I'm like, well, you know what, it's sewing. You're gonna make mistakes. I've been sewing for nearly 40 years now. I make mistakes every day. It's just something you live with, and you move on through. And so, I tell people just don't get too concerned, you know, don't get so married to something that it's the last thing you're ever going to do.
Now one of the other courses that you teach is pattern making.
And does that involve a lot of math and three-dimensional thinking? How does that work?
It does. To put it bluntly, I sucked at geometry when I was in school. And so, when I started doing fashion, it never occurred to me that there was math involved. And it wasn't that I was bad at math, I was just really bad at geometry. And I was like all this math, all this geometry. And it kind of hit me sideways. The cool thing about it for me was that I was so passionate about it, I've grown into the point that I can actually do geometry pretty well now. But yes, there is a lot of math, and you have to be able to read a ruler.
Yeah, I owned a linen rental business. And we made our own tablecloths. And when I would hire salespeople, they were astounded that they needed to know the circumference and how to figure that out. They were like well, I thought I was done with that. But no, you have to bring that information back.
No math and fashion, married pretty deeply.
Yeah, they sure are. Some of the techniques you teach in your videos, I like them because they're very short and focused. What is your philosophy there? Why did you do it that way?
There's a place for history, and I can talk ad nauseam about all this stuff. But there's also a place when I'm trying to do a welt pocket, I don't want to know about where my technique was derived from. I simply want to know how to do A to B to C to D. And I also want it done in ways of like apples and oranges. Because that's what I tell the people all the time, I think of myself as kind of spatially dyslexic. It takes me a long time to translate what somebody else has written on the page into the three-dimensional world. And so, I had the same issue everybody else has when they're reading instructions. It's somebody's best attempt to tell you in writing how to do something in a three-dimensional world, and that doesn't work really well for me. And so, I like to do short snippet videos that kind of just go through the techniques, you know, as cleanly as possible in a way that would make sense to me.
You know, one of the ones that comes to mind is how to make bias tape. And so, I saw that, and I saw that it was a minute long, and I thought, well, this must have a commercial in front of it before we get to how to make bias tape, but no, in one minute, and one second, it was how to make bias tape. And I was like, man, this is really handy. I mean, you're making something, you don't want to spend the whole afternoon, learning how to do the next step of whatever it is on your project. So, I really liked that.
I appreciate that.
That was fantastic. You owned a business for a number of years, as did I, and you know, I think it's always fun to talk to other entrepreneurs. What were some of the challenges that you faced as a business owner?
Well, the challenge was not knowing what I was doing when I first got into it, because like a lot of other people, I'm like, oh, that sounds like fun, I want to do this. And so, on a credit card and a wing and a prayer, I bought a business that I knew, you know, I knew how to sew, right? I didn't know how to run a business. And I was really fortunate because I had an incredible staff that worked with me. And I had amazing customers who were really impassioned and really invested in making certain we were successful. And so, kind of, in spite of myself, we were successful. I would say the some of the challenges, you know, when they talk about business, they talk about cash flow, and I have no idea what they meant by cash flow, until you're in the middle of cash flow. And cash flow is king. If you don't have cash walking in the door every day, then your business comes to a standstill. And so, cash flow is really important. Having a business plan, I think is kind of smoke and mirrors. But it's also important to have a business plan. So, you kind of kind of plan ahead so you know what you're doing in your business. And things I did as a business owner early on, it didn't occur to me the importance of a bookkeeper until I was about a year into my business. And I regret that decision. Still to this day, if I were to open another business, the first thing I would hire as a bookkeeper, somebody who can manage the books, because you don't have any idea how much work is involved in doing it. And you have no expertise in it until you're right in the middle that you're trying to clean up the mess that somebody else could have taken care of how to hire them upfront. But you know, in your head, I couldn't really justify the cost.
You know, when I first owned my business, I remember that first week and my bookkeeper gave me a list of invoices and I'm like, pay this, pay this, pay this, pay this. She goes now are you budgeting for payroll? I'm like, oh, yeah, payroll. So yeah, so she saved me there. So, I had to rethink the ones that aren't due now, don't pay them now, wait for that cash flow. So that was a big learning experience for me.
It was a learning experience for me too. And it was a challenging learning experience upfront, but you know, it's something you've learned, and I will eternally be grateful for having owned my business because I had it for 17 years, because I would never be the person I am today, had I not had that experience. It really kind of tracked me into who I am today.
Right. Yeah, yeah. You know, for Sew Powerful we have our volunteers making purses, and we have people in all age range and yesterday, I talked with a nine year old girl who was making purses. And I asked her how long she'd been sewing, and she said for two years. So yeah, so she has two years under her belt here. And she was just absolutely darling. A lot of our volunteers, however, are retirees because when you're retired, you have more time to volunteer. And so, we have a wide range of skill sets of people who are making our purses from our two basic patterns and you can embellish them or leave them plain, let the fabric speak for itself, or compare and contrast. Is there a tip that you could think of for somebody who is constructing a purse, now we're not making Hermes bags. We're making something that's very practical, but you know, can you just give our volunteers a tip based on your experience?
I would say the biggest thing when you're first beginning is I think there's a sense that there's more flexibility, there's more forgiveness when you're sewing. When actually sewing is just very much like architecture and construction. When I'm drafting a pattern the more accurate I'm with the pattern that when I get to the point that when I'm cutting it, I'm really accurate at my cutting. And then when I get to the sewing as long as I'm really accurate with my sewing, everything will work together. It's when you kind of have this kind of like, oh, it'll work mentality and it get a little bit more laissez faire, about things where things start to kind of melt down. So, I would say just be very conscientious about the patterning, about the cutting and about the sewing. And then you'll be amazed at how quickly your skills progress, as well as how much more successful things will be and how much more gratification. You know, I remember the first thing I've made even though I did costuming, my first thing I actually wanted to make was a men's dress shirt. And so that's what I did, I bought pink fabric with little blue flowers on it, I do not remember if it looked good when I was done, but I wore it everywhere. I was very proud of it. But I remember that there was ease in the sleeve cap. And I only know that it's called ease now because at the point, I just thought it was a mistake in the pattern. And so, I'm like, well, somebody doesn't know what they're doing. So, I just cut it out. Not a great choice, probably. I wish I had the shirt so I could show it to you. But you know, there's reasons the patterns are like that. And so, I was more about a results. I wanted to sew so I had something to show for it. I wasn't really interested in the process.
Now I'm more of a process person. I really enjoy the process. And I enjoy the results as well. But that's not my end goal. And so, I tend to rush through everything when I was first sewing. And if you can just step back and allow yourself to take a bit more time. And then the other thing, I have a rule for myself, it's three mistakes, I'm out. And it doesn't matter if I've been sewing for 10 minutes or 10 hours, if it's morning or night. If I make three mistakes in a row, it's not going to get better, it's only going to get worse. And so, I just stopped, I give myself a timeout. And then I come back to my work when I'm more suited to be able to finish moving forward.
Oh, I like that. Three mistakes. And you just take a break. You come back to it. Right?
Oh, oh, I like that. Well, and you know, you talked about getting started. And for some of our volunteers, that first purse is a little bit challenging. But anybody who's been doing this, the second one is easier. And then the third, and by then you're sort of addicted to let me see how from this one pattern how can I make every single one look unique and special? So.
Yeah, so that's what happens. And we're always amazed that these two patterns can produce this year 24,000 unique and different purses from.
Wow, that is impressive.
Yeah, well, and our goal, our 2030 goal is to reach every schoolgirl in Zambia by 2030. And so, we have a ways to go but every journey begins with the first step. And we've actually been sending purses since 2014, so we are on our way. So.
It's very exciting.
Russell, thank you so much for sharing your expertise and philosophies with us today. And it's just always so interesting to peel back the layers of the onion and find out what the thought process was, how things got started, and how professionals got to be where they are. So, thank you so much for your time.
No, my pleasure. Thank you for having me here.
Oh, you're welcome. We'll talk to you soon. Bye bye.
Bye bye now.
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, is 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.
We All Started with One with Susan Pfaff
Meet Susan Pfaff, purse maker and supporter of Sew Powerful. With a name like 'Pfaff' we all have to be wondering, "Is Susan related to the Pfaff sewing machine people?" You'll have to listen to get the answer, but here is a hint: Susan has traveled all over the United States as an Pfaff educator. Susan has even held the dreamiest of jobs: fabric store owner. Now retired, Susan has taken to YouTube with her charming video series, 'Let's Sew! KIDS' introducing the younger generation to the basics of sewing. Susan shares her purse making philosophy and much more in this week's episode.
Shell Oil, Pfaff Sewing Machines, YouTube, Cleveland, Purdue University, Sew Powerful, Master Class, Facebook
Host: Jan Cancila
Guest: Susan Pfaff
Jan Cancila, Host 00:04
Welcome. Today, I have the pleasure of speaking with Susan Pfaff. And you have seen Susan's beautiful purses in the Sew Powerful Purse Project [Facebook group]. You've seen those photos, her very kind comments. And we're going to spend a few minutes today getting to know Susan and you're really going to enjoy this time. So welcome, Susan. How are you today?
Susan Pfaff, Guest 00:43
I'm great. Thanks for having me, Jan.
Oh, we're so glad you're here. Let's start off. Tell us where are we talking to you from?
You are talking to me from Cleveland, Ohio area.
I live about half an hour south of Cleveland.
South of Cleveland. Okay. And you get some very cold winter weather up there, don't you?
We do. It hasn't been too bad last couple years, but we're expecting to have payback at some point.
Yeah, that can't go on forever.
Well, well, so you're in Cleveland now, but where did you grow up? Where are you from? Originally?
I grew up in Connecticut. And pretty much my entire life. When I got married, we moved to Louisiana. And my husband worked for Shell Oil, so we moved down there. About, oh, I think within 11 years now we moved up to where we are now. And my husband is actually from Cleveland. And that's why we ended up back up here.
Oh, nice. Very nice. And can you tell us how you two met?
Oh, we met in college.
And where was that?
Oh, we went to Purdue. Go Boilers!
Oh, all right. Okay, wait, we have some other Purdue people here.
That's great. Okay. And I know that you sew very well; your purses are just beautiful. But I am suspecting you have some other hobbies that are in the needle arts area. What else do you like to do?
I love to knit. I like to teach kids to sew. That's really kind of a fun hobby, especially middle schoolers. I love middle schoolers. I actually also during the pandemic started a YouTube channel. It's called 'Let's Sew! Kids'. And it's geared towards teaching kids to sew. So, it has things like, this is the sewing machine, sewing safety, how to use the different tools. So that was sort of my project when we couldn't go anywhere.
That sounds amazing. I will have to check that out. And I don't know about the schools in the Cleveland area, but in many places, sewing is no longer offered as an option in school. Is that true where you are?
It is sadly, the I think there is some in maybe in the high school. I know a retired teacher from there. But most of the education of kids is done privately by private adults. Unfortunately.
Well, it's good that they're learning how to sew, but it's not so good that they took it out of schools.
Yeah, no, this this sounds amazing. So, 'Let's Sew! Kids' is a YouTube channel with several different videos on there, I presume. Right, Susan?
Uh huh. Yes it is.
Well, cool. So now, you mentioned your husband, do you have children also?
I do. I have one son. He's 30. He's single. He lives up in Cleveland. So, it's not too far away.
Oh, that's great. And what about you? Did you work as part of your career after college?
I did. I actually was an accountant for, I don't know, seven, eight years. And I ended up back in the sewing industry. I purchased a fabric store. It was a fabric store and a Pfaff dealership actually, and that was in 1988. And since then, I had sold the store and I went to work for Pfaff as an educator and I've really been in the sewing industry ever since in different capacities: as the dealer; I taught at dealerships; I've done in-store teaching and privately; I was an educator. So, I traveled a lot. So, my main career was sewing industry.
Okay, now I have to just ask for clarification. Now your name is pronounced Pfaff, but the sewing machine is Pfaff and then you represented them. What is the connection, if any, between your name and the sewing machine?
Oh, I could ask that a lot. We have a lot of fun with it. So now this is my married name. So, I can't take credit for that. But it was somewhere way back, my husband's family was from the same area in Germany where the factories used to be. And so there may be a connection. It's probably more coincidence. I think the founder of the company is either not married or is married and had no children. So, there's no direct descendants. But it was kind of interesting because when I met my husband, I never heard of Pfaff sewing machines. So, I think God has an interesting sense of humor, that He introduced to my husband. But basically, the connection is that they signed my paychecks. I did have a dealer one time, though, that actually asked me for my driver's license, because he didn't believe that that was my name. He thought that the educators all with by whatever the first day was in Pfaff. And I showed it to him, and it was true. So.
Wow. So, you've traveled all over the country? Or did you have a certain region where you doing all this teaching, Susan?
It was all over the country, wherever the dealers needed an educator. So that was a lot of fun.
Yes. Were you in the United States exclusively? Or did you travel internationally?
Yeah, I didn't. I didn't travel internationally.
Wow. Well, that that is very cool. And so, you're teaching other people to sew, but how did you learn to sew?
Actually, I don't know, so when I was seven, my mother said that I had to learn how to sew if I wanted new clothes. So basically, she wasn't the greatest teacher. Sorry, Mom. She kind of said, there's the pattern. There's the fabric. There's the machine. Go at it. And so, I thought it was kind of a stupid thing to teach a seven-year-old. I wasn't into it. But I got into junior high school when we still actually had sewing in school. And I had a Home Ec teacher who I absolutely adored, and so she really was the one who sparked my interest in sewing and I had into high school. I also had some wonderful teachers there. So, I took every Home Ec class that they offered in the school. And that's really where my interest was piqued.
Wow, that's fantastic. And so, these were schools when you were growing up in Connecticut?
Correct? Yeah. Yeah.
Okay, so you were sewing as a child. But I presume as you got into junior high in high school, you were making clothing and home decoration type items and things like that, right?
Yeah, mainly clothing. I mean, in junior high, we were making an apron and I don't remember what the other project was. But it's fairly simple things. When I got to high school, no, we were making clothing. I remember distinctly making a pair of plaid wool pants. And they came out very nicely. I was stylin'. And, so into more some more advanced things.
I have a pair of plaid wool pants, too, that I have a picture of from like 1970 something where I was very proud of how those plaids matched at the seams.
If it didn't match, they were going to get ripped out and started again.
I know. And then the bell bottom bottoms made it more challenging in plaid. So anyway, yes. Okay, we we have that in common for sure. So did you ever get into doll clothes because I have a feeling that maybe you came into Sew Powerful through the Pixie Faire door.
I did. I actually got my first American Girl when I was in my 40s. And I did some sewing for her, but I was traveling, so I didn't get a lot of chance to do that. But since I moved to Ohio, I met a couple other sewers in the American Sewing Guild. In the guild that I found out also sewed doll clothes. So we kind of formed a group, and we spent a lot of time doing that. I like that scale. I don't like a large scale, like home dec or bridal gowns or so forth. I just like working on the small things; gives me an opportunity to try different things without a lot of fabric and things I wouldn't wear myself. So that was sort of an adult endeavor.
Oh, that's cool. Well, and when when you're sewing for dolls, they never complain about how they look too.
Oh, no, they don't they sit there patiently waiting for whatever I have to put on them.
You shared with me that you had a health issue. You want to share with us what that was?
Yeah, I did. I had breast cancer in 2012, I was diagnosed. And so, it was it was kind of rough. I was stage three. And so, I had every conceivable treatment they did for me, but God is good and I was healed. I have a wonderful team of doctors. And so, once that was done, ‘cause I was I was in treatment for probably a year and a half and then all kinds of follow up appointments and so forth. And I was retired at the time I was really kind of concentrating on what am I gonna do with my life kind of thing, especially to honor God. You know, it was such a, I don't know challenging year and a half, but you know, in the long run it kind have pushed me to really explore what I wanted to do.
Okay, well, why don't we take a quick break and when we come back, we're going to talk a lot more about your involvement with Sew Powerful. So, listeners, please stay tuned because Susan has a really interesting story here. So, we'll be back in one minute.
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 have been speaking with Susan Pfaff and she has shared with us her very interesting background and explained the difference between her name and the sewing machine company name. So, we have that out of the way. And Susan had just shared with us before the break that she is a breast cancer survivor. And during the period of her recovery, as she was thanking God, she was also evaluating what she wanted to do with the rest of her life. So let's sort of fast forward to 2015. What were you doing in 2015 as it relates to Sew Powerful?
I believe that was probably the first year that I started sewing purses. It's been five or six years that I've been involved. I was working, sewing the doll clothes and that's how I found out about Sew Powerful A friend of mine told me about Pixie Faire and then from there, I found Sew Powerful. And it looked like I was really only sewing a lot of smaller projects because I still didn't feel real great. And I could handle the smaller ones that I saw. So forgot Sew Powerful and it kind of piqued my interest. And I thought oh, I could sell a few purses. And I think that first year I think sewed 10 and you know, send them in. And I thought well, you know, this is this is pretty cool. And along the way I kind of looked more on Sew Powerful and the mission and so forth. And I thought this is pretty cool. And I just kept going and I'm still doing it today. I love doing it. And you know, it's such a positive mission. And it's just a positive experience, really.
Well we'll talk about that, but I want to explore a little bit more about your purse making approach. So do you prefer the intermediate or the beginner pattern now?
The beginner pattern didn't exist when I started sewing the purses. I really mostly sew the 2015 purse, the intermediate purse. Sometimes I will do the two different flaps. There's the A-flap and then the B-flap, which is a little bit more a few more steps to it but it's a great way to use up scraps. And sometimes I'll do the the beginner purse, but I really find myself drawn to the intermediate purse.
So what kind of fabrics do you typically like to use?
I love working with denim and I love working with twill for the bodies of my purses, and then working with colors and cut. I'll have it spread out in my sewing room floor mixing and matching with quilting cottons and deciding what colors I want to put where.
And do you like to make the strap or are you using the webbing?
Oh, I use the webbing.
Oh, you're on Team Webbing. Yay.
I'm on Team webbing. There's so many wonderful colors that there's always something that matches the purse.
Yeah, yeah, I like that too. And and I'll just sort of give a shout out here if you haven't tried it you can go to Home Sew, HOMESEW dot com, and use the discount code SP10, for a discount on many products well on all their products but the webbing is packaged specifically for Sew Powerful to be able to cut that 52-inch strap for your purse. So, it's really nice. You know, some people make one purse at a time, which is me. I make it I finished it. I put it aside and then I start my next one. But other people cut out multiples and work on them at the same time. So which approach do you take, Susan?
I usually cut out maybe three or four. I have sort of a short attention span. And I'll cut out three and four, but generally they coordinate. My style is very matchy-matchy. And I want to make sure all the colors match, right. And so, it's very easy to do if I just have three or four of them. I actually just finished 17. They were all cut out and interfacing fused. And so but that's the most I've ever worked on at one time.
Wow. Well, my problem and I tried doing that was by the time I did the second one, I was changing my mind about what went with what and then I got to the end. And what I had left did not make a very attractive looking, I have to say. You are pretty active in this Sew Powerful Purse Program Facebook group. When did you join that? And what do you like about being a member there?
I don't remember the exact day. I think what, maybe when it first started. It's such a positive group. You know, we are bombarded with all the troubles of the world. And I find myself going to the Facebook page, because it's encouraging. It's friendly. There's a lot of inspiration. I love seeing what other people do. But if you're new, it's a great place to ask questions too. So yeah, I love going to the Facebook page. I think that was a wonderful idea to set that up.
Yeah, well, and we want to thank Kylie Gersekowski in Australia for setting that up originally, way, way, way back in the beginning. So, thank you to Kylie and then the other thing is that we have such great administrators who actually monitor it. And we rarely have any negative comments on our Facebook group. I mean, compared to the rest of the world, it's like the nicest place in all the world. I think everyone is so positive. So, you have wanted to volunteer for some quilt shows, but unfortunately, due to COVID, the last couple of years they've been canceled. What are some ways that maybe you volunteer that you could encourage others to do the same, Susan?
Certainly making purses. You know, we have our goals each year. This year is the 24,000. And don't feel bad if you only made two this year or something, because there's two girls that are going to get a purse. You know, just try it out. Enjoy it. There's all kinds of encouragement. I think that's probably the biggest thing. I think if there's a quilt show close to you spend a couple hours volunteering at the booth. Because you can find out a whole lot about Sew Powerful, about how everything works, and just get some positive feedback and share what you've done. I actually participated in the master's program in the spring, I can't think what the name of it was because...
The Master Class.
Yeah, a lot of having been in it for a few years. Now. I knew a lot of the background, but I really was excited to explore a little bit deeper into what it's about and how it came about and what they want to accomplish. And, you know, I really, really enjoyed that. So, I think, you know, sewing, working a show, now we have the chapters. So, if you're not sure see if you have a chapter in your area that can help you, even one or two other people that sew purses, because we have the list of people on the Facebook page. So, you can look up your area and you know, hook up with other people because it's fun to work with other people. It really is.
Yeah, it sure is. Well, first of all, the Master Class was a four-week series of classes in the spring of 2021, where Jason and Cinnamon talked a lot about the philosophy that they have and the theology that inspired them to start Sew Powerful. So, it was really very inspirational to participate in that. What is it about Sew Powerful that inspires you to participate at the level that you do? I know you're very involved.
The whole mission of Sew Powerful, you know, keep girls in school and help end that cycle of poverty. I love that it is Christ-centered. You know, that's very important to me. I love seeing that as part of it because it's inspiring to me inspires me to want to do more. Sew more or get involved more. You know, I appreciate, from a practical standpoint, I really appreciate, the fact that the staff is all volunteer, and you don't see that too much in organizations. It's always you know, some administrative type expenses or salaries and this is not the case in Sew Powerful. There is very little administrative costs. And to spend that much time, I really admire the volunteer staff because that they spend a lot of time working with the organization on a volunteer basis. So, I think that is one of the really important things that have appealed to me. I love that positive encouragement on the Facebook page. That's really important. Another thing last summer, Cinnamon and Leslie, did a purse sew along live Facebook. And I saw I participated in that. And after being locked down for a few months, it was so nice to see human beings doing things live. So, I made one purse, and it was so much fun. And that was, you know, very encouraging in a time that wasn't so encouraging.
But yeah, I remember that. And that was like, 'Make a Purse in a Day'. And even though if you're an experienced purse maker, you could likely make more than one purse in a day, but especially for new people, they sort of took you step by step that was really fun. And that is recorded and available on YouTube, if you ever want to do a YouTube search under our Sew Powerful channel on 'A Purse in a Day'. You know, Susan, we have lots of people who have maybe joined but maybe not made their first purse, or they've heard of Sew Powerful and haven't really, you know, taken that first step. What kind of encouragement would you give people? Can you think back to when you first began with Sew Powerful?
I think that first off, do it. Just make your first purse and give it a try. That's what got me going. Yeah, I made one and said, ‘Oh, I can make another one.’ So, it was another one and another one. And and and so now I make more every year and still want to I still enjoy it. I think, you know, don't get discouraged. If we can see on the Facebook page, we tend to show large volumes of purses. And sometimes people say, 'Well I only made one.' That's great. You've helped one girl. And it's awesome. And we all started with one and give it a try. Get on the Facebook group, if you're interested and really see what the purse maker is do, what the volunteers do, what the organization is all about. Because I really think once you get involved, you're going to be hooked. We say it all the time on the Facebook page. It's addicting to make purses. And it's really addicting to be involved with such a positive group. And so, I think that's a, you know, try a few get on the Facebook page and learn about the organization. I think you'll be hooked too.
I think so too. And it certainly worked for you and so many others. Susan, thank you so much for your time today. It's been a pleasure to get to know you and learn about your background. And it will certainly put a new perspective when we see photos of the beautiful purses that you post. So, thank you so much. It was great to talk to you. We'll hopefully get to meet in person sometime.
I hope so. Thanks for having me, Jan.
You're more than welcome. Bye-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, is 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.
2021 Top 10 Episodes of the Sew Powerful Podcast
Listen as we count down the 10 most listened-to podcasts of the past twelve months. Our eclectic assortment of guests includes Sew Powerful Regional Coordinators, Industry Influencers and others who just happen to have a passion for Sew Powerful. You will hear snippets from the podcasts to remind you why these ten episodes garnered so much attention. You might even want to go back and listen again... or for the first time. We also share a big announcement about what is coming in the very near future for the Sew Powerful Podcast.
PEP Squad, Indiana, 4-H, creative impulses, Amy Brooks, Unseen Arms, Spokane, WA, TELAS, The East Los Angeles Stitchers, Gloria Molina, school ball, prom, women in architecture, Rose Bowl parade, journey with cancer, UK, Sew Powerful
Host: Jan Cancila
Guests: Kathleen Broadfoot, Mary Ann Gubala, Amy Brooks, Lynne Johnson, Gloria Molina, Ginny Buckley, Mary Inchauste, Laura Ostdiek, Shirley Utz, Sandy Simm
Jan Cancila, Host 00:04
I want you to start off this episode with a big announcement about the Sew Powerful Podcast. There is a group of five Sew Powerful volunteers working diligently to transcribe all of our past episodes, called the PEP Squad. And PEP stands for Podcast Episode Project. These five ladies have taken the transcription done by the artificial intelligence software and edited into what our speakers actually said. The PEP Squad is hard at work on this project, and we hope to be finished very soon. The result will be that each past and all future episodes will have its own web page with an audio recording, a written summary, a list of references, searchable keywords, and then a transcription which identifies the speakers and puts timestamps on each section. This makes our podcasts of more interest to those who like to read along with the conversation or do further research on some of the topics mentioned. This will also encourage our listeners to share more episodes with friends outside of the Sew Powerful family and give them the ability to pinpoint a specific conversation. So in the next few weeks as this new look is launched on the sewpowerful.org website, be sure to thank the members of the of the POP Squad for their hard work. The members are all Sew Powerful Regional Coordinators: Laura Ostdiek, Torey Elwell, Chris McMullen, Betty Johnson, and Sandy Simm. Thank you, PEP Squad.
Now, speaking of Regional Coordinators, there is a 40% chance that the speakers you're about to hear wear the Regional Coordinator's hat. And let me tell you why I say that. It has been just over a year since the Sew Powerful podcast honored the top 10 most listened to episodes. That tells me it's time to do it again. So starting with the episodes that follow that first top 10 list in early October 2020, I ranked the remaining episodes based on the number of times they were listened to. The result is an eclectic assortment of guests. Most of the episodes feature purse makers whose work you know because it is often pictured in the Sew Powerful Purse Project group on Facebook. A couple of our new top 10 episodes feature guests who have supported Sew Powerful in more like a service project or short-term purse making effort. Most of the guests in the top 10 are based in the United States but two guests come to us from across the pond. And to finish up this statistical analysis, four of the top 10 episodes features Sew Powerful Regional Coordinators. See, I told you that there'd be a connection. So let's get started.
Let's start with the episode that comes in at number 10. Our newest Regional Coordinator, Kathleen Broadfoot, serving the state of Indiana, was featured in an episode called 'Get to know Kathleen Broadfoot'. Kathleen's effervescent personality comes through in this snippet, but you will hear it all the way through her entire podcast. In it, she shares her background and love of purse making for Sew Powerful. Let's listen to a short teaser for this episode.
Kathleen Broadfoot, Guest 04:02
I actually have a degree in textiles and clothing. I always really enjoyed sewing. I started sewing for 4-H. I was a 10 year 4-H-er. I did the dress reviews and was in clothing and learned a lot there. My mother's a quilter. Both of my grandmother's sewed, my aunts did a lot of quilting. In fact, a couple of years ago, the music teacher at the school where my kids went, she would do a lot of costumes and she would write her own programs because she just really enjoyed that. So she would hear it and I would see it and made a lot of costumes. And I guess I had an aunt who used to do that. But somebody had remarked about me doing costumes. They said Oh, your aunt, Laura, used to make costumes too. So I didn't know that.
The ninth most popular episode features Mary Ann Gubala, who is our Western Massachusetts Regional Coordinator. Mary Ann likes to use the phrase stitching with mission and so that's the name of her episode. Mary Ann talks about how she got started sewing and then found Sew Powerful while she was a college student. She was so busy, but she still prioritized Sew Powerful because she felt the call to service. Listen to this short clip and as Mary Ann explains her philosophy.
Mary Ann Gubala, Guest 05:22
You know, obviously God is an incredible creator, and you know some for made in His image, it's not surprising that we have creative impulses. And you know, those creative impulses take many different forms for many different people. For some people, the things that come to mind when you think of creativity, like drawing or painting or music. For other people, it's, you know, other forms like teaching or engineering or even parenting. And for me, it takes many forms too. You know, use it at work, my hobbies, I use it with sewing and one way for me to be creative is through, you know, sewing and crafting. And whatever form of creativity somebody has, whatever skills or talents or resources that they have, I believe that the important thing is that they use those to make and do things that glorify God, that help other people, that show people that you care, that make a difference or that matter.
Coming in at number eight is our episode that features a truly inspirational woman named Amy Brooks. You may have seen Amy's YouTube channel, her TV interviews or read one of her books. What is unique about Amy is that she was born with no arms and no legs. But that really has not stopped her from doing almost anything. Her hobby is sewing, and she has a custom purse making business... purses she sews herself. When she heard about Sew Powerful, she felt compelled to contribute a purse. Amy is such a positive, friendly person, you feel you're chatting with a lifelong acquaintance. And a bit of really joyful news, Amy was married two weekends ago and has moved to Mississippi leaving her adoptive parents, siblings, and the only home she has ever known. All of us at Sew Powerful send our best wishes to the newlyweds. Here is a 90-second clip from 'Amy Brooks, A Most Unconventional Life'.
Amy Brooks, Guest 07:27
Yeah, so I mean, you said you see my outer struggles. To me, honestly, they're not struggles. I was born like I was born like this, so I don't know any different. Those those I see who have come home from battle who have lost their limbs, and they've had them once before, those are the true heroes because they had something, and they lost something that they had, and they have to relearn and start a new life completely different. I was born like this. So, I don't know any different. And yes, I do things differently. And they may be hard, but it's all I know. And like I said, I would say that my struggles are more mentally and inwardly. And like I just said, I didn't realize how much I struggle with the fact that I'm, I'm worthy. And even though I tell everybody else that they are, you know, and I've been hurt like any other person, by people in my life and or health struggles, you know, things like that. Those are times when I have been at my lowest and I've really had to say, 'Do I really trust you, God? Or don't I?' You know, because people think that I trust Him so much because of my physical disabilities. But the real trust comes in when I don't know what the answer or the outcome is going to be with my health or with a relationship. You know.
A prolific purse maker recorded this popular episode that comes in at number seven. A resident of Spokane, Washington, Lynne Johnson sends a lot of purses to the Sew Powerful headquarters. You will immediately recognize Lynne's purses because they're so colorful, and the fabric combinations are so charming. She is inspired by our Facebook group, but at the same time, we know Lynne's work inspires us. Such a delightful conversation makes you want to meet Lynne in person. This clip comes from the episode called 'Lynne Johnson, Purse Maker and Sew Much More'. Here is Lynne Johnson.
Lynne Johnson, Guest 09:40
Maybe people think that they're not good enough or and it's true. We see a lot of really spectacular beautiful purses posted through our group, which to me is the most inspiring thing because a lot of my ideas come from what I see other people do. But things don't all have to be super fancy or super intricate. I mean, the very simplest purse still fulfills the same function and has the same potential to change a young girl's life. You know, everybody starts somewhere, and beautiful fabric alone is enough to do it. And the other thing I keep in mind, the first year that I submitted purses in 2018, the following year 2019, when Jason and Cinnamon were on site in Africa, giving out the purses, I was able to capture a picture of one of my purses in the arms of one of the girls. I printed it up and I have it right in front of my sewing machine. It's the only picture I have of one of my purses in the arms of a girl. But that right there to me, it's like that makes the whole thing worthwhile. So even if it's not your purse, look at the videos on the website and see how excited they are. See what the purse and the contents are going to do to change their life. To me, that's that's the most inspiring thing I could ever have to encourage me to sew.
The episode that came in at number six was sort of an accident. At one of our Facebook Go-Live events, Regional Coordinator, Torey Elwell noticed that a group called TELAS had sent in 126 purses from Los Angeles. Being the pro-active Regional Coordinator that she is, Toery started corresponding with the group and finally recommended they be a guest on the podcast. TELAS stands for The East Los Angeles Stitchers. And they are a very modern, 65-member quilting guild focused on bringing the Latino culture to life through fabric arts and especially quilting. When they heard about Sew Powerful, they adopted us as one of their very many service projects and the result was this huge box of purses that Torey recognized on the Go-Live. But then many of their members have continued to send in purses individually. Listen to this clip, as TELAS founder, Gloria Molina explains the group in the episode called 'The East Los Angeles Stitchers, with Gloria Molina, and the TELAS'.
Gloria Molina, Guest 12:26
Well, the organization is called TELAS, which is an acronym for The East Los Angeles Stitchers. And basically, we're a group of Latinas. Some of us have been quilting for a number of years, and some of us are very new to it. But the whole mission of the organization was to start introducing the Latino culture into the world of quilting. We've been doing Latino themed quilts, and we try and do workshops and teach each other our skill set and build that. But most of the time around Latino themes. I think we have celebrations, traditions, history, that is really important. Plus, you know, the colors and everything and we offer. So we're very proud. We're about 65 people strong. We meet once a month. Now we're, of course meeting virtually through Zoom. But we're an exciting group of people. We enjoy making quilts and of course, we have a philanthropy that we carry out every year.
Why don't we take a quick break here and when we come back, we will resume our countdown with the episode that comes in at position number five.
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 have been counting down the 10 most popular podcasts of the past 12 months. Let's recap. Number 10 was 'Get to Know Kathleen Broadfoot'. Number nine was 'Stitching with a Mission featuring Mary Ann Gubala'. Number eight was 'Amy Brooks, A Most Unconventional Life'. Number seven was 'Lynne Johnson, Purse Maker and Sew Much More'. And number six was 'The East Los Angeles Stitchers with Gloria Molina, and the TELAS'. So, let's resume our countdown and see who came in at number five.
For our fifth most listened to episode we travel virtually just to clarify here we travel to the UK and found the witty and charming Ginny Buckley. In the episode, Ginny shares her many hobbies with us where you begin to notice a pattern of love and concern for animals. But Ginny also loves to sew and happened upon an ad for Sew Powerful when she was searching for something else entirely. In this short clip, Ginny reveals why Sew Powerful tugs at her heart. Listen to 'Changing a Girl's Life, One purse at a Time with Ginney Buckley'.
Ginny Buckley, Guest 16:01
I was looking on the internet back in 2017. Just thinking to myself, it would be nice if I could make a ball gown. While my daughter's school ball which is like your prom. I was kidding myself really, because I knew that there was no way she was going to go in a dress that I'd made. But I just liked the idea. And as I was looking at various patterns, one of the adverts that always pops up on the side of the screen was for a charity called Sew Powerful, which I've never heard of. But I looked at it and I thought oh, that looks quite interesting, you know. Looked a bit further and it just really, really spoke to me. I think I said in my story, I don't know if it's because I'm a woman. I don't know if it's because I've got three daughters myself. But I just thought what a terrible, terrible situation for these girls to be in. And it just really, really moved me. So, I downloaded a pattern. And I made a bag. And I thought actually that's really nice. I really liked that, and I enjoyed making it and that's something that I can do. And looking back I realized that it was God calling me and saying I've given you this talent, and this is why I've given it to you.
Coming in at number four is the episode with architect, mom, and Sew Powerful purse maker, Mary Inchauste. Mary talks about how living in a family with nine siblings shaped her interests, especially in sewing. In her adult years, Mary faced challenges herself as a single mom. But Mary turned those challenges into opportunities to shine as one of the very few women architects in a field that until very recently was dominated by men. The aspect of providing an education to the schoolgirls and a trade to the moms in Zambia really struck a chord with Mary and she has been making purses for Sew Powerful ever since. Listen to this snippet of 'Meet Mary Inchauste, Architect, Mom and Purse Maker'.
Mary Inchauste, Guest 18:10
I'm the oldest of nine. There are nine siblings in 11 years with one set of twins. So as the oldest, you know, you're kind of the second mom and involved a lot. And I just love sewing. I used to sneak into my mother's sewing room, get in big trouble for messing with her sewing machine. Finally, when I was like six or seven, she just gave up. And by the time I was eight, I was sewing my own clothes. And she was pretty busy. So, I was pretty unintended kind of self-taught until 4-H. And I took a lot of sewing lessons at the Singer sewing store. And really, I think that those that sewing experience was very, very helpful because I had to be a self-starter and there wasn't a lot of supervising in what I was doing and so I had to read the patterns and if it didn't work out, I couldn't give up I'd have to really work through it. But I always loved it and still do and still sew a lot.
Thank you for listening thus far. We've made it to number three. In our third most listened to podcast episode, Nebraska Regional Coordinator, Laura Ostdiek, and also a member of the PEP Squad, by the way, talks in this clip about her long history with the Rose Bowl parade in Pasadena, California. In the actual podcast, we get to know Laura, her background, and what drew her to Sew Powerful. But I have to say building floats for the Rose Bowl parade probably tops the list of unusual hobbies we have encountered. Listen to Laura in 'Meet Regional Coordinator, Laura Ostdiek'.
Laura Ostdiek, Guest 19:50
Well, close to 20, close to 30 years ago I worked for a company that sponsored a float and so they would give us time during that last week in December to work on the floats. And I liked it so much. I just...
Now, is this when you worked lived in LA?
Laura Ostdiek 20:06
Oh, okay. All right. Okay, so keep going, I'm sorry to interrupt.
Laura Ostdiek 20:11
So I just keep going back. I kept in touch with the right people. And I've been working with two particular crew chiefs for several years now. And so whatever float they're assigned to, I follow along with them.
Laura Ostdiek 20:24
Yeah. And what is it that you do when you work on a float?
Laura Ostdiek 20:28
Mostly put the final touches on, the decorations. It's not just flowers. It can be seeds and leaves and rice and any natural material that gives the color and the texture that they're looking for on the float.
You are kidding. They I look at those floats all the time and think now they couldn't have done that this morning because they wouldn't have had time. But yet the flowers all look so fresh. You have revealed a big secret here.
It is probably no surprise to you that our Facebook Regional Coordinator Shirley Utz would be featured in our top 10. 'My Journey with Cancer with Shirley Utz' has a huge number of listens and ranks number two this year. Honestly, I was a little apprehensive when I approached Shirley about discussing this topic on the podcast. But she and I knew that purse makers everywhere, feel like they know Shirley, want to know how she is doing. Many of us rely on Shirley's advice, coaching and I must say diplomatic persuasion when something goes awry. Her matter-of-fact approach to her health is emblematic of her calm demeanor and deep faith. And you can't suppress her sense of humor, regardless of the topic. Listen, as Shirley talks about her purse angels in this clip.
At the time of your diagnosis, you had a whole lot of purses pre-cut, right?
Shirley Utz, Guest 22:00
I did, I did. And some beautiful person who prefers to remain anonymous in the Facebook group wanted to sew up the purses that I had cut out, which just blew me away, that somebody would do that. And also submit them under my name, which is even better. I mean, you know as far as how altruistic this particular person is. And then another person volunteered to write notes, so it was a win win for me. I have some that are still partially cut out. I don't have things to go with them. But I am so grateful to my Sew Powerful purse fairies, I call them.
Here's the news you have been waiting for. The number one spot goes to 'Great Britain for Sew Powerful with Sandy Simm'. Sandy is a Regional Coordinator in the UK and talks about how at the lowest point in her life, she found Sew Powerful and how it has meant everything to her. Sandy is an enthusiastic supporter and really brought Sew Powerful to the attention of women who sew in the UK. Listen as Sandy explains how Sew Powerful entered her life.
About the time that you had to sell your business and you lost your mom.
Sandy Simm, Guest 23:29
You were feeling at your lowest point, you came across Sew Powerful, right?
Sandy Simm 23:34
Yes, absolutely. I was wondering, what am I gonna do now. I can't see my life without sewing, without doing something. I'm not sure how, I think I was just browsing on the internet, and I came across this ad that said, 'Can you sew? Could you make a purse for us?' And of course, it was Sew Powerful, and there's not really been any looking back since then. I was emailing Jason and saying I could do this, and I can do that. I'll do all the admin, everything in UK and whatever. After we had one or two emails going backwards and forwards and I've got all the patterns and just started to make them.
I hope you have enjoyed this year's top 10 countdown. If you have not listened to these most popular episodes, or if it's just been a while, simply go to the SewPowerful.org website and look for podcasts under the Resources menu. You will find all of our podcast episodes there and coming soon, they will include transcripts too. And please listen every week for a new Sew Powerful story as we talk to people who shine a light on our ministry. Thank you 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.