Meet Our Guests: Betty Johnson, Jan Paul, Sharon Helms, Torey Elwell, Corinne and Carly, Carla Robertson, Jill Riffe, Jason Miles, Irene Davidson Thomas, Sue Kirby
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.
A Look in the Rear View Mirror with Jason Miles
In this concluding episode of Season 1, Sew Powerful co-founder Jason Miles gives the background information behind his first Quarter presentation. He recaps Events, Chapters, the Facebook Group, the Purse Count, Funding, Expenses, and we talk about the new shipping option. In addition, Jan and Jason take a short walk down memory lane recounting the many great experiences in the previous 98 episodes of Season 1 of the Sew Powerful Podcast. There will be a Season 2. Dates TBD.
purses, our community, quilt shows, chapters, sewing, Atelier Angels, Q1, costs, Phoenix, Branson, donations, podcast season 1, Sew Powerful, Give Back Box, shipping
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.
Atelier Angels: https://www.sewpowerful.org/pages/atelier-angels
Donate to Honor a Loved One: https://www.sewpowerful.org/pages/donate-to-honor-a-loved-one
Legacy Giving options: https://www.sewpowerful.org/pages/legacy-giving
Ship to Sew Powerful through Give Back Box: https://givebackbox.shop/collections/international-help/products/sew-powerful-shipping-label
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 are going to speak with Jason Miles. And a couple of days ago Jason gave us a Q1 recap for the year-to-date 2022. And we're going to delve in depth with some of the behind the scenes thinking when he was putting this together. So, this should be an interesting conversation. But in addition, here's a big announcement, breaking news, this will be episode 99 of the Sew Powerful Podcast. And this will be the concluding episode of season one. We're going to take a little break. And we may reformat the podcast going forward when we resume but for right now, we're going to take a little break. And there will not be a new podcast next week. There will be one when we resume with season two, and that timeframe is TBD. So anyway, welcome, Jason, how are you?
Jason Miles, Guest 01:14
I'm great. Thank you so much. It's an honor to be here. And to participate in the concluding episode for season one. This is fantastic. Let me just say that the first season of this podcast has been absolutely amazing to behold. And we've been guests a couple of times on episodes, and that was fun, and had some great in-depth conversations with you. But also, all of the community members that have participated in making the podcast successful. It's just been really, really amazing. And I hear these ricochet comments frequently, like, oh, did you hear that person's story in the podcast episode or other people will reference conversations that they've heard in the podcast and how meaningful it was to them to hear it. So, congratulations. It's really, really awesome.
Well, thank you, it's been an honor. And I have felt so privileged to be able to talk to our community members and talk to some industry influencers, and just get to know people on a one-on-one basis. And you see the purses that people post and then you start talking to them and find out how they learn to sew, how they learned about Sew Powerful. And then everyone concludes with how meaningful Sew Powerful has been in their lives. And, to me, it's just been a really bonding experience with the people that I've gotten to know by talking with them on the podcast. So, thank you for giving me this opportunity. I really appreciate it.
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
Okay. So earlier in the month on April the 5th, you did a special presentation. And you talked about the 2022, Quarter one; it was a recap. Let's just talk about that in a little more depth. And as I listened, I had a few questions. And I think maybe people who watched it may have had questions as well. So, let's let's just get into it. You started out and you sort of gave a recap of events and chapters. Tell us a little bit about that and why that was an important part of the presentation.
Well, it was just so fun to be able to acknowledge the kind of, I guess you could say post-COVID locked down changes that are occurring in terms of our community, the ability to go to shows. And we had two phenomenal shows that happened, Phoenix and then Branson. Those were test cases for us. We didn't know whether the sewing community at large would come back to large scale quilt shows and sewing shows, and whether our booths would make sense again, like they did so well a couple years ago. So, we wanted to report back to the community, first of all, just that they were working, and people are showing up. It was a success at Phoenix and in Branson. And that bodes so well for us for the rest of the year. Really excited about the shows that are going to be coming our way in the summer and fall. And so, I think that was a point of importance for our community to get out there and for us to not only celebrate together, but just let people know people are back at Quilt shows, and sewing shows. And it's fun and and you know, we were masked up in Phoenix and it was fine. And that was the protocol there. But as the restrictions come off in different counties and different states and all that people are coming back and having a good time. So yeah, that was the first thing we wanted to talk about. And it was very exciting.
Well, and you know, our podcast last week was with Sue Kirby and Sue sort of took us through point by point the Branson and Phoenix shows and then all the upcoming shows we have on our calendar. So yeah, we're really excited about being able to participate again.
Yeah. The other thing that was shared at the beginning of the conversation for Q1 report out, was all the successes with chapters. And you, Ma'am, are the global leader for chapter creation. And it's really been something that you pioneered and sorted out over this last year, and we reported that we have 78 chapters either fully launched or in process of launching. And that is just absolutely incredible. And so, what are your thoughts and reflections on that? It's so exciting, you know?
Well, well, you know, we started out with five beta chapters, and special thanks to those people who've raised their hand and then became a leader just a year ago. And from their feedback, we were able to move forward. And now we're getting about two new chapters a week, but we do welcome the people who are raising their hands and saying, I want to sew with people that are like minded, want to sew for charity, I found Sew Powerful on the internet or through Pixie Faire, which is a very common doorway to come to Sew Powerful. So yes, and the amount of purses that they've made and the friendships that are developing, it's just really rewarding to see. And we've provided some resources. And we restructured our field organization to support chapters. We did that on January 1 and eliminated the Regional Coordinator position because it didn't have enough coverage. It was really sort of spotty. And in this new organization, we divided the United States up into eight different regions, and then international as the ninth region and assigned a regional chapters manager for each and they're there to help and guide and answer questions for chapter leaders. So yeah, so it's been a really exciting journey. And as things open up, and people feel more comfortable meeting, I expect that the growth will just be exponential.
Yeah, it's so exciting. And these things are working in harmony. Of course, you know, it was fun to have the local chapter members and chapter leaders hear about a show that's happening in their area, and then use that as an opportunity to rally together to hang out and to spend some more time and energy volunteering. I think that'll happen more and more as we grow both the shows again, as well as the chapters
Well and if I could say to that point, I mean, chapter leaders and chapter members actually do want to participate in these shows. And I have to give a shout out to Linda Ronk and chapter member Juanita and I'm sorry, I don't know your last name. They drove from Texas, to Branson, Missouri, to volunteer in the booth there. And we had Chris McMillan who is the projects manager come from Kansas City to Branson and Jill Riffe traveled to Phoenix from Minneapolis to volunteer. So, geography is not a restriction. We welcome volunteers from all over. And it's such a fun activity.
Yeah. The other thing that we talked about in the Q1 update was this announcement that we have exceeded 5000 members in our Sew Powerful purse maker group, which is really, really nice milestone. That's a biggie. You know, that's, that's a fun milestone. And so, we just wanted to let people know, and it's growing really quickly. Actually, we passed 5000 and then it was like a day or two later, we were 77 more people. So you know, this, these things do on the internet, the bigger they get, the faster they get big, you know, type thing, some weird loop there. But it's, it's great. The group is so vibrant, and so kind and so nonpolitical, nonjudgmental, non-snarky, non-unkind. It's just a fun place to be. And so, it's neat to see that working really well. And people getting a lot of satisfaction out of it. I I love it when I see a new person come in that says thank you for letting me join this group and here's my first purse people just shower, shower them with congratulations, and acknowledgement and you know, warm welcome. It's a special place, you know, special community.
Well, and just one more quick thing about that, In 2020, we had the "iSewlation Challenge." You know, we thought we were going to be locked down for 30 days or something when the cell first started. And the late, great, Shirley Utz created a tip of the day for 30 days. And we have resurrected that. And as this airs originally, we're in the process of reposting those tips of the day. The graphics are just so engaging, and the tips are so helpful. And we're getting lots of comments from veteran sewers, who have said, Oh, I didn't know I could do that. And then of course, everyone who's new since the last two years, never saw those tips, probably and just so excited to be able to share those again. So those are out there too.
Yeah, totally right. Okay, so that was the Q1 first topic. Just those signs of what's happening. And then we talked about purses as well. Yeah.
Jan 09:24 Yeah. So, you talked about the purse count how we're doing compared to a year ago. How are we doing?
Really, really well. We track sort of month by month, and it's been really great. So the bottom line is for the first quarter of 2022, we've collected 3,578 purses, against our annual goal of like 19 [19 thousand]. Last year, we collected 2580, so we're 1000 purchases over, almost 1000, over where we were last year at the same time, which is really exciting. And you know, Dana, our inbound purse box collector guy, he gets them all sorted and prepped in put together, you know, for processing work. He's been telling us for the last couple of months, hey, the volumes here a lot higher than last year and the big boxes with a lot of purses is being shipped in. Not very many USPS packages with one purse. It's mostly like, you know, 20 purses or 30 purses or whatever. And so, it's really exciting to have the volumes back up over last year. And so, you know, praise God for that.
Well, and I would expect our volume to grow because we have a new shipping option for U.S. purse makers that we announced in that same presentation that you did in early April called Give Back Box. You want to talk a little bit about that and how that might impact our purse volume too?
Well, yeah, you can share more than I can probably but all I know is that Kathy, in our community, heard about it, referenced it to you, we've tested it out and it's a beautiful option for shipping boxes to us inbound and it's inexpensive. And it's a charity that is their mission is sort of save the cardboard out of landfills and stop the waste kind of environmental focus. But the way they do that is ask people to reuse their boxes. And they do that by letting them ship to charities. And we found out and behold, we are added to the list and and now, you too, can send us a box full of purses for $15, which is a huge, huge savings for our community members. Because one of the things that is a real cost of participation for our wonderful volunteer purse makers is that they have to ship us the purses. And so even if they have the beautiful sewing machine and scraps of fabric laying around in their stash, that's all free in essence for them to use. The costs do become real when they have to ship them to us. And so, this is a great, great option. Prior to that, the other option that we had for sort of free delivery of purses was you could bring them to a show and drop them off at a show and we collected a good number. In Phoenix, I think it was almost 300 that we collected so but this Give Back Box option is a new alternate shipping method that really is going to save people a lot of money. And and we're excited about that. So that's my take on it. What's your thought on Give Back Box?
Well, yes, so it's $15 in the United States, $15 to ship up to 40 pounds. And our friend Jan Paul discovered, she could put 107 purses with note cards and a few extra note cards, and it weighed 37 and a half pounds. So, the benchmark, I guess is around 100 purses. You don't have to you don't have to fill up a box with 100 purses. I think anything where you would have paid more than $15 in the past for previous shipping method, go ahead and send them in. But when you had that presentation, Dana Bob made a really excellent point. And he said, If you were spending $30, to ship to Sew Powerful, and now you can ship for $15 to please consider taking those savings, that $15 extra that you would have paid to the post office for instance, and instead donate that to Sew Powerful so that our ministry can continue to thrive and grow. And so, I want to segue into the next topic that you covered, which was the funding. And how we're doing with Sew Powerful donations?
Yeah, it's a great tie in and actually it's a great sentiment because these things are linked, of course. You know, what we're trying to do is fund the program efficiently but also have as many purses as we can. Those two are linked, we have to have the funds to to do the field side, the program side. Giving year over year for Q1 is down about 7% over 2021. So that's sort of not good. Obviously, it's not ideal. So we wanted to put that out in front of the community. That's both designated for Sew Powerful purse programming, and also the general fund. We separated out the 3 Esthers Farm feeding program giving but for those two categories we're down 7%, so the the funds, in essence that we can use to run the program, the purse program. And so yeah, that's a key part. The other part of it though, that's even a more concerning was the cost structure of the pads and underwear and soap and the items that go into the purses. The cost structure is really kind of scaled you know quickly, and many people are just aware obviously in the US that inflation is a big deal. And shipping has become expensive for many reasons. You know, we used to say for the last six, seven years that the cost to fill a purse with those items was about $5 we would say. It was when we did the work originally to cost everything, it was $4.92. Doing the costing work you know, the last couple months, it's closer to $11 to fill the purse, which obviously means it's twice as expensive to deliver a purse filled with these items to a girl in need. And that takes cash. We don't solve that problem with anything other than becoming super-efficient in our system on the field side, but also just the cash to make it a reality. And so that's a key element of Q1 for us. As it happens on the lowering our costs, on the field side, we are exploring new options for sourcing materials. You know, we're buying fabric by the massive, massive quantity to make pads and we're buying underwear by the massive, massive quantity. I mean, like last year, we imported 40,000 pairs of underwear from Indonesia into Zambia to serve the program. And then the fabric has always been acquired locally in Africa. So, we're we're looking at how we can save money and do things differently. And that won't be fast, but we do think there is some efficiency that might be gained there. We're trying to be as super-efficient as possible. The one thing that we are clear, though on is the fact that our core thesis, you might call it our theory of change, and we've talked about this in prior podcast episodes, is our goal, I guess you could say as a ministry is local employment, for local impact. That's the most concise way I know to say it. You know, we're trying to create this local job opportunity for the moms there and Lusaka and Livingston that have local impact in terms of what they make. So for example, that gives us a framework to use where we can't say, let's just have all of this made by the Americans. You know, we don't want to do that because we want local employment in Zambia, as part of our theory of change. We can't say let's have all of this made in China, you know, for a fraction of the cost potentially, because again, that wouldn't be in keeping with our theory of change. So these are the tension points that we're trying our best to explain to the community, and to walk people through and explain our logic. But it does come down to funding and donor stepping up and helping us underwrite the costs of doing the ministry on the ground. In Zambia.
We have a donation program called Atelier Angels. Can you talk a little bit about that? And how, how that might be part of the ongoing contribution to the cost issue?
Yeah, sure. Well, first of all, it's a monthly recurring donation program. So, you sign up and your recurring donor. Atelier is the French word for workshop. So, it might be too fancy by half or something. But we could have called it workshop angels, I suppose. But it's the idea that when you're giving, you're helping us directly underwrite the cost of the the sewing effort and exercise in Zambia. And we use that money designated just to underwrite the monthly budget for the seamstresses, their monthly stipends they get, and the cost of the machines, the fabric on and on all of the associated expenses. And so, we would love to have people join Atelier Angels. There are a couple of different giving levels and it's found right at our menu under the Donate tab. I think we're probably going to do a campaign here in the next few months to really do a big push for having people join Atelier Angels and join us in that. And it's really incredibly helpful for that level of monthly recurring income to be consistent, so that we can you know, plan well, and we know things are covered by the incoming pledges. And that's just a great way to support the program. And I would just challenge anybody who's really passionate about Sew Powerful and making purses to please consider joining Atelier Angels at whatever level makes sense for you. And that will be tremendously helpful in terms of us getting after these past issues and challenges.
Well, and I do want to say one more thing, if besides being an Atelier Angel you wanted to do or instead want to do a one-time donation, you can do that as well. But we also have something where you can donate in honor of a loved one and graduation season is coming up, Mother's Day is coming up, Father's Day. Those are all occasions where you can go to the SewPowerful.org website under donate and donate to honor a loved one for any of those occasions. And then there's a way to to notify the honoree that you've made a donation in their name. So, an easy way to make a donation and make somebody really happy at the same time.
Yeah, absolutely. And Facebook fundraisers is a nice way to do it as well.
There's a lot of ways in which people can be creative and helping us if God puts that on their heart. And we'd love for that to happen. So overall, I guess in summation, Q1 is just an incredible, incredible blessing. It's an honor to be able to rally people to the cause of serving the least of these in this creative way. And we just never ever get tired of hearing people learn about and become enthusiastic about their opportunity to serve directly by making a purse. It's just a joy to be able to to coordinate the program and we're excited about what 2022 holds for us.
Well, Jason, thank you very much. And thank you for being the final guest on season one. And I'm going to wrap this up with what I normally say except I'm going to change it out where I say, Listen next week.
So, if you've enjoyed what you've heard today, I urge you to visit our website sewpowerful.org and please listen to this and any of our past episodes until we resume with season two. It's been a pleasure being your host. Until then go out and have a Sew Powerful day.
Put These Quilt Shows on Your Calendar with Sue Kirby
Besides her Sew Powerful CFO duties, Sue Kirby has taken on the role of Manager, National Shows and Events for 2022. In this episode, Sue announces the dates and places for upcoming quilt shows where Sew Powerful will exhibit. She also recaps the shows we have already complete. Along with host Jan Cancila, Sue shares experiences and tips for attending the shows. Finally, listen for a checklist of all the reasons you will want to participate in an upcoming quilt show with Sew Powerful. Scattered throughout are mentions of the many volunteers without whose help and dedication we could not participate in these shows.
Quilt shows, booth, purses, Branson, festival, volunteers, Phoenix, classes, interested, fun, Long Beach, Birmingham England, Portland, Santa Clara, Houston
Host: Jan Cancila
Guest: Sue Kirby
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.
Quilt Festival, Long Beach, CA: https://www.quilts.com/quilt-festival/quilt-festival-long-beach/
Festival of Quilts, NEC, Birmingham, England: https://www.thefestivalofquilts.co.uk/
Norwest Quilting Expo, Portland, OR: https://exhpo.com/usa/nw-quilting-expo/
Pacific International Quilting Expo, Santa Clara, CA: https://www.quiltfest.com/upcoming-shows-and-events/pacific-international-quilt-festival/
Quilt Festival Houston, Houston, TX: https://www.quilts.com/quilt-festival/quilt-festival-houston/
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 are going to be talking with Sue Kirby. You know, Sue, she's the CFO of Sew Powerful. And this year she is serving as the national show manager for quilt shows and events. And we have some really great new experiences this year and upcoming quilt shows that we're going to be talking about. So hello, Sue, how are you today?
Sue Kirby, Guest 00:47
Hi, Jan. I'm doing well today. Thank you.
Well, yes. So let's talk a little bit about quilt shows. In general, why does Sew Powerful participate in quilt shows?
This really was what I consider a genius idea by one of our early volunteers, Leslie Unruh, and there's a big quilt show up in Washington. And Leslie said, How about we go to this quilt show and see what people think. And what it turned out is it's really a perfect fit for telling the Sew Powerful story. It's very targeted to ladies who like to sew, people who have a compassionate heart, and really would like to know what they're doing can make a difference. That first quilt show, which I think was about five years ago now got us started. And we are able to pay the costs for these quilt shows through donations. So it's almost like acquiring new purse makers and purse donors for no cost, which any business would love to be able to acquire new customers for no cost. And what do we find at our quilt shows? Well, we find many passionate purse makers. They're passionate about sewing, they love to make purposeful products, many of them sewed for their own children or their grandchildren or Project Linus, any of those types of organizations. When we talk about Sew Powerful, and how these products can keep girls in schools, and how they provide local jobs for local impact, I think that it just touches the heartstrings of the people who are generally attending those quilt shows.
You know, and what I've discovered by doing a lot of these podcasts, when you ask people, How did you first hear about Sew Powerful, many people said, Oh, I saw you at XYZ Quilt Show. And sometimes that seed is planted, but nothing sprouts for a couple of years, you know. And the other thing that's happened a lot is an individual walks by our booth, hears about it, and might be attending the quilt show with a group. And suddenly an hour later she's back at our booth telling her friends the Sew Powerful story and getting them all enthused too. Yeah, it's always been a great experience.
Before COVID we attended, I think that last year before COVID, did we do 15? I can't remember because I know it almost drove me crazy being the manager of that many shows, but seven to ten a year was kind of what we were trying to do. And we just found interest everywhere we went.
So like you said during the last couple of years, the first year 2020, most of the shows were canceled. The second year there were a lot of restrictions and people weren't quite ready to come back. But in 2022, here we are. And this is early April. So far, we've done two this year. We did QuiltCon in Phoenix and the AQS show in Branson. Can you tell us a little bit about the Phoenix show, how that went, and who was there?
Well, that Phoenix show is one that is really interesting to me, because it is called QuiltCon, because it's the modern quilt festival. So it's kind of a different group of quilters that are really interested in the modern quilt versus the traditional. Most of them are younger. So that helps us find a different demographic. We had Betty Johnson as our show manager and she is just so talented at telling this story and working with other folks that the booth was a huge success. Jason and Cinnamon were able to attend, which of course everybody loves if Jason and Cinnamon can come because they're kind of the stars of Sew Powerful. They don't always get to come. But in Phoenix they were there and able to meet with folks. From everything I've heard from Betty from Jason and Cinnamon, it was a real success. The booth was busy all day most days. And that's what we look for. When we set the booth up, we do a large display of our purses. And that is such a draw. People see all those colorful purses. And they come in and say, what's this about? It's our chance to say this is about helping keep girls in school.
You know, one of the other items that's new for us this year, are the quilted portraits that our friend Elizabeth Mittman made, and so appropriate at a quilt show. Could you maybe describe what those look like and what the reaction was there?
Oh, I think the one we've used both at Phoenix and at Branson is one that Elizabeth gifted to Cinnamon. It's from a photograph of Cinnamon with the girls when we were doing a purse distribution. And it is absolutely gorgeous. And right now that type of quilting, portrait quilting, is very popular. And so when people would see that they wanted to come in to see how did you do this? What type of thread work did you do here? What kind of fabric? What color, you know, oh, my goodness, you use purple in the hair? Would I have thought of that? You know. So it's it's very intriguing to quilters to be able to get up close and personal, and it draws them into the booth. The Sew Powerful logo was digitized again by Leslie and then I can't remember if the one in Phoenix is the one that Elizabeth made or the one that Leslie made. But we have a couple of those banners that are what I'd call mini quilts, which again, for the modern quilts is extremely popular to do mini quilts that you use as wallhangings. So people are interested to come in and say, Oh, you made a mini quilt out of your logo. Let me look at that. Let me think about that. It just draws people into the booth. It's a real advantage.
Yeah, I thought that was a clever addition to the booth to use marketing materials that had been quilted at a quilt show.
We have many ladies who are doing quilting for the flap now. They might use a quilt block, they might do crumb quilting and cut the flap. They might do embroidery. That's another thing that's very popular in quilting right now. So applique, embroidery, quilt blocks, that flap gives people so much opportunity to be creative. And ladies are looking for that.
Yeah, I think so too. And you know, one of the other things we do at Quilt shows is allow people to drop off their finished purses at the booth to save themselves the cost of shipping. Off the top of your head, do you know how many purses were brought into the Phoenix QuiltCon booth?
I think it was between 4 and 500 purses.
Yeah, it was a lot and we know that there's a lot of Phoenix purse makers and so they took full advantage of that. Let's talk a little bit about the Branson show.
Yeah, let's talk about that. Our show manager in Branson was Jan Paul. She's very gifted at being a show manager. And she's done a lot of shows on her own for her own crafts. But she also came to Houston and worked with us there and learned about Sew Powerful, and we appreciate her so much. But in Branson, this was a new show. It was new for AQS. It was of course new for us because that's the first time anybody'd been there. And I think the crowds were above everyone's expectation. Jan had the normal level of merchandise we usually have in the show, which we use as thank you gifts for donations. We use the pattern, we have a pack of three fat quarters with the pattern in it. We have ribbon and we have the strapping for the purse strap. You know most of that is donated merchandise, and then we can use it as a gift for the donations that are given at the show and that helps with the finances. But in Branson, Jan gave out more than 2000 fliers. So 2000 individual people that they got to tell the Sew Powerful story to. She was able to give all of the patterns that she had, and I believe she had over 100 of those and all but just very few of the fat quarters and the ribbon. So we had just a lot of people really interested in the booth and listening about Sew Powerful. And one of the comments that came from Branson and we do hear this often but it seemed to be more common in Branson. I'm going to take this back to my quilt guild. I'm going to take this to my sewing group to do as a service project. I think my Girl Scout girls would like to do this. So the service project aspect for people there in Branson seemed to really resonate. And yeah, that's gonna be great.
Well, and you know, Chris McMullen, who is the Service Projects Manager for Sew Powerful worked in the booth there, but she also spoke. And so certain people are asked to speak and Sew Powerful was invited to speak. So she had a 30 minute presentation where she talked about Sew Powerful, but also talked about how a Sew Powerful service project could be a fun activity for Quilt Guild. So yeah, so that was really cool. Now we have more quilt shows that we're going to be attending this year, don't we?
We do. And that is an exciting list of events. We're taking a few months off, which is more really industry driven, because the major shows start up again in August. So we will be at the Quilt Festival in Long Beach, which is sponsored by the same organization who does the Houston Quilt Festival. And they, they just do a great job of organizing events so if you're in the Long Beach area, please come by. There'll be great exhibits for you to look at. Got a lot of great purses coming in. Torey Elwell is our show manager. And if you'd like to volunteer, or if you have questions about dropping off your purses, email ToreyE, so TOREYE@sewpowerful.org. She can get you all the information. Jan has also posted the jobs on our jobs site. So you can go to sewpowerful.org and look at jobs and you can volunteer to be in the booth there. But we're really excited about it. In the summer in LA, it ought to be a party, right?
Absolutely. So that show is August 4th through 6th. And again, if you're in the LA area, you could drop off your purses. You know, we also have a donor dinner associated with each of these shows. And it's you know, it's for people who work in the booth, but it's also for people who live locally, just to get to know each other. And it's a really great time. And in fact, I do want to just sort of give a shout out to Mary Furness in Phoenix who hosted the donor dinner there in her home, and several people who were not able to work in the booth, but are purse makers in the Phoenix area came. And you know, it's so cool to get to meet people. You see each other's purses on Facebook; you might chat with them, or whatever, but it's so nice to meet them. And then in Branson, Jan Paul hosted the dinner and in fact, she cooked the dinner and you know, people had a good time there. So it's just sort of nice for people to get to know each other on a one on one basis. Yeah, like Sue said, and so if you go to the website and look under Volunteer Opportunities, we have all the booth volunteer jobs listed by location by date, so you can find them all right there. Okay, so that's early August, what's happening in mid August?
Well, August 18 - 22, is the Festival of Quilts in Birmingham, England. So that so far is our only international show. But Jason and Cinnamon were able to go would that be three years ago now? And it's a great show. They have a big turnout. A lot of ladies come from all over the UK, but really all over Europe. And we get to tell them about the Sew Powerful story. Our country purse collector there, Sandy Simm, is generally very involved with managing that show and setting it up and working with volunteers. So again, if you're interested in more information, Sandy's email is SandyS@sewpowerful.org. And we'll have the applications on the website. But, you know, if you're interested in a little look at the crown jewels or the Tower of London, Birmingham, I think is about two hours north. It's a fun train ride down to London and you can take in a show but come to the Quilt Festival.
And what I understand is it's like the largest one in Europe. I mean, it's it's a big deal.
It is a very big deal. It's one of the biggest shows in Europe. Yes.
Okay, so let's go to September 22nd through 24th. Where will we be then?
Well, we'll be in my backyard. Well, 300 miles from my backyard, but still in my home state, oh it's in Portland. I'm going to be working to organize that. And I'm hoping Kathy Simonsen may help me, but I'm speaking a little out of turn because I haven't contacted her yet. She was going to help us with that last year. And she's just been a very gracious volunteer. So we hope to do that. I'm Sue@sewpowerful.org if you want to email me. Now, this is a bit smaller show, but it's still very fun. They have great classes, they have great exhibits, beautiful quilts, and parking is easy. So you know, that's one of the advantages. I would say that Long Beach, NEC, you're talking about attendees in the 5,000 to 10,000 range, you know, of people who come to those shows. Portland, you're talking about 1000 to 2000, maybe 3000 come to that show. But again, you know, it's just fun. It to see a lot of things you see a lot of people you might have met previously.
You've been a show manager for the Northwest Quilting Expo in Portland before, right?
I have. Yeah. Yeah. One of the little tidbits if you're listening to this podcast, we think we're going to have four of our board members come and work in the booth in Portland. So you'd get to meet some of the folks that help with the decision making of Sew Powerful.
Okay, well, very cool. All right. So we're continuing on the West Coast, October 13th through 16th Santa Clara, the Pacific International Quilt Festival. What can you tell us about that?
We've been to this quilt festival for three previous years. You know, of course we miss 2020 and 2021. But prior to that we had been there. It's a very well organized show. Beautiful quilts, a lot of landscape quilts and portrait quilts and art quilts are displayed at the show. Torey's again, going to be our show manager so it's very gracious of her to do two shows in one year. But it's a fun show. You'll get to meet a lot of fun folks. But also think about classes. It's one of the shows that brings in very talented teachers. So if you're interested, look now because the classes booked up quickly, and I believe they're open. I know I was just able to register our vendor booth last week. And I think I saw that classes were open as well. So.
Well, and you know, that advice probably pertains to all of these shows. We're giving the dates of the shows, but sometimes the classes start a few days early. Isn't that true?
They start a few days early, but they do fill up very early a few months early.
Right, right, right. Okay, well, now let's talk about one that's in my backyard. And not 300 miles away, probably it's 30 miles away, I guess from my backyard, is the Quilt Festival in Houston. And this year, they've moved it to early November. It's November 3rd through 6th. And like the other shows, there's classes, there's actually a market for wholesale purchases that happens a few days before the actual festival. I'm going to be the show manager for this one. Any comments on that?
I'm so happy about that.
Yeah, I told my husband and I'm not sure he was as happy as you. Yeah, well and that's the other thing. A big shout out to all the spouses who helped with with the booth setup and teardown and transporting all the goods there. But the Houston Quilt Festival is really amazing. It's in the George R Brown Convention Center in downtown Houston. And the quilt festival takes up a million square feet. There are so many quilts on display. There was one huge quilt that I remember from a couple of years ago when we were there and I think it was like 60 feet long. It was just a monster and little bitty quilts to the big cute quilts, all kinds of talented people the portrait quilting, I remember being really outstanding there. But then of course our booth and hoping that we'll have a really great location. Sometimes being near another well known popular vendor like a sewing machine dealer or some other nationally known supplier is beneficial to us because people come to that area to go to that booth and then they they stumble on us if they don't know about us. You know when I first started doing these shows and explaining that we were making purses and that we were hiring seamstresses to make reusable feminine hygiene pads, it was shocking so many people. They didn't realize that disposable hygiene supplies were not the norm everywhere. But as time goes on, I think more and more people are aware of it. And even in the United States as part of a green movement, people are trying to get away from disposables, too. So our organization, a few others, I think, have done a really good job of educating people to the issue about the girls needing these pads to go to school. So it's educational, too besides just learning about Sew Powerful, learning about what life is like in the developing world, so it's always very gratifying. And whether you live in town, whether you're going to match it up with some vacation time, for any of these upcoming quilt shows, we'd love to have you help us out. You will have so much fun working in the booth. It's really a blast.
That's probably what I'd like to wrap up with Jan. I was thinking about, okay, you've listened to this, but what's in it for you? What's in it for the person who attends or the person who volunteers? Well, one, you meet others passionate about Sew Powerful. And it's really fun to be able to share our passion with other people. You talk to a lot of people. Their responses will bless you. I mean, we've had ladies crying in the booths because this is something that gives them a mission and a meaning and a use for their stash. And it's exactly what they're looking for. You see great booths by other vendors. I mean, who doesn't like to go look at pretty fabric and see a lot of notions and demonstrations. And maybe carrying cash instead, your credit card is a tip, because when you run out, you're out. When you have your credit card, you might get home and have spent more than you thought you wanted. But anyway, it's just beautiful to go by and see some of the other vendors, to see the quilts. Like Jan said, hanging at the Houston Quilt Festival, you cannot walk through the quilts in one day. It will take you a couple days of going through just to admire the beautiful work that's there. Take some classes to learn something new; great instructors at these places. And they really work hard to have quality classes. Machines are usually provided so you don't have to lug your sewing machine in. You might get to try one that you'd later like to buy. So it's a great time for that. And then you can bring your purses. Bring your purses by and you don't have to mail them. And if we can, we'll just hang some of them on the wall for the next day of the show. So just so many advantages. If you can come we'd love to see you at any of these shows.
Absolutely. Well, so it's been great talking to you about quilt shows. It's so exciting that we're back. Such a fun way to meet new people and reconnect with people that you might only know, I'm doing air quotes, on Facebook and just somebody will walk up and their name and you'll recognize them and it's like meeting an old friend even though you've never met in person. And then just like you said, the opportunity to share the mission of Sew Powerful with new people. And you know, it just always sticks. And I just want to say one more thing that we have some training. We give you some guidelines about what to say. You know, we have materials that you hand out. It's not difficult. Nobody is asking challenging hard questions. And if you're relatively new to Sew Powerful we'll pair you in the booth with somebody who has a little bit more experience that could answer some of the more difficult questions. So all in all, it's just a really great way to spend a couple of days working for Sew Powerful and expanding our ministry. So anyway, it's been fun conversation. Thank you for your time.
Thank you, Jan, talk soon.
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 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.
Get to Know Sew Powerful Icon Irene Davidson Thomas
A beloved member of the Sew Powerful family, Irene Davidson Thomas joins us in today's episode. Irene talks about her many Sew Powerful experiences, including three trips to Zambia and travels to Renton to help with unboxing the purses. We get a glimpse into her very interesting life and her fondness for not so typical pets. Irene explains why her heart is so drawn to Sew Powerful and offers some sewing advice along the way.
Bird ornaments, guinea pig, Zambia trip, purses, home, Sew Powerful, San Francisco, sewing, zippers, mother, Shirley Utz, gusset, dress, retired, nurse, themes
Host: Jan Cancila
Guests: Irene Davidson Thomas
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.
Pixie Faire: https://www.pixiefaire.com/
LA Guinea Pig Rescue: https://www.laguineapigrescue.com/
Pacific International Quilt Festival, Santa Clara, CA: https://www.quiltfest.com/upcoming-shows-and-events/pacific-international-quilt-festival/
Sewing and Stitchery Expo, Puyallup, WA: https://sewexpo.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 are talking with a Sew Powerful icon. Irene Davidson Thomas has traveled with Sew Powerful, supported Sew Powerful, makes purses, and so much more. We'll learn about her unusual pets and glamorous life all the time that she's supporting Sew Powerful. So welcome Irene. How are you today?
Irene Davidson Thomas, Guest 00:43
I'm doing very well. Thank you. How are you?
I am fantastic. Tell me where are we talking to you from? Where do you live?
I am in San Francisco. Today I'm in my living room at my house, at one of my two houses. But this is the house mostly I live in and sleep in. And it's a dreary day. It rained this morning, no sun, but we're supposed to have sun at the end of the week. So, it's okay.
All right. Well, and our listeners, of course can't see but I can see behind you. You have a very interesting collection. Can you tell our listeners what that's all about?
Yes, I collect bird ornaments. And they are hanging in the space between my dining room and living room. My house was built in 1910. So, it's got old, old stuff in it and big moldings and it hangs up there. And several of the birds are things that I brought back from Zambia. They do beaded ornaments there. And they do some wooden carved birds there. So, they're all hanging out up there. And I leave them up all year. Yeah. And they're dusty.
Well, take my word for it, listeners, they're beautiful. They're great. Irene, where did you grow up? Tell us a little bit about your childhood.
Okay, I was born and raised in San Francisco. I still live here. I've lived here basically the whole time. I did take three years when I went to school in Oakland, and I lived in Oakland, but I still came home every weekend. The house I grew up in was taken by eminent domain in 1968 to build BART, which is the mass transit movers. And we moved literally a block away. And we moved everything. We moved dirt; we moved trees; we move plants; we moved everything. And that is the house that today, since I don't have siblings, I kept the house it was paid for. My father paid cash in 1968, and that is the house which I have all my sewing things. So, when I want to sew I go over there. It's 12 minutes away driving. I park, I go in, I have one switch that turns on all the machines. And I stay many times till 11 or 12 at night, sometimes two in the morning. My husband, you know will say, "Ah, where were you last night?" "Oh, I was at Cayuga." I love it there and when I leave, I can leave the mess. I don't have to clean up until I'm done with the project. So, it's it's very convenient. I feel very blessed to have that. Truthfully, owning two homes in San Francisco that are paid for is kind of nice.
I bet so. You have your main residence and then
your basically your childhood home.
That's now your Sewing Studio. Deluxe.
Right? Right, right. Yes. Well, then I leave all the machines out and I have everything out and I have people that come and stay. I have a couple of friends from Sacramento who come down and stay and then we'll have sew days and stuff like that. And friends in the city as well.
Wow. Well, Irene I take it that you're retired now. Tell us about your career.
I am retired. I was a nurse for Kaiser for 38 years. I started my career as an ICU CCU nurse, did that for eight years, decided I needed to find something at the other end of the spectrum. So, I went to Mother-Baby-Labor-Delivery, and I finished out my career there. When my mother had dementia and died in 2007 after four years in care home, then my father got ill, and he died in 2008. But while he was ill, he was also in the care home that I would go every day. I was on family leave. I would go every day and we'd go for a drive, or we'd go back to the house until he couldn't make it up the stairs anymore. We would go to the house and he you know go in on his bed take a nap and hang out. And that's when I kind of started sewing there because I wanted something to do while he was napping. So, one machine showed up. And then there were two, and then three. And then there was a couple of sergers and it kind of grew.
Well, what a blessing for your father that he could return to the place that he called home and have a little respite from the care home. That's wonder, right?
Exactly. When I was supposed to go back to work in 2008. I said, I'm not working anymore. So, I retired.
Okay. All right. So, you are married. You've mentioned your husband. Tell us a little bit about your husband, Steven.
We met in 1968, at City College in San Francisco, through a bunch of friends, you know, and we did things like go camping together, bicycle together in the city, that kind of thing. And then he went off to school in San Luis Obispo, and I went to nursing school. And we never really dated in those days, it was just always a group of people that went and did stuff. And then in the late 80s, we kind of got together, then did things together. We did a couple trips together. And he had never been married. I had never been married. And so, in 1991, we got married. I was 40. I think he had just turned 41 when we got married. So, kids were pretty much out of the picture because of age. So, he was an engineer at NASA. But when the Twin Towers hit, they cancelled all the NASA money. Every program was cancelled. And so, he was out of a job. So, they retrained him for stuff, but he could never really find a job. And so, he became a security screener at San Francisco airport. He was one of the first people they hired. And it wasn't a federal job. In San Francisco, and I think there's one other airport, it's a, it's Covenant Aviation. So, he worked for them. And he worked for them until he retired at age 70. Oh, in between, he was a beekeeper. He had bees. And so, we always had a lot of honey, but he can't do it anymore because he was diagnosed in November with acute leukemia. So, he's undergoing some treatment for that. Haven't had great success. But you know, we keep trying different things. And so we'll see but for now he's doing okay.
Okay. Well, we'll keep Steven and you in our prayers for his health. Now, you have other members of your immediate family.
That are small and furry. Tell us about your pets.
Well, you know, as a child, I had guinea pigs. Well, I had one guinea pig. And then all of a sudden, we had three; came from the pet store like that. And the boy guinea pig went to a friend of mine and lived a nice long life. And my mama and her baby lived a nice long life. I think they were probably six or seven when they died, which is good for a guinea pig. They don't always make it that far. So in between, I had a rabbit for 14 years. And then when my mother went to the boarding care, they had guinea pigs and they kept leaving them together. And they kept having babies. And I said, come on, guys, we can't be doing this. So, I just start every time they had a litter, I take all the boys. So, for a long time I had boys. The most I've had is 12.
But at this point, I have eight. I have four girls and four boys, but not together. And then in 2019, a friend of mine said, Oh I know somebody with guinea pig rescue. So, in January of 2019, I started working at the guinea pig rescue one day week and cleaning cages and doing water bottles and cuddling piggies. And from that situation, I've gotten several you know, as my guinea pigs have passed away, I've gotten other guinea pigs. So, I don't do that anymore. Eventually, I would like to go back and do that because I really enjoy them. You know, if you're going to get a guinea pig go to a rescue where you know what you're probably getting, although, you know, some of them that were turned in at the rescue we weren't, you know, sure. And if you live in the LA area, I'll tell you the best guinea pig rescue have ever been to is to La Guinea Pig Rescue. They do a fabulous job. They have something like 400 guinea pigs, and they do clinics, and they do Saturday checks, and they have a wealth of information on YouTube about guinea pig care. So, I've learned a lot from her.
And the lady that runs it and I've also learned a lot just by being around guinea pigs
I'm sure you have.
Yeah, but let's move on. Let's talk about sewing. When did you learn to sew? How did you learn to sew?
I learned so at age six. My mother had a featherweight. And she made hand braided wool rugs. And you had to make the three sections that you braided together. And so, she said, Here, you can help me by sewing all this spaghetti stuff together. So that's where I started on a featherweight, which I still own. And then she was making all my dresses because, God forbid, you never wore pants to school. You had to wear a dress. I mean, it was 1956-57. You didn't wear pants.
And so, she was making my dresses. And she was putting buttonholes down the back. And when you would sit against the chair at school, the buttons would dig into the back of your back,
Yes. And so I said to her, I want a zipper down the back. She was I don't know how to do zippers. And I said, well, can I learn? Well sure. So, I learned how to put in zippers before she knew how to do zippers.
And I was in second grade when I made my first dress with a zipper. And after that I made a lot of my clothes. My mother still sewed for me, but I made a lot of clothes. And today, I would not sew for myself at all, because I just don't wear that kind of stuff. You know? I mean, my friend makes Chanel jacket. She goes, oh, you should make one of those. They're lovely. I said, where would I wear it? Well, your husband could take you out to dinner. I said, what, in his blue jeans? Come on. You know. It's not gonna happen.
Well, your your story sounds like a lot of ours. When did you first hear about Sew Powerful? How did you hear about it?
Oh, how I did. A friend of mine in my sew group in Sacramento, I travel once a month to Sacramento, and we have a sew, a doll sew group. She said, oh, there's this wonderful site you have check it out. It's called Pixie Faire. And every Friday they give away a free pattern. And we were making doll clothes because what we did is we bought dolls. We dressed them and we gave them away [to] Toys for Tots for Christmas. So, we were trying a lot of different stuff. And so, I would download the thing every week. And we tried different stuff. And then all of a sudden, one day this thing popped up about Zambia. And I thought 'Hmm.' That was probably like 20, late 2014, early 2015, somewhere in there. And they were talking about a trip. Oh, I thought, I always wanted to go to Africa. I mean, I was actually almost born in Durban. But because my father's company was being transferred there but then at the last minute, they didn't transfer it, so we stayed here. So, I really, really want to go to Africa. So, I inquired. And that's where I met Cinnamon and Jason. And I said, oh, this is great. And so, I thought, well, if I'm going to go on this trip, I better be making purses. Because at that point, I only made like one or two and the first one I ever made is somewhere in my sew house. I have it. I cannot find it. But I know it's there because I never turned it in because I didn't like it. But I started making purses. And I thought, this was kind of fun. And then that was when you put the flap on the front with a little pocket, you know, and I did things like embroidery and buttons and all that kind of thing. So, then I went on the trip and I took all the purses that had done, I took on the trip with me and gave them away, which was really fun. Because the joy and the happiness of those girls faces when when you are there is unbelievable. So, then I came home and I said well, they talked about well, we'll probably go next year and I thought well if I'm going next year I better start making purses. And then we also did, not not that trip I don't think, but the next trip we did projects with the ladies, you know, little sewing things for them that they got to keep. So that was fun. We made those, as I remember being zip bags, and we made a thing that goes under your sewing machine that has little pockets in the front. We did those. We did fun things with the ladies because at that time there were somewhere between like 14-16 ladies maybe, max. Now I think there's like 50, but that was when there were just a few ladies. And I'll tell you those women are lovely. They are so much fun. And they're very, very, very proud to be doing something with that they have learned and that they can contribute to the community because they sewed the children's uniforms for school.
You've have made three trips to Zambia with Sew Powerful, right? 2016, 17, and 19.
Yes, we did not go in 18. And we did not go in 2021 because of COVID.
Right, right. Now your 2016 trip, we've interviewed several people that went on that trip, including Shirley Utz and Shirley talked very fondly about being your roommate on that trip.
Oh my. I had not heard that.
Yeah, we had a great time together. She was so much fun. I tell you, Sew Powerful lost a real advocate when she passed away, I have to say. Torey was also on that trip. She lives in San Jose, not that far from me, about an hour away. Once in a while we see one another but not very often. On that trip, I had taken empty suitcases because we had brought stuff, you know, to leave. And I had brought fabric to give away. And so, I had an empty suitcase. And it was big; the international kind, and she'd bought this metal flat metal elephant. And she says, how am I going to get this thing home? I said Well, just stick it in my big suitcase and ship it home. And by then I didn't really need that suitcase, so that's what we did. We had to turn his elephant nose up a little bit to get him in the suitcase. But that's how he got home.
Yeah, she has him out on her fence. He lives out outdoors on her fence. But that was really funny.
And so besides your trips to Zambia, I know that you have made several drives up to Seattle for the unboxing parties.
I have. I think it was about 2016 in the fall, that's when they only had it once a year and did all the counts. Met wonderful people: Toby and Dana and Janarie and all the church people because it was, we did it at their church. Cinnamon and Jason, saw them again. And it's a wonderful group of people and very, very dedicated, and smart as far as like what to do to make things better and smart enough to realize that they're not running the show. Esther's running the show, and they're helping her get to where she needs to be with children, the moms, the people that work there, the soap makers now. And these people don't have money. They're living on $45 a month, maybe. I mean, our seamstresses are doing better than that, because we do have the ability to pay them more. But the average people there, they don't make any money.
Right. Well you know I'm glad you brought up the salaries for the seamstresses, because everywhere besides Zambia, everybody that does anything for Sew Powerful, does it as an unpaid volunteer, so that we can take all of the donations we have to pay the staff and you shared with me that you are a recurring donor, that every month you make a donation to Sew Powerful. Why is that important to you to do that?
I am so incredibly blessed in my life and also financially. I inherited my godmothers' estate as well as my parents'. And I have the wherewithal to do that. And these people are so grateful. And so joyous and so happy to have anything and to be able to give them a purse, a simple little purse with items that will get them to come to school and give them an education and give them a chance in life is to me the most wonderful thing. And I support that. I really, really do, and I want to help them. I feel good. I sew for other charities as well. I like to sew, and I don't need anything I sew, believe me. It's much more fun to sew it and give it away. And I do have a very huge stash of fabric because I am a fabri-holic.
I think we believe you. Irene, there are people that you know they've heard of Sew Powerful, but maybe they haven't taken that first step. They haven't made a purse, you know, they're still sort of thinking about it. What advice would you give to somebody who is thinking about joining us, thinking about making a purse, but they haven't done it?
Well, you know, it all starts with downloading that pattern and getting the sizes right and reading how to put it together. It's not difficult. I specifically do the Shirley version. She and I used to do the same thing. It's very creative. You can, you know, let your creativity go. I mean, it goes everywhere. You can get as simple or as crazy as you want. I mean, these ladies with these embroidery machines, I just love it. I don't have one. But I'd like oh, maybe you should buy any border machine so I could do that. But I did work on them. I do piecing on my purses, go back through and see on the pictures, what people have done, give you ideas. There's the theme, if you want to try doing a theme that if that's what kind of gets you going. If you're in an area where there is going to be a quilt show and see what people are doing and talk to people. That's why I really like doing the quilt show stuff. I've done Puyallup and I've done Santa Clara Pacific International Quilts. And spent four days talking to people and trying to get them interested. So, it was really fun. So just, you know, just decide to do one. You don't have to decide I'm going to do 35 or 50 or 100. Just do one and see how you do. I specifically like to do the original purse with the gusset. Because I like to do fancy stitching down the gusset and back up the other side. I do webbing because I don't like making straps. And I use the one-piece flap because it gives you a lot of creativity ability. And it's not working so small as the pocket was before. And I also add a pocket on the back.
This is the Shirley version, isn't it?
It is the Shirley version. Yeah. And then I always put some sort of charm sewn on the inside of the purse. And I started doing that. And I think there's other people who do that now too. I don't know.
I think some people have. Yeah, well, Irene, I want to thank you for your time. It's been a pleasure to talk to you. I've never had the opportunity to meet you in person. And I look
forward to doing that someday. But we will talk again soon. And again. Thank you so much.
All right, we'll talk soon. 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.
Homeboy Industries and Sew Powerful as Social Enterprises with Jason Miles
Jason Miles, Sew Powerful co-founder discusses social enterprise as modeled in Thomas Vozzo's recently released book, 'The Homeboy Way: A Radical Approach to Business and Life.' Los Angeles-based Homeboy Industries is lauded for its innovative approach to dealing with those living in the 'Forgotten America.' We compare and contrast Homeboy to Sew Powerful and discover that both organizations operate with a remarkably similar approach. And the volunteers who serve both organization experience God's grace, growing in faith as they use their God-given talents to help those in need.
Social enterprise, Homeboy Industries, Tom Vozzo, gangs, homegirls, jobs programs, Sew Powerful, sewing cooperative, Ngombe compound, Lusaka, Livingstone, Farm 12, the Dream Center, Caroline Barnett, God-given talents, sewing
Host: Jan Cancila
Guest: Jason Miles
The Homeboy Way: A Radical Approach to Business and Life, By Thomas Vozzo, ©2022 Thomas Vozzo, Loyola Press, all rights reserved.
Willing to Walk on Water: Step Out in Faith and Let God Work Miracles, 2n edition. By Caroline Barnett, © 20078, Tyndale House Foundation, all rights reserved.
Farm 12: https://www.farm12.org/
Soul Kitchen: https://jbjsoulkitchen.org
Dream Center: https://www.dreamcenter.org/
Jan Cancila, Host 00:04
Welcome to the Sew Powerful podcast. This is your host, Jan. You know the sound of my sewing machine means it's time for another episode. So, let's get started.
Welcome to the Sew Powerful podcast. Today my guest is Sew Powerful co-founder Jason Miles. And we're going to do something a little bit different. We're going to do maybe a book report or a book review. We're going to talk about a newly released book called "The homeboy Way: A Radical Approach to Business and Life." And Jason turned me on to this book, and we're going to have a dialogue about it and think you're going to find this book and the strategy expressed in the book really interesting. The author is Thomas Vazzo. And he was a big-time corporate guy, he was CEO of a $1.8 billion division, high charging type-A, get it done, get it done, shareholder value type guy, but it never really felt right in his gut. And in 2012, he became the CEO of something called Homeboy Industries, which is the subject of the book we're going to talk about. So, we're going to talk about Tom's transition. This book is written from his point of view, but there's so many interesting points in there. So good morning, Jason, how are you? We ready to talk about homeboys?
Jason Miles, Guest 01:31
Yeah, this is gonna be a fun conversation. I'm really looking forward to it. I'm glad you like the book so much. I you know, I don't know. I recommend books, whether people really get into them or not, but you really love this one. And so, did I. So excited to have a conversation about it. Yeah.
That's cool. So first of all, how did you discover this book?
Well, it got referred to me in a way. Homeboy Industries got referred to me, actually. And then I saw that they had just published this book for the last couple years. Well, literally, for the last decade. I've met every Saturday morning with my mentor. His name's Ron, and we meet for breakfast and on Saturday mornings. And during COVID, the restaurant we always used to go to was completely, you know, shut down for a while. And then they weren't reopening their dining room. And we searched around, and we found a different restaurant that was open that you know, would accommodate people during COVID appropriately, protocoled and all that. And it was called Farm 12. And it's here local, and when we went to it, we were just blown away of how nice it was. And it was big building beautiful new building the second event center with a restaurant and sitting right beside it is a little humbler building. It's kind of smaller old house, and it's a teen pregnancy crisis center. And then as you go into the restaurant, Farm 12, on the wall, they have a big thing that says, basically, Farm 12 was designed and built to support the teen pregnancy center. And so of course, that piqued my interest and like really like, Wait, what is this? How does this work? And so, so we've been going to breakfast there every Saturday morning for about a year and a half, two years almost. And what I found out I learned was that they basically, you know, have this thing, this social enterprise. And the social enterprise funds the charity. And through an odd turn of events. I actually know someone who works there as their director of job placements. I didn't know that when we started going. But I found that out. And when I talked to Elizabeth, the gal who works there, she said, you know, we learned a lot of this or the founder here, learned a lot of this from Homeboy Industries, which is a program in LA. And I hadn't heard of them. I don't think I had heard of maybe just the name or something. But I looked them up. And as it happens, the guy, Thomas Vazzo was just publishing his book literally, like right when I started to look into it. I thought, Oh, perfect. So, I listened to book on audio; loved it. And there you go. That's the story.
Yeah. And so you recommended the book to me. We had just finished reading a Malcolm Gladwell book about how to talk to strangers. And you said to me, well, if you like Malcolm Gladwell, you'll like this Tom Vazzo book. So, you're right. I did. You mentioned a couple of terms here that I think we probably ought to define as we get going. You talked about social enterprise. Could you just sort of define what that means?
Sure, there's a growing, I guess, you could say trend, or I guess you'd say sub industry or niche in some space between charity and business that is referred to as social enterprise. People also have things called a B-Corporation now instead of a C-Corporation. A B-Corporation is a for benefit business, and the people who pioneered this work over the last, you know, 15 years or so, really started to put together the pieces of an effective model. Now social enterprise specifically to answer your question is a business that's designed to have a charitable result or outcome. And in the case of Farm 12, this restaurant I mentioned that I go to on Saturdays, they have a beautiful bakery and restaurant and event center. And it creates job opportunities for the girls who are in the pregnancy crisis center. So, it's job opportunities. It gives them a resume kind of, you know, item to build their, their job history; it gives them the components related to being, you know, helpful and financially supportive. And so those are the merits of it, and it's designed to do something meaningful. So, these threads, you know, social enterprise are just so closely aligned to what we've done for, you know, over a decade now in Zambia. We haven't called it by that name. We haven't used these terms, per se. But the on the ground activity in in Lusaka and Livingston that we do is is very, very similar to these ideas of Farm 12 Restaurant here in the Seattle area and Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles. Yeah.
Well, and I think there's a famous one called Soul Kitchen that Jon Bon Jovi owns and operates, and I think his target is he hires people that are homeless to work in his restaurant. So yeah, so Okay, so there's, there's some good examples of this. We're going to get into the parallels and the philosophy of Homeboy Industries with Sew Powerful in just a minute, but why don't we give our listeners a little bit of background about the book and exactly what is Homeboy Industries? What is their philosophy? And who do they serve?
Yeah, sure, happy to do just a brief recap, but it's basically founded by a believe Jesuit priest, Gregory Boyle, who really started to work with gang members, but also people who are just newly released from prison. And that whole community of the who've gone into prison come out and in Los Angeles area, and really trying to figure out how to resolve issues related to them. You know, recidivism is, you know, going back into prison or not being a part of gangs or not. So that was his passion and his area of emphasis and began this program. And, in essence, these cottage industries, I guess you could call them, their bakery, their farmers market, they have several, I think they have six or seven businesses that they run that serve as job training opportunities. But also, ideally, they'll fund the program work. Whether they do or don't fund the program work is debatable. And that's part of the journey of the book that's interesting to listen to. But the idea is that they create a valuable opportunity for program participants to get job skills and play a part in the community.
Yeah, and I mean, it's, it's started out as a way to address the problem with gangs that are very prevalent in many big cities, Los Angeles, in particular. As I understand it, was started about 30 years ago by Father Greg. And, yeah, I just found it so fascinating. The other thing that was interesting to me is that he wrote this book started in April of 2020, which was when the whole world was just closing down from the pandemic. And then apparently, he worked on for a few months there, and then it was off to the publishers. But some interesting things have happened in the world of work since he wrote that book. You know, he talks a lot about joy at work. And, you know, we've all witnessed the great resignation. People weren't feeling joy at work. And so, as he wrote the book that hadn't yet happened, and I thought that was an interesting thing. You know, the services that they provide, to me are just amazing. So, somebody gets out of prison. Apparently, the word is out in the local jails in Los Angeles, you need to go to Homeboy Industries. So, people show up and the services that they offer are tattoo removal, which, you know, at first, I was like, why are they doing that, but all the gang tattoos are, you know, a pull back into that gang lifestyle. They also have case managers. They offer mental health and substance abuse counseling, counseling on domestic violence, they offer counseling on educational opportunities, and then they do work skill training, which, you know, when you check off this list, I mean, the education and work skill trainings, Man, that sounds awfully familiar, doesn't it?
Yeah, it Yeah, does. It really is similar, isn't it? They have teams of people doing really interesting things. The tattoo removal caught my attention as well. That to me is a perfect example of local hiring for local impact. You know, those people who can remove the tattoos are doing something socially constructive for those beneficiaries because they're helping them, you know, avoid, you know, being acknowledged as a gang member, etc., etc. That's it. That's a great example. It's not a trivial matter. You know, it's not it's not a trinket that they would sell at Malibu Beach Boardwalk to tourists. It's something that is making a material impact in the community in which they're trying to serve and that one caught my attention because just such a great example of local hiring for local impact that we are so passionate about, you know, at Sew Powerful.
Right. And you know, one of the other things that was interesting, and I had never really thought about these people get into the program, but then at the end of the day, they go back home. And their home is in gang territory and talked about many people where every member of their family was a member of a gang. And it was just a lifestyle. And the head of the gang was an autocratic ruler, and that was the safety net that these people had. He talked about two Americas, which was the Privileged America and the Forgotten America. And the Forgotten America are the people that are incarcerated, that are in gangs, that are trying to survive, and have many obstacles in their path, that if you live in the Privileged America, and you have an accident with your car, and you don't have your car, you rent a car. If you live in the Forgotten America, and you don't have bus fare, you can't get to your job, and then you're fired from your job. So, an inconvenience in the Privileged America becomes a life changing obstacle in the Forgotten America.
Yeah, his description of the community that they're serving, there was very compassionately done and nicely presented. And I think that I listened to it. So, the listener of his book or the reader, I think, will come away with a deeper understanding of actual reality on the ground in, you know, Los Angeles for people who are caught in the gang lifestyle and the associated challenges and implications. One person has defined poverty as a lack of options. And when you listen to this book, you realize that that's a thread that, you know, does make sense in that community. It's a thread that makes sense in Lusaka, Zambia, as well. And I would say that there are parallels in the urban slum contexts in which we work in Africa in Livingston, and Lusaka, that are similar to what he describes in working in their community in Los Angeles. There are forgotten people almost in Africa as well. Yeah.
One of the things that they do at Homeboy Industries is on Thursday, people apply to become paid members of their staff. And these are people who must be willing to change. They have to had previously been a member of a gang or maybe even currently a member of a gang, previously incarcerated, and then have another big obstacle in their life, like maybe substance abuse. And so, they they interview these people. There's a selection committee. And so, what's interesting is they don't pick the people that they think, oh, this, this person is going to be successful and will help the statistics of our organization when we say we have X percent success rate. They pick the people that need them the most. And Tom Vazzo called that reverse cherry picking. Could you talk about reverse cherry picking in terms of what we do at Sew Powerful?
Sure, yeah, I love that story. And that phrase that he used, and it's very, very similar to thoughts and ideas that we've employed for a long time in our work. And the idea it just simply resonates with us so deeply this idea of helping what we would refer to as like the poorest of the poor. And the question is, how do you, how do you find the poorest of the poor? Like in a community like Ngombe compound, you know, when you go in it as an outsider, you just think, oh, everybody here is poor. But of course, that's not true. It's relative. And there are poor people when you go in and you ask someone in the community, "Who were the poorest people in this neighborhood?" that they'll know. And they'll say, oh, well, this lady or this family is really, really hard off. And so, our heart was always defined that the folks who needed help the most. In our context for the sewing program work that would frequently be, you know, a mom who's widowed or single, through some circumstance, frequently, HIV positive, frequently will have four or five, six kids, maybe more kids that she's, you know, kind of inherited, in essence, from cousins or whatever. And she's probably not literate or numerate. She probably finished school, maybe in second grade, third grade. And that's the cohort of people that we feel the most kind of energy to try to find and help in that community. It's not to say, we don't want to help everyone, but that's just the intention of her heart. And it's very similar to what they described in a program work in Los Angeles. So yeah, total kindred spirits in that regard. And I think there's value in thinking through that because a lot of times as charity workers, we'll construct programs that will actually have what you might call hurdles or barriers to entry, that we don't even understand what we've done, you know. If you say, for example, you want to employ the poor, but they need to submit a resume. Well, do they have access to a computer? Do they even have any back work background that they could put that isn't like, I was a gang member, and I sold drugs effectively? I mean, you know, having credible prior experience, those are all barriers to entry if you create a system that requires it. And those are the things you have to start to think about, as you put together program opportunities and projects.
When I was reading the book, one of the things that struck me was one of their little cottage industries, and I think this is the one that in their terms, the homegirls run, is the bakery.
And their objective is to make more bread to hire more homegirls. And so, you know, in the corporate world, you would have as few employees as you possibly could to maximize your profit,
And you would only make the amount of bread that you thought you could sell. And so this was just like turning that whole concept on its head. But when I read it, it was like, we're making more purses as volunteers at Sew Powerful, were wanting to hire more moms to make more pads, and it was just such a parallel. I mean, it just sort of smacked me in the face.
Yeah, this is very, very kind of kindred spirits, program design and thinking with us as well. The intention is to create an environment in which a good job is central to the mission and purpose. And so, for us, you know, when we started with the moms in 2010, really, when the sewing cooperative came together, the eight moms, we didn't have any space. So we rented a little very, very humble space with a roll up door, and we just had some sewing machines in there. You know, think of a storage unit or something. Well, you know, fast forward 12 years, or whatever it is, we have a beautiful Vocational Center, two story building, lovely lights, flooring, paint, and the walls are beautiful, the machines, the desks, the chairs. You walk into it, and you have a sense of, I work in a great place. And the intention of our heart is to make the job itself something that is achievable for that mom, who has got three, four or five kids who isn't literate, and comes in, but she could be trained to sew. And she walks into a community of other ladies that are similar to her but are also striving effectively for a good income and and are working there successfully. And the program design that we're trying to put together, creates the environment in which that is so beneficial. And, you know, in the sewing space, people have heard the phrase sweatshop. So, what's the difference between a sweatshop and what we do? Well, the difference is, we're something more like a social enterprise, where the employment component is central to the mission. In a sweatshop, they will to your point, have maximum cost reduction in every way possible. The lowest labor costs, the lowest facility costs, no benefits, you know, like the worst possible condition for a worker, but the best possible condition for the optimal revenue outcome that the, you know, the owner is trying to create. That's very, very different programmatically than a social enterprise that's really trying to employ as many people as possible for social good. And so there you go, that's sort of the dynamics at play with Homeboy Way programming work with our programming work versus a corporate, you know, profit generating system.
And one of the things that he talked about in the book is it's an 18-month program, if you get hired into Homeboy Industries, and they find a job for you in one of these cottage industries. And the other thing that they're trying to do is promote from within so that you come in, out of prison, you go through the program, you get yourself straight, and then they promote you and give you more pay before you've demonstrated, you're able to do the job as a way to boost confidence. And I thought that was a really interesting approach. So different than my whole career, where for a year and a half, you're doing the next job before you actually get the title and the pay.
Yeah, yeah, sure. Right. No, it is very, very interesting, isn't it? And so, a lot of people ask us about our program in Zambia. Like, are you graduating students that leave you to go get good jobs somewhere? And then, you know, like, it's literally somebody asked me that yesterday when I was talking to them. And I said, no, there are no good jobs anywhere. We're creating the good jobs. We are the employer of, you know, note in the community that we're operating. People want to come work for us. And when they do, they don't want to leave. Now, in Los Angeles, there's obviously huge community in which there are amazing jobs, and you know, people could find employment and all different opportunities. In our context, it's a bit more challenging. So we're trying to go for long term employment. We want our trainees to come in to learn the trade skill, and then join us. The heartbreak of our system, to be honest, is when we've had trainees come in, and they've learned the trade skill, and they've been a part of the program for the first six months, and then they haven't, you know, they haven't stepped into the long-term community of seamstresses. And that's happened a few times and, and I know the the gals, we've met them, and then we were so hopeful and optimistic. And then when they haven't joined for the long term for various reasons. Sometimes they move. Sometimes they wanted to be more entrepreneurial, and not have a boss and be supervised. Sometimes they just didn't have the motivational energy to come and show up and bring their best. And so for all those reasons, it's always sad in that regard, but the goal is to have an easy on-ramp to a good trade skill, and to a good long term opportunity, and create something that they would say, as a participant, this is amazing. This is the best thing that's ever happened to me. You know, that's the goal.
Now is word out in Ngombe Compound that Sew Powerful is the place to be? I mean, do you have people knocking on the door wanting to work there?
Yeah, we have so much human potential capital in that community in Livingston as well. We just don't have the budget to expand to be blunt. We have a facility in Ngombe Compound in Lusaka, that probably is about maximum capacity with 50, maybe 60 people employed there in our building before we'd have a physical building problem. You know, where do we put people? And in Livingston, we've just started out, you know, we only have 10 people there. We're using a rented space. We could have a beautiful Vocational Center in Livingston, and employ many, many more people. And so some of this comes down to fundraising and, and having donors come alongside us and say, Yes, I want to see that next vocational training center pop up, and to see it go from 10 people to 50 people and, and that that'll be massive breakthrough, to be honest, because the ladies there, they're ready, willing and able to be trained, and to jump into good employment opportunity. It's not a hard sell. Not at all.
Yeah, I was reading the book, I thought this book is about changing the gang members life so that they can go on. But the more I thought about it, Tom Vazzo went through a huge transition personally, from when he joined in 2012 as the CEO, and in fact, the first CEO, to the point where he was when he read [wrote] the book, and I felt like going on that journey with him that he had gotten as much or more out of the program. And he worked for free. He was a volunteer CEO, he has gotten as much out of the program as the people that were the targeted beneficiaries. And I feel that in the same way, as a volunteer for Sew Powerful, it's been a journey for me. At the end of last year, we did a survey and we asked people what it meant to volunteer for Sew Powerful, and I mean, I was just crying reading, "This has changed my life since retirement; This brings me joy; This is the closest I'll ever be to being a philanthropist." I mean, it works on both sides.
Yeah, totally does. And it's a great question to ask whenever you do a charitable venture: Who's benefiting you or them? And the reality is what we want as Christians, according to the teachings of Christ is so clear into the New Testament, what we want to do is sacrificial service, where it costs us something to serve the poor. But in doing that, when it costs us something, there's of course a reward. And you know, people like to say your reward is in heaven, but there's so much more reward, to be a generous giver, and to do something sacrificial. In the act of it, you realize your personal sense of calling, your personal sense of desire to serve Christ and to serve others is just magnified in your heart and mind. Something lights up in us when we're able to serve graciously and effectively and really just wonder of what's happened in the last 5, 6, 7 years at Sew Powerful is that we've just grown as a community, you know, around the purse program where people step in. And one of the frequent comments is, you know, I I'm so glad I found this. It means so much to me personally. I just read a comment recently where the lady who wrote it said I always wanted to be a missionary to Africa, and I never got the chance and now I'm able to through this program. And that sentiment, that expression of joy is part of us knowing, okay, we put something together, it's beneficial for both the donor, but also the recipient. And it's just an honor to be able to do that.
I wrote down a quote from the book, and I just like to read it, because it just reinforces what you said. Tom Vazzo said, "We need to realize God is pulling us to the margins to be with people who are the most demonized, forgotten and oppressed. We're on the margins to be in kinship with them, and to use our God-given talents to aid in their transformation, which may lead to systematic change, or it may just help one person."
Yeah, beautiful, huh?
Yeah. I mean, when he talked about using our God-given talents, that's what all of us who sew, we use that phrase all the time.
Absolutely. Right. Yeah.
Yeah. This was just such a great read. You know, last spring, just about a year ago, we had our Spring Summit, and one of our important speakers was Caroline Barnett, from the Dream Center in Los Angeles. Can you talk a little bit about what that program is, and the parallels you see between the Dream Center and Homeboy Industries and Sew Powerful?
Yeah, the time last year with Caroline speaking was just terrific. And her book is very good, Willing to Walk on Water. It's really a call for understanding how to step out in faith and see what God will do. And her work at the Dream Center, her and her husband, Matthew, have been doing it now for what, 25 years or something like that. And they took over an old hospital and turned it into basically a ministry center that does many, many things, many parallels and similarities to Homeboy Industries, where they have just terrific job skills training, vo-tech type opportunities, you know, career help, and they do huge feeding programs and that kind of thing as well. I think the heart of it is, and this is the heart of Sew Powerful is, how do we respond with wisdom and with our own sense of talents and energy to what God's put on our heart? And, and I think that's the ultimate thing that weaves us together is although you might be in Los Angeles, you might be helping us work in Zambia, the intention is how do we respond rightly to God's call in our life, to serve the poor, and to do something that's sacrificial in nature. And all of these programs sort of have that shared commonality and they're done, not just as humanitarian work. They're done in Christ's name. They're done because as Mother Teresa said, "We don't serve the poor, because they're like Christ. We serve the poor, because to us they are." That Christ is, is, is presenting himself to us, in these people. And the question is, will we stop? Will we serve? Or will we help? And it's a radical, radical thought, and most the time with our more selfish lenses on, we would say, well, we're busy and we got our own things going and we got our, you know, things to take care of. But the the call of the Holy Spirit in our life, so clear through Christ teachings in the New Testament, is to serve others. And that just is such a vibrant thread that defines the Christian community. And it's just neat to hear how it's played out through a Jesuit priest guy in LA and then the team around him and then know the Dream Center people, Assemblies of God, folks, Pentecostals, at the Dream Center, and and then what we do in Zambia. And there are threads between all of them. So yeah, it's really fun to think about.
Well, why don't we wrap this up? If you're interested in reading this book, the name of it is, The Homeboy Way: A Radical Approach to Business and Life. I got it on Amazon. And I think you could probably get it, you know, in any bookstore, audio book or Kindle readers. Jason, thank you so much for your time. It was really fun to do a book report with you. Where were you in high school when I had to do a book report?
All right. Thanks so much. It's a great conversation.
Okay. We'll talk to you later. 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.
Giving with Love and Compassion with Jill Riffe
When life-long sewer, Jill Riffe discovered Sew Powerful it wasn't long before she was churning out purses by the dozens. Listen as Jill shares a couple of unique tips that help her be efficient, yet still have fun making purses. You may have missed Jill in the past couple of years. She explains the life changing event that occurred but what led her to return to Sew Powerful, even volunteering at QuiltCon Phoenix from far away Minnesota.
sewing, purses, machine embroidery, freezer paper, QuiltCon booth, Minnesota, Phoenix, seamstress, Lusaka, sewing machines, assembly line purse production
Host: Jan Cancila
Guests: Jill Riffe
Sew Powerful purse patterns: https://www.sewpowerful.org/collections/purse-pattern
QuiltCon Phoenix 2022: https://www.quiltcon.com/
Women’s Land Army: https://www.womenslandarmy.co.uk/
Army National Guard: https://www.nationalguard.com/
Juki Industrial Sewing Machines: https://juki.com/
Jan Cancila, Host 00:04
Hello Sew Powerful podcast listeners. Today I am going to introduce you to Jill Riffe. Jill is a Sew Powerful volunteer who has made lots of purses for Sew Powerful over the years. And this year for the first time ever, she was a volunteer at a quilt show when she went to QuiltCon in February of this year. So sit back; get comfortable. We're going to get to know Joe Riffe. Jill, how are you today?
Jill Riffe, Guest 00:49
Well, good. It's good to talk with you. Where are you? Where are we talking to you from?
I live in Savage, Minnesota. It's a Southwest suburb of Minneapolis.
Okay, and where did you grow up? Sort of give us the geography background here.
I grew up on a farm in south central South Dakota. My dad farmed. He was also a postal carrier. And my mother was an English war bride. My parents were married in England at the end of World War II, and then they came and made the farm there. And so, on the farm I had two sisters and a brother. We were pretty self-sufficient. And that's where I learned to sew. My mother was a seamstress. She joined the Women's Land Army when she was in England at 16 years of age. And so that's where she learned a lot of her domestic skills, grew up in an orphanage, never knew her parents. As with many young women back at that period of time, learned a lot of domestic skills. The men were off to war and the women were put to work with many different aspects of gardening, working with animals, they worked with heavy machinery, doing lots of things. And the interesting thing was, she said they never wasted thread, basting thread. They saved every piece of thread. They were issued one set of clothing a year. They had to mend anything that wore out. If your shoes or socks had holes in them, they had to fix and mend them. That's all they got. Anyway, so she made quilts. And my sister and I, she was a year older than me, we had a little sewing machine. It clamped onto the kitchen table, and we used mom's scraps and we were making doll clothes. I was four years old. And
Was was this a hand crank thing?
Yes, it was.
I had, I had one of those. Yeah,
My mother still has it. It's still in the original box. My mother is still living. She's 95 years old. And she still has that little sewing machine. Yeah. So, I don't remember ever not sewing. And just over the years, I grew up doing that. We were in 4-H. And so, sewing has been a love that I've retained down through the years.
When you were growing up, what kind of items did you so quilting and clothing? I presume?
Yeah, well, and I sewed my clothes too when I was growing up because if I wanted a new outfit, there wasn't money to buy a new outfit. It was you know, let's go see what we have in the fabric bin and make something.
So as an adult, you took up quilting, is that correct?
I didn't take up quilting until I actually retired from full time work. I was in my 50s.
Oh my goodness. Well, now tell us a little bit about your career. What did you do? What was your career?
Basically, I was a stay-at-home mom until all of my kids were in school. And then my husband and I together owned and operated a skilled nursing facility. He was an amazing administrator. And I worked as the social worker slash admission coordinator. And that's pretty much what we did for our career.
And was that in South Dakota?
That was in North Dakota. We moved to North Dakota in 1982 and bought the business and yeah, that's where we basically raised our family.
Jan Cancila 04:15
Jill, in Facebook, I saw a post that you said, "I'm back. I haven't been making purses for a couple of years." Would you share with us why that is? What's been going on for you for the last couple of years?
Well, after we retired, we did sell the business. We contemplated our next step in life. We enjoyed traveling a bit and we did spend some of the cold months in southern climes and then we finally decided to move to Minnesota to be closer to three of our four kids and grandkids. So, we made the move in 2018. A year later, he had a very unexpected brain bleed, stroke and he lived just 15 days. And so, I spent the next year with paperwork, kind of waded through the next step in my life and trying to figure out just day to day, lots of it's a blur. I had good church support; some amazing friends that we had already made. Oh, I should also mention that my husband had a dual career. He had 33 years in the Army National Guard and so that was also a very significant part of our life too, in the military. So anyway, you know, just needed time to work through that, but if it wasn't for my faith in God, I just probably wouldn't have made it through there. But I don't think I touched my sewing machine hardly at all that next year. A number of years ago, we made a trip to South Africa, visited a couple of areas of poverty. And I really get it; to see the most distressing poverty that there possibly can be on this earth, you just can't get it out of your mind. And it's just a part of me that, you know, just is there. And I've had a chance to participate in some volunteer opportunities just to give. And as part of part of what I enjoy is being able to give back of the talent I have that has to do with sewing. I love to sew. And so, I eventually started seeing some of these purses on the Sew Powerful page. They were getting more creative. And I have a stash of fabric, like we all do. He who has the most fabric wins, and but I'm only in second place. So now I'm just starting to dig through and make use of what I have. And I have quilt shop fabric, the really nice stuff. And I'm just thinking, you know, this will make a beautiful purse. I do a little machine embroidery along with it. And so, I incorporate some of the designs and yeah, I'm just really in a good place right now. I'm happy that I can do this.
So you do machine embroidery. Have you used any of the patterns that Peggy Creighton has developed for Sew Powerful?
I have downloaded I think all of them her design, but yes, I downloaded them all. And I'm, I'm going to be doing them.
Well, that's great. Well, and I know that that besides machine embroidery, you'd like to do machine embroidery applique. And so, the 'G is for Giraffe' is the latest one. And it's just so cute and fun to do. So, yes, we'll be looking for some pictures of those those purses from you. Well, and you know a while ago, I saw that you posted a tip about how you do your box corners. Can you describe that?
Well, I find that it's a little bit difficult for me to mark and cut out that three quarter inch box corner, either beforehand or to stitch up to it. So, I cut out a bunch of little three-quarter inch templates out of freezer paper. And so, I just iron them on to the corner, that bottom corner on either side, and then I sit down. And I can backspace when I get to the freezer paper template. And then I go the other way across the bottom and back. And then when I get it stitched all the way around, then I cut around that three-quarter inch template. And then I peel it off. I don't peel it off until I cut it out. And for me it saves a lot of time with matching up that box corner. And then when I do the bag front with that front pocket, I do the same thing. And I baste the pocket to the purse front. So, they're essentially all one piece and not slipping and sliding around. You don't have like three layers, you'll may have, again, two layers because they're basted. And so, then that works really good. The other thing I do too, is I have all of my Sew Powerful purse patterns on a freezer [paper] template. I've done that for a long time. I have them all on freezer paper and I just iron them onto my fabric, and I can cut out three or four at one time. And the straight pieces I use a rotary cutter but and I don't have to pin; I just cut them out and I peel off the freezer paper and reuse it. For me it saves a lot of time; I use a fabric marker and then I try to reuse the pattern 12 and 15 times.
Wow. Yeah. And you're cutting multiples at a time. So, I mean you you might be able to cut out 36, 48 purses after you made that one set. Well, that's a great tip that I never have thought of. And I've never heard anybody else doing that and so now our listeners hear about it on the podcast. So that's fantastic. You know, until recently I think you may have held the record for the most number of persons that fit in one of those gameboard boxes when you had 36 in recently, but unfortunately, your record has been broken. I wish I knew who it was, but somebody was able to fit 42 in in the last Sew Powerful Live. I saw box held up with 42, which I think they are the record holder. So that's fantastic. Now, when you make multiple purses, after you get them, all cut out with this great tip of using freezer paper, how do you like to assemble them? What is your technique for that?
Well, I do the assembly line. I might do four or five purses in the same color, I might topstitch maybe in a different color, just really stand out a little bit different from the other. But why do assembly line you know, I might just do all the flaps. And I'd like the the iron on interfacing, I have all of my interfacings cut for the various pieces. And so, I'll you know iron on all my interfacings. And then I'll sew the flaps together and turn them inside out. And I'll do all the pressing. And then I'll do all the topstitching. And I'll set those all aside. And then I might sew the facings to all the front pockets, that big front pocket and do the top stitching on those or if I'm going to embellish it or do some rick rack or something like that. Yeah, I just do them step by step by step. And then set them aside and right now I have 36 purses. The linings are all cut, the pockets are all finished. And it's just a matter of finishing the linings so I can get them into the purse and finish them off. So that's that's my assembly line. It's just how I do it.
This great, you know, some people like doing it that way and some people intensely dislike doing it that way. So that's always interesting to find out how people assemble their purse. Now, Jill, your picture was all over Facebook a couple of weeks ago because you volunteered to work in the booth at QuiltCon Phoenix. And this is so interesting to me because honestly, I didn't know where you lived. And I just assumed you were local to Phoenix. But no, we know from the beginning of this conversation you live in Minnesota. But sort of tell us what happened, how you decided to go to Phoenix.
Well, I was down in southern Missouri, staying with my family down there helping out with some family things. And I saw that Betty Johnson, I didn't know who Betty Johnson was, but she posted, "Help. I need some volunteers for QuiltCon Sew Powerful in Phoenix." And I called her, and I said I'm interested in helping. I live in Minnesota that I would be interested in helping and so anyway, we connected, and I just thought I can do this. I was going to go back home to Minnesota, and I did make arrangements to fly down, get lodging, rent a car, all of that. And so yeah, that's how that how came about. It was just a chance to go and to do and see firsthand how the whole vendor aspect of the Sew Powerful works.
Well, and you know, you shared with me that making the travel arrangements was something that your husband had always done when you had gone on trips before.
And this time you did all that. How was that?
Well, it went together okay. I'm familiar enough with Phoenix as far as where different places are. But I'm really pretty good with using my navigator on my phone, and my Google Maps and so long as I have that I'm usually pretty good. Yeah, I just thought I could do this. And I had my church sisters praying for me before I went and I said I want to do this, just pray for me that I you know, meet my time, my schedules. So, some of my friends said, you know, they were kind of jealous that I went to Arizona.
I have to tell you; I was at a salon getting my nails done before I went. And I was talking to a woman that was sitting next to me getting her nails done. We just struck up a conversation, that was here in Minnesota. And she said, "Why are you going to Arizona?" And I told her about Sew Powerful. And her daughter is a senior in high school, and she was sitting behind me. She got her daughter; she says I want you to hear about this. And so, I have her contact information. And I'm hoping maybe I can follow up with her a little bit more about it. So, you know, you just never know who you're going to run into along the way.
Well, that's great. So, you made contact with Betty and so then you did go to QuiltCon and volunteered in the booth. What's it like to work in the booth? What were your duties? What did you do?
Well, I wasn't able to do the Zoom pre training with her, but she emailed everything out. So, we kind of had an outline before we went as what was to be expected. And so, the booth was set up. I went in on the Thursday, that was the first day that the show was open. They had done some setting up on Wednesday. And we worked two-hour shifts, and Jason and Cinnamon were there. We had these 5x7 Sew Powerful brochures that we were handing out to the various people that attended the QuiltCon show. And course, the captive audience was quilters. The booth had a display of, was it 106 persons, I think, very nicely displayed. And there were some items for donations were webbing, Jason's book. And so, as the show participants would walk by, we would just stand by the booth and ask them, "Would you like to have a free purse pattern?" And you know, the word free kind of like, Yeah, everybody likes free things. And so, we would hand them the brochure and and you know, that would that would bring them in, and then we were able to tell them that just a real brief in a nutshell, what Sew Powerful was, the purpose of it, hygiene project. And then they could come into the booth. We'd invite them into the booth. They could look at the purses hanging on the booth wall. And then we also had on display the reusable menstrual pads that went into the purse, and so they could see you know, what the seamstress in Lusaka were making there. And it was also nice to point out that on the brochure that we were handing out, there's a picture of a girl wearing this dark blue sweater. And those sweaters were knitted by the seamstresses in Lusaka. So, it was nice to be able to tell them that they have these new industrialJuki machines that they use. So, they have good equipment and, you know, in empowers them to make for themselves and take pride in what they make and they have great equipment to make it.
So, it sounds like you had a lot of fun doing it. Is that true?
It was fun.
Yeah. And you got to meet people that you never would have met otherwise in person, because you all travel to Phoenix as the destination. So that was great. So, Jill, you've been making purses for Sew Powerful since 2018, according to your Facebook posts. What appeals to you about the ministry? And if somebody is listening to this, and they haven't decided to take that first step to make a purse, I want them to hear what appeals to you as maybe an inspiration for them to get started.
I guess for me is, I enjoy sewing, I enjoy color. I I like the idea that I can give without having to receive anything in return. I like the idea that this is a gift to a young girl, or maybe even you know a mother an adult that it might be the only thing in her entire life that she will have that's her own. That one gift, that one treasure that might be the only only tangible thing, they have that's theirs. For me, I just, I can't imagine what that must mean to them. And if somebody else could be a part of that and just realize it, you could be part of that giving, even if it's just one purse. If you make one and you never make another, but just make one and give it out of love, out of out of compassion. That's what it's all about.
Beautifully said Jill. Well, I want to thank you for your time today and hearing your very inspirational story. And I know you went through a very difficult time the last couple of years, and you have come out of it very strong and very inspirational. And so, somebody who's thinking of getting started or somebody who is alone, but wants to find the sisterhood that we all share here in Sew Powerful, I think you've made a very compelling argument for joining us. So, thank you very much and I appreciate your time.
Thank you, Jan, for having me.
Jan Cancila 19:38
We'll talk to you soon. 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 SEWWPOWERFUL 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.
Dreaming Big in Dallas with Carla Robertson
Meet Carla Robertson, co-founder and operator of the non-profit, Dallas Designing Dreams. This unique organization is a small business incubator, offering access to equipment and expertise to make entrepreneurs' dreams come true. Finding Sew Powerful brought Carla another opportunity to give back because her new Sew Powerful Chapter, Sew My Dream, meets in this studio and makes use of the fabulous array of equipment and creative space. Listen as Carla shares what motivates her to help dreams come true for her community and our schoolgirls in Zambia.
Sew Powerful, Dallas, Arthur Porter, leather, dreams, equipment, Carla Robertson, sewing, embroidery, digitizing, drones, Airbnb experience, studio, creativity, travel, teaching, forming a Sew Powerful chapter, oak cliff, sewing machine, wedding gowns, classes, purses
Host: Jan Cancila
Guest: Carla Robertson
Sew Powerful purse patterns: https://www.sewpowerful.org/collections/purse-pattern
Dallas Designing Dreams: https://www.dallasdesigningdreams.org/
Sew My Dream, Sew Powerful Chapter: https://www.sewpowerful.org/pages/sew-for-charity-dallas-texas
Arthur Porter’s YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/MrDallas1953
Airbnb Experience: https://www.airbnb.com/s/experiences
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 today. We are going to be speaking with Carla Robertson from Dallas, Texas. And Carla is a relatively new Sew Powerful Chapter Leader. But my goodness, Carla has been doing the most interesting things in Dallas. So similar in scope and objective to what we're doing with Sew Powerful that I just had to talk to her and you're going to love getting to know Carla. Carla, how are you today?
Carla Robertson, Guest 00:53
I'm doing great. How are you? Jan?
Oh, I'm fine. I'm fine. I sort of gave a hand but where are you?
I'm in Dallas, Texas, actually, at this moment in our studio.
Oh, okay. All right. We're gonna get to your studio in a little bit. And where are you from originally?
I am a native Dallasite. I know that's kind of unusual to meet people from the actual city but that's where I'm from.
Oh, that's fantastic. And so you grew up in the Dallas area? Is that right?
Yes, I grew up in South Oak Cliff.
So I lived in the Dallas area for about six years, a long time ago. And I'm sure things have changed a lot. But I know where South Oak Cliff is. So that's wonderful. Tell us a little bit about your hobbies and interests and I think this is all going to end up dovetailing into what we're going to talk about for your studio. But what kind of hobbies do you enjoy Carla?
Well, I often tell people how I really got started was I love sewing. And my mom taught me to sew when I was very young. And I thought I would be a teacher. And I thought I always wanted to travel. And somehow all of this has come together in my whole career. So, my interests include traveling, and I've gotten the chance to travel around, you know, different parts of the world. And this year at home I just love being around my family. I love doing different projects together and working together. And just being able to use our creative gifts. We're all in some capacity in the field of creativity. My mom's a piano teacher. My dad's a minister. My brother's a chef. My sister, she's an artist, and I have nieces and nephews, I have other brothers and sisters. They're all into the arts of some kind, as far as their hobby skills. So we have lots of fun just creating together.
Jan Cancila 02:53
Wow, what a fun family reunion that would be. That's fantastic. So, what kind of things do you like to sew?
Because I'm a custom dressmaker, I love working with clients on their wedding gowns, you know, their prom dresses, and then those who just cannot find what they want in the store. I love creating for those body types. So mostly clothes, but I get a chance to do quilting occasionally and things like that sort.
A custom clothing designer. Wow. Including wedding gowns.
What is your favorite? Do you like wedding gowns?
I don't know that I have a favorite. I just love sewing.
Well, before I joined Sew Powerful, I owned a business that was in the wedding related field and there's a lot of pressure to have everything about a wedding just perfect. So, I can really applaud you for taking that on. Now you mentioned the word studio. Now tell us what is this a studio for? Take us through sort of step by step so we can understand this.
In 1999, I felt this calling based on something that my pastor said. I've been in a church where Dr. Tony Evans is the pastor. And he talked about whatever it is that you know how to do you should pass it on to the next generation. And so, I thought that would mean I would have to start teaching classes about sewing because I was already designing clothes. And one of my first students was Arthur Porter, who is the co-founder of our studio, Dallas Designing Dreams. Well, he came into the class in 1999; we lost touch. 2006 my mom saw an article about a guy who was teaching kids about leather, and it was Arthur Porter. And so, I called him up to say congratulations and he said, "You need to come down here. We're starting something new. And I think it would be a great fit for you." But our studio is just an opportunity for people who have dreams or broken dreams, and they want to start something that they've always wanted to do. And they just don't know how to start it, or they think they don't have the money. And it's an opportunity for us to give them access to equipment, to give them access to knowledge, to learn how to do things themselves. And so, we have various activities going on in here at any given time to help people get started on their dreams.
Jan Cancila 05:22
Wow. And so, are these scheduled classes, or people just come in when they have time? Or how does this work?
Some of them are scheduled classes, but a lot of times, we just get people who drop in. They just want to know what we are doing in here. And from that moment, we get them to schedule a class by appointment. But there's just so many different things in here to do. There's not one particular thing that stands out over another. But we have so many different things like our drone simulator we have in here. So, somebody that wants to learn how to fly a drone, then they want to get their license, if they have an embroidery machine, but they want to learn how to digitize we have digitizing software, so they can come learn how to digitize and take that home and be able to use their embroidery machine. We are an actual Airbnb experience site. And this may be something some of your Chapters could do, too is you host an event for people to sign up for, like our event happens to be digital t-shirt design. So, they come in, and we teach them how to do some graphic design, then they create a t-shirt and they leave out of here two and a half hours to get their own custom t-shirt.
Jan Cancila 06:41
Okay, can you back up to the Airbnb experience? So, you're, it's not somebody lodging with you. It's somebody
Coming to take a class or experience an event with you.
Jan Cancila 06:54
Wow. Oh, my goodness. I've never heard about that before. And so, I presume that gets a lot of exposure, because there's a lot of traffic on that Airbnb site.
And it's something that you don't have to go and advertise for because it's being advertised for you on Airbnb.
Wow, what a tip. Chapter Leaders and people who are organizing sew days for Sew Powerful, we need to check this out: the Airbnb experience. Wow, that's wonderful. Okay, well, and you know, I can look over your shoulder. I can see there is a lot of equipment in this studio.
This is just one section. This is just the heat press section. You're looking at.
Wow. This is amazing. And so, did you start out with all this equipment? Or did you acquire it over time?
We've acquired over the last 16 years. So, we started out with one computer, one printer, you know, three or four used sewing machines that we've just grown to all this other equipment over the years.
Oh my gosh, well, that is fantastic. Now, haven't you been featured on local TV in the Dallas area?
Yes, I've been on Good Morning, Texas here, maybe two or three times. And then Arthur's appeared on several different programs that people have just come in and ask that they interview us to talk about what's going on in Dallas, or how someone can help others. So that's pretty much what our logo says is, you know, helping each other.
Let me back up. Tell us a little bit about your co-founder Arthur Porter, and his expertise with leather. What kind of leather are we talking about? What do people learn from Arthur?
Arthur Porter is the brainchild of Dallas Designing Dreams. He was given this vision to start. And so, Arthur learned and really taught himself how to work with leather. And so now he teaches other people how to create their own handbags and accessories. He doesn't teach sewing leather for clothing, but he does any type of handbags, accessories, or belts and things like that. And so, people come from practically all over the world take classes from him.
Oh, my goodness, well, that is amazing. That is fantastic.
He also teaches on a YouTube, his YouTube channel, and he uses that particular arm to let people learn how to do that. It's free of charge. But we also sell the patterns that he's teaching from so they get to have the pattern; they get to have the video of how to make it at the same time.
Wow, this is so intriguing. I am just amazed. Now Carla, don't you also own a business besides the nonprofit?
Yes, Jan. I have a business called C. Adele Creations which is basically my name Carla Adele.
Oh, now we know your middle name, right?
And I use it to schedule classes for sewing. So, I have a lot of beginner students who are just wanting to learn how to use their sewing machine. So of course, they can get started on their dreams.
I also use that as a way of people connecting with me when they want to get wedding gowns and proms and other types of projects that I get to do so.
Wow, you are a busy woman. This is fantastic. So, let's talk a little bit about Sew Powerful here. When did you first hear about Sew Powerful? What caught your eye?
Originally, I think in December, I was looking for patterns for doll clothes for my niece who want to sew doll clothes. And I didn't really connect Pixie Faire with Sew Powerful. But I was looking on my Roku channel to see what other podcasts I can look for. And I went on Spotify and saw Oh, there's something called Sew Powerful. I started listening and I thought,
Wait a minute. Wait, you're saying the Sew Powerful Podcast brought you to us? And now you're a guest on the Sew Powerful Podcast?
Oh, that's fantastic. Okay, go on. Sorry.
So that's how I found out about Sew Powerful is from the podcast. Let me check this out and see what it is. And it was so close to some of the things that I've had an opportunity to work with over the years that I thought this should be the next step for me. I've had a chance to travel and work in programs like this. But I've also been here at our studio, and we've had Giving Saturday where we make pillowcases for the homeless shelters, here in Dallas. So, I thought this would be a good opportunity to get Giving Saturday going again with a new project. And so, I just love the mission of what Sew Powerful is about.
Well, thank you so much for taking that next step. And you have taken a lot of next steps. You have formed a Chapter. And the name of your Chapter, I love your Chapter, is Sew My Dream, which is a little parallel to the name of your nonprofit, which is Dallas Designing Dreams. So, tell us a little bit about what motivated you to actually start a chapter rather than just send in a purse or two.
My church has a sewing ministry, and I used to be over it. And we used to always take on projects like this. And we were having downtime from productions. And so, I started talking to a couple of those ladies, and I was like, what do you all think if we got involved with this group and we made some purses. And they thought they were saying, "Yes, let's do it." And then I was talking to Arthur Porter about it. He said, "Yes, let's do it." And then I started looking more and more into it and I thought, well, there's no chapter in Dallas.
So, Arthur said let's be the chapter in Dallas.
Alright. Oh, I like Arthur. Every time you ask him a question, he says "Let's do it."
Yeah, that's him. So, he said, Let's do it. So, I went ahead and filled out all the paperwork. And I'm just glad to be able to be a, I guess, a conduit where people can come whether they want to just connect, or they want to actually sew together or just be a way to be able to say, you know, I want to drop my purses off, you know, to be mailed. You know, however, we can help with Sew Powerful project.
Oh, my goodness, that is so generous of you. And just so inspirational. That is just fantastic. Now, you've mentioned that you've traveled to several places in the world. Now has this been mission trips or personal travel or what's been the nature of your travel?
They were all short-term mission trips. Most of them were to Kenya. But I've also been to Haiti, South Africa, Nigeria, Papa New Guinea.
My goodness, you have seen the world, haven't you? And how has the last couple of years when things have been pretty much shut down with the pandemic? How has that affected you and your nonprofit and your business and your wanting to travel? How has all of that impacted you?
Of course, it kept me from traveling. But I was busier for the last few years than any other time. Of course, a lot of sewers ended up making masks and I ended up making masks. But during that time for me, there were more people who decided they were going to go ahead and get married in spite of the pandemic. So, it was probably the busiest wedding season that I've had in the last five years. There were there was just month after month, there were people saying oh I'm about to go ahead and get married. Even if I have five people at my wedding, if I have ten, I'm going to get married.
Oh, that is wonderful. Well, Carla, what would you say to people who might be thinking about maybe starting a chapter or maybe just even starting to make purses for Sew Powerful? What kind of encouragement could you give them?
First, I would tell them that it's a worthy cause. And I know that it's a worthy cause personally, because one of the trips that I went on, we actually took 1000s of pads with us. And at the time, I thought, you know, this is so many they're going to run out. But when I got to the school that they sent me to, there were probably 300 girls. And they were excited because they were going to get five pads. So to know that Sew Powerful is giving them something that will keep them in school, you know, ongoing that it won't, it won't stop after they get these five pads. That really impacted me and as women, we should want to help these girls so that they won't miss school.
That's fantastic. Well, Carla, it's been a pleasure speaking with you, and if you're listening, if you'll go to our website, I will have a link to Dallas Designing Dreams there so that you can learn more about Carla's nonprofit and she will be posting photos I'm hoping of different activities relating to Sew My Dream, her Sew Powerful chapter. And we're just so excited that you're part of the Sew Powerful family and that you have embraced us and given us all these great tips and ideas, too. So, Carla, thank you for your time today.
Okay. All right. We'll talk to you soon. 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 dot sew powerful.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.
Teen Insights into Sew Powerful with Corinne and Carly
This week we introduced the Sew Powerful Purse Distribution video to two teen girls. After they share their own school experiences and promising futures, our guests give us their take on the video. They express empathy for the challenges the schoolgirls in Zambia face, expressing encouragement for them. Our guests may be the youngest to date, but you will appreciate their maturity and compassion for girls living in very difficult circumstances.
high school, cheer, dance, career prep, Baylor University, sign language, Zambia, Sew Powerful, favorite subjects, grade, Nana Camp, future plans, extracurricular activities, disorders, part-time job, purses, stay in school
Host: Jan Cancila
Guests: Corinne & Carly
- Communication Sciences and Disorders, Baylor University: https://www.baylor.edu/csd/
- Goat Yoga: https://www.eventbrite.com/o/goat-yoga-texas-14850243098
- Cheer Flyer: https://www.wikihow.com/Be-a-Good-Flyer-in-Cheerleading
- Sew Powerful Purse Pattern: https://www.sewpowerful.org/collections/purse-pattern
Jan Cancila, Host 00:04
Hello Sew Powerful podcast listeners. Today we are going to look at Sew Powerful through the eyes of two very charming, smart and wise teens. We're going to talk about their busy High School lives in Austin, Texas, and their plans for their futures. Both girls have recently viewed the Sew Powerful seven-minute purse distribution video, we're going to get their impression of what they saw, and how they relate to the girls and Zambia a world away from their very different lives. Oh, and these two teens are my adorable granddaughters Corinne and Carly. Hi, Corinne and Carly. How are you?
I'm good, too. How are you?
Oh, fantastic. It's wonderful to see you. And I'm so glad that you agreed to do this. Let's get some background information. Where are you? Where are we talking to you from?
Austin, Texas. Okay, and Corrine start with you. What grade are you in?
I'm a senior in high school.
And when are you going to be graduating? But it's your graduation date?
Yes. sort of embedded in your mind there. And Carly, what about you? What grade are you in?
I'm a sophomore in high school.
Yeah. Okay. And Carly, what is your most and least favorite subjects?
I would say that my favorite subject is probably math because I'm really good at it. And it like for me like I can understand it well. And my least favorite subject would probably be maybe history because it already happened, and I can't understand it that well.
It's a it's a lot of memorization.
Yeah, true. And in Corinne, what about you? What subject do you like best and least?
My favorite subjects are probably science and history. And then I'd say, I don't know. I don't really have a least favorite maybe math, but it's not like I hate math. It just, it takes a little longer for me.
So you two have like the exact opposites of favorites and least favorites.
Corinne and Carly 02:34
That's amazing. That is amazing. Okay, so Carly, why don't you tell us what extra-curricular activities do you participate in in high school?
I'm in varsity cheer. And that consists of a lot of practices. Every day I go to the school. And at my last period of class every day is cheer. And sometimes a lot after school practices. We do a lot of things for our community, and we really just yeah help our school spirit.
Yeah, you do. I've seen Carly cheer and do still get up on top of the pyramid. What do they call that when you go up there?
Yeah. What is that called?
Flying? Yes. You're a flier. All right, and Corinne, what extracurricular activities do you participate in?
So, for my extracurriculars, I'm a dancer. I'm on the dance team at my high school. I used to dance competitively outside of school as well. But my junior year, I decided to focus on school spirit, and you know just really having a good bond with the people that I actively engage with that school. So.
Oh, very busy girls, and your grades are good? Both of you?
Corinne and Carly 03:47
Yes. Very good grades. all right.
All A's. That's fantastic. Okay, tell our listeners a little bit about some really fun activity that I got to do with you for about four or five summers when you were younger, called Nana Camp. Do you remember Nana Camp?
Corinne and Carly 04:05
Yes, I love Nana Camp. Loved.
Such a fun time in the summer. I would always look forward to we got to have t shirts and hats and all this fun stuff. And we would do stuff for charity every single time. And we would do fun things like going to NASA or going to the zoo. And we went to the Children's Museum.
I remember taking a sewing class. She definitely taught me how to sew and I love doing that with her. So that was always fun.
One of my favorite memories is always getting to come home with a blanket at the end that we would sew some of it ourselves
Or make a bag or whatever it is that we wanted to make. She always let us pick.
Do you remember anything with animals and exercising? A little hint.
Oh my gosh, we did goat yoga one year.
Corinne and Carly 04:56
Wow it was so fun.
I still have those pictures saved on my phone.
So do I.
Those baby goats were so cute.
That just came up on my like memories.
I know, goat yoga is something I never thought I would do. Now, Corinne, you have a part time job. But that's also part of your high school curriculum, right?
Yes. So I'm in a really, really amazing program through my high school called Career Prep. So basically, I am allowed one off period in my school schedule. And I have one period design in my schedule, where we learn about like, how to present yourself in an interview, and how to prepare for an interview, and you know, how to apply for scholarships and how to take the initiative at work. And my teacher goes and talks to my manager, and it's part of my grade to do well at work. And I'm required to work 15 hours a week. And it's been a really good way for me to learn the value of money and appreciate my money and how I want to spend it and how I want to save it, and how much things cost as well as like being prompt and on time. And this is what you should wear to an interview. This is how you should interact in a way that's more professional and less kind of the way that you're treated in a school environment.
And what is your job? What do you do for your part time job?
So my part time job, I am a hostess at a local Italian restaurant. Yeah.
And is that fun?
Oh, yeah, I love my job. I work with some really, really amazing people. And yeah, I love my job.
Now, what are your plans for when you graduate, Corinne?
I plan to attend Baylor University next fall. And I'm really excited about that.
And what you plan to study?
I plan to study Communication Sciences and Disorders on the pre-med track, which is basically like children or adults who have speech impairments or disorders, whether they're born with it, or maybe they were in like a car accident, and then something like that. And it's basically the way that you retrain your brain to speak and so helping other people with that, and I'm really interested on the focus of sign language and working with deaf children. I want to take that and apply that to medicine in any way that I can.
Cool. And Carly know you're only a sophomore right now. But do you have any career or college aspirations? Or have you been thinking about that?
Yes, I definitely want to get into a good college and go somewhere. I have absolutely no clue where I want to go. I don't currently have a job because cheer for me is really busy. It involves a lot of before school and after school activities. And so, I really just don't have time for a job without overworking myself and not being able to leave room for studying. But if I did get one I don't know what it would be.
Okay, well, that's good. Well, you have time to figure that out.
Okay, well, let's talk a little bit about the Sew Powerful video. So, it's a seven-minute video. And for listeners who haven't watched it, you can find it on our YouTube channel and just search on Sew Powerful Purse Distribution. It's a seven-minute video. And Corinne and Carly have both watched it. And it shows girls in Zambia being told in their health class that they're going to be getting the Sew Powerful purse that contains reusable feminine hygiene supplies, underwear and soap. And the girls are they're pretty excited to hear that news, aren't they girls?
Corinne and Carly 08:47
It was such an amazing thing.
So when you first turn on the video, and you hear all this cheering and clapping, what did you think was happening?
Well, since I know a little bit about the Sew Powerful movement, and kind of what it was, I assumed that they were going to get purses because we've helped make some of those before. But I just really, like it warms your heart, to know that those people are getting things that make them so excited and happy.
Right? Because for them, it was the difference of being able to go to school or have to stay home, right?
Corinne and Carly 09:21
Mm hmm. Yeah.
Yeah. And you know, I can hear from talking to you how important school is for you for your education, for your future, for your extracurricular activities, for your friends. I mean, all of it. And without the supplies in those purses that's not an option for those girls. Right?
Yeah, yeah. It's really, really incredible that they're able to get that.
Yeah. And were you surprised to know that there were parts of the world where girls were having to stay home from school on their period?
Yeah, that's insane. I can't imagine not being able to go to school when I was on my period that would be life changer, I would fall so behind so fast.
Yeah, yeah. And, you know, the simple thing that they were getting compared to how excited they were, what did that mean to you? What did you see in that?
It really puts you in perspective, like, if we got a purse with like, some pads in it, that'd be like, Oh, this is so helpful. But for them, it's like a life changing thing. Like that, that affects their entire future. For us. It's just, it affects maybe like, two or three months, but for them that affects their entire life and their future, and the plans that they have for themselves.
Yeah. And so, you know, we've seen the girls who have gotten the supplies now be able to finish their education. And in Zambia, you have to pass a test in seventh grade, to be able to continue your education. And if you don't pass, then you can't go on. So, seventh grade is the highest you can get. And not being able to go to school, you can imagine how hard it would be to pass the test, because you just haven't been in school to get it. So
And you know, the other thing that happens is that we employ the moms to make the pads so that they have a job to help support their family. So that's all part of it. What kind of encouragement would you give the girls? I mean, they seem pretty excited about being in school. What could you offer them in terms of encouragement to keep going?
It's definitely like a battle for them, just like it is for everyone else. And like a period never feels good. But I think knowing that they can have those products will just make them feel so much better. And if I could give some words of encouragement, it would definitely be just like, you know, focus on school now that you can and really focus on the positive side of life.
That's fantastic. Well, thank you so much for your time. I have to say, I never asked the ages of my guests, but I'm going to make an exception here. So, Corinne, how old are you?
Yeah, so words of wisdom from our younger generation. And the empathy that you two extend to the girls that live very different lives is just very heartwarming, and I appreciate that you did that. So thank you so much. And I never say this to my guests, but I love you.
Corinne and Carly 12:25
I love you too.
And, and, and I'm going to see you tomorrow, so I'm very excited about that.
Corinne and Carly 12:31
So so excited.
So thank you for being a guest on the Sew Powerful podcast.
Corinne and Carly 12:37
No problem. Thanks for having us as your guest.
Okay, bye 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.
The Africa Connection with Torey Elwell
Longtime Sew Powerful volunteer, Torey Elwell, shares her Africa connection in this episode. Not only does Torey volunteer with us to help those in Zambia, she and her husband are very involved in supporting a 700-student school in rural Ethiopia. Torey discusses the similarities and differences to provide an insight into the plight of those living in poverty in Africa. Torey also has several examples of great outcomes that will warm your heart.
hobbies, sewing, quilting, Zambia, Ethiopia, girls, Sew Powerful, purse, sanitary pads, electricity, school, trip, volunteer, seamstresses, chapters, 3 Esthers Farm, leadership, outcomes
Host: Jan Cancila
Guest: Torey Elwell
- Aftipads: https://www.afripads.com/
- Sew Powerful Podcast #75: What Happens When You are Named CNN Hero of the Year with Freweini Mebrahtu
- Glowforge: https://glowforge.com
Jan Cancila, Host 00:04
Hello Sew Powerful podcast listeners. Today we have the pleasure of speaking with Torey Elwell. Torey is a longtime Sew Powerful volunteer. She has a very interesting service record with Sew Powerful, but what we really know Tory for her heart for Africa, and you're going to learn some amazing facts and what her passion is there. Now, if you happen to be in a meeting with Torey, just pause and sit back and let Torey ask the questions because she asks the most thoughtful, insightful and big picture questions. It's just always a pleasure to be around Torey. So, I'm going to share her with you today. And we're going to get on with it. So, let's start off. Where are you today? Where are you talking to us from?
Torey Elwell, Guest 01:11
I am at home in San Jose, California, which is Silicon Valley, just sort of south of San Francisco.
Alright, and what's your weather like there today?
I would say it's cold. But the rest of you would probably say it's perfect. Beautiful. Probably about 60 degrees out here.
Oh, all right. Okay, well, you're warmer than we are right now in Houston, Texas. We have a lot of wind today. Where did you grow up? Torey, have you always lived in the San Jose area?
I was born in New York and kind of crisscrossed the country with my dad's jobs. But by the time I was 9 or 10, we landed in San Jose. So, I'm almost a native.
Probably not many people can say that. And so, when you grew up, did you have siblings? Or are you an only child?
I have an older brother. And that's it. So small family, just my mom and my brother and I. So yeah.
Oh, cool. So let's talk a little bit about your hobbies and interests. And honestly, I thought you had a hobby, but it turns out, it's your husband's hobby. I really like this hobby. But tell us about your hobbies. And then I want to talk about your husband's hobby.
Okay, if left to my own devices, I would like to sew; I do machine embroidery, quilting, things like that. I'm a little bit of a squirrel. I get distracted easily. So, when I think about sewing and quilting, I like to do kind of one day projects. You remember when quilt in a day came out? I don't know the 80s, maybe? I love that because I really want to finish something right away and move on.
I think I share that with you. Hey, nothing has anything to do with Sew Powerful, but I just find this so fascinating. Tell us about your husband's hobby.
So my my husband is a retired high school teacher and he bought a Glowforge laser cutter when he retired. It was kind of his retirement present. And so, it it cuts wood. You've probably seen the laser engravings and things like that. It's pretty fascinating. It's his hobby. But he said to me, he didn't realize that it would take so much of my time for his hobby, because he has a small business, but I do all the painting for his cutting. So, seems to take more time that I would like to have but it's fun. He enjoys it.
So what what is it that you're painting that he's cutting? What what is he making?
You know, a little like, if you have a tiered tray, those are popular, little like Easter designs or key chains, or he's made a couple really beautiful wooden quilt squares that are about 14 inches square, made out of different shapes and types of wood. Christmas ornaments are super popular. So, things like that. My daughter in law uses him to cut acrylic cookie cutter molds that she sells for her cookie business. So things like that.
Wow. Well, that's very cool. Every now and then those ads pop up in my YouTube feed. And I'm always so fascinated to see it. And then when I found out I knew somebody who had one, I was super excited to hear that. Torey, you're retired now yourself. Is that right? What what was your career before retirement?
I worked in human resources, as I mentioned. I'm in the Silicon Valley area. So, a number of high tech companies here but as a human resource business partner for several businesses here. So, I still do volunteer HR for several organizations, but just on a really small scale.
Mhhm. Wow. Well, that sounds like that was good preparation for some of the volunteer work that you do now. Is that true?
Yeah, absolutely. It helps to be able to work with different people with different backgrounds and ideas and you know, try to understand people from all walks of life.
As an HR person, you've probably heard it all, heard it all. Let's talk a little bit about Sew Powerful now. How did you first hear about Sew Powerful? Take us back there.
Well, you mentioned I do some work in Africa. My husband and I are involved in ministry in Ethiopia, in East Africa. We have a school there with about 700 students. And when we started, we started with one class of kindergarten kids and grew each year added another class. So, so little kids are one thing, but pretty soon we had fourth grade girls, fifth grade girls, and we realized that they were going to have needs as far as their menstrual health. And the school is in a really rural community about two hours off the paved road. So, there's no supplies. And of course, there's taboos about having your period and what you can do and going to school. So, a few years before I discovered Sew Powerful, we had tried to come up with solutions for that problem. And so, I was always searching the internet for good ideas, ways to help the girls and came across Sew Powerful. So, it really spoke to me when I saw what Jason and Cinnamon were doing in Zambia.
And so how do the girls in your school, the school that you support in Ethiopia, how do they manage their menstrual health? What did you come up with for them?
Well, prior to us working on solutions, they used rags and leaves and didn't go to school, similar to Zambia, although the Zambia program is more urban than we are. What we found is Afripads, which is a company in Uganda, and was able to import their product. They make a sanitary pad. And they have a wonderful model where they empower local women to be sales representatives for their product. So my first time importing them, it worked really well; it was necessary, but it was really expensive. So I ended up continuing to look. I made pads for a while. But you know, that becomes kind of overwhelming with 25 girls in every grade. And I eventually found a vendor in Ethiopia, a lady who, who you did a podcast with a few months ago, Freweini, who has a factory where she manufactures reusable, sanitary pads. And so, I was able to buy them from her. And I've been able to continue to buy them from her for the duration.
Oh, that's great. And so it was through your research for your school in Ethiopia that you came across Sew Powerful, right?
That's right. That's right.
And do you remember when was that?
It was probably about 2014, I would think. Maybe 2015? It's been a while.
Yeah, sort of right when they were starting the purse program, right? Right at the beginning?
Right at the beginning. I think they had just come out with the second purse. I think Cinnamon's first purse was really tiny. And they came out with the second one. So yeah, that got me excited, because at first purse was kind of a bear for me to sew. I didn't have those kinds of skills.
So in 2016, as I understand it, you were in Ethiopia but you joined the Zambian trip from Sew Powerful by just flying across Africa, right?
I did. Yeah, I think they had originally scheduled that trip for earlier in the year. But then for some reason, they rescheduled it to the summer. And every year my husband and I are in Ethiopia, probably four or five times a year. And we had finished a Vacation Bible School Program. And then a week later, Jason and Cinnamon and the team would be down in Zambia. So, I asked permission and they graciously allowed me to come down and meet them in Zambia. So, I had a week in between where I actually took the bus down to see Victoria Falls in the Livingstone area, and came back up to meet them when they landed in Zambia a week later.
Wow. Do you recall what other Sew Powerful volunteers were on that trip back in 2016?
Yeah, so wonderful people. I just had so much fun meeting in addition to Jason and Cinnamon. Christina Porter was there. Kathy Simonson, Irene, Shirley was there. I got to spend a week with Shirley. So that was really a blessing and another family with some lovely children who really were delightful with the kids who were kind of their own age as well. So, it was a great trip. And honestly meeting Esther and being able to sit with her and listen to her heart was so motivational. It was really a joy to be on that trip.
Oh, that's so cool. So what were some of the activities during that time that you were there in Zambia with Sew Powerful,
You know, I think it was the first day. It was incredibly moving. We were in the courtyard, and we were able to help serve lunch. And when I say lunch, it was sort of a coffee cup full of porridge, corn porridge. And it was so moving because the kids would eat some of it. But then they all had a plastic container. And they would put a lot of it into this plastic container, bring it home, because it was their only food. So you know, you can imagine how devastating that felt. But we got to spend time with the seamstresses, we were cutting and folding. And we actually got to bring those big Cam Snap machines and teach the ladies how to use the Cam Snaps on the sanitary pads. So that was so much fun. We got to go out to 3 Esthers Farm and we actually planted some of the first fruit trees there. And we really tried to participate by planting, and we got to walk the land with Esther. And it was just every day was super motivational. I just loved it. I loved every minute there.
Oh, that's great. Well, and didn't Shirley introduce the knitting machine on that trip?
She didn't exactly introduce it but they had a knitting machine. And I think that she had had experience. And so they allowed her to try the knitting machine. And the back of the sweater, I think says "Needs Care School." And so she was the one that got to make the back panel for the sweater. So, it was really fun to see that and just hang out with the women and just enjoy being together.
Wow, that sounds great. And so, having been in Zambia, have you gone back? Or was that your only trip to Zambia so far?
It was my only trip to Zambia. Yeah,
We'll say, we'll say so far.
What parallels do you see in the Ngombe Compound, which is I guess, where you were when you were in Zambia, and the work that you're doing in Ethiopia? What parallels do you see there, Torey?
You know, there's a lot that's similar, in that the girls are the same. They want education, they want to better themselves. They love learning, and not just the girls, but the boys as well. And so having that opportunity for the children to be able to attend school, it is amazing. You know, we don't realize how blessed we are sometimes. [There,] going to school is a privilege. If you don't have a uniform, you're not allowed to go to school. And so the work that they do, there at the Needs Care School is a huge blessing. The needs for girls for their sanitary supplies is the same everywhere. So being able to provide those gives them an extra week of school. And we see in Ethiopia, what we've seen in Zambia, that the grades are better, the girls stay in school longer. And the outcomes ultimately are better.
You know, I've seen some statistics where the girls that are participating with Sew Powerful have a much higher graduation rate at seventh grade. But what was interesting to me was it seemed to pull the boys along as well. It just seemed to improve everyone's schooling, when I presume like the whole family, the cousins, the siblings, and everybody is able to go to school, it helps prioritize that. That's my assumption, right?
Yeah, absolutely. The boys are as involved as the girls for us in Ethiopia. It's not shameful. It kind of pulls it out of the dark. And the boys are willing to support the girls in their needs. And so, I think for that alone, it's just a huge step forward. Because culturally, it's not something they talk about typically or, you know, men would never be caught dead, kind of like here sometimes,
You wouldn't be caught dead talking about it. So, it's been a huge step forward. And we've seen our girls stay in school. It's part of a multi-pronged program with us where we talk about early marriage. There's a real problem of early marriage in some countries, including Ethiopia. And we talk about achievement and hopes, and dreams and girls get to have those hopes and dreams beyond maybe a fourth grade education if they can stay in school.
And does that resonate with the girls? I mean, because that has to be different than what they've heard up until you talk to them, right?
Yeah, absolutely. I think for us, it's a little different in Ethiopia, too, because we're extremely rural. There's very few outcomes. You know, you're either a farmer or a fisherman and so girls get married young. They're expected to have children very young. But but having an education, reading a book, seeing that there are opportunities outside of that. It opens their eyes. And you know now, like I said, we started with one class of 50 kindergarteners. We just had our first four university graduates this past year. I've got 36 kids in university. Two of them are in medical school. You know, I'm just overwhelmed with the opportunities that both the girls and the boys have. And we see what's going on so far. So, it's a huge blessing.
Now being in that rural location, do they have access to television, social media, internet, any of those kinds of things?
No, there's no electricity, there's no running water. We were able to install a well for the village probably about eight years ago. And so, we have a deep water well, that serves 3500 families there. But recently, some of the older people have smartphones and things but it's a solar charger kind of thing. If you don't have a generator, you don't have electricity. So, leaving the community to go to university or something is a huge deal. Yeah.
What do you see as the future of that community? I mean, do you expect that electricity will be brought in for them? And will it change? It sounds like they're somewhat isolated there and sort of insular, I guess, among themselves, right?
Yeah. Because it's so rural, it's, it's hard to imagine, you know. Money changes everything. So, electricity is about $10,000 a kilometer. We're probably 10 to 12 kilometers away from electricity. So, it's a big investment. I don't see it happening very soon, but but it'll happen someday. And honestly, their lifestyle is very self-sufficient. And they appreciate the changes, and they look for good outcomes, but not having electricity really doesn't hold them back, you know, to a degree that you would imagine.
Well, it sounds like it's really gratifying work. And let's sort of circle back a little bit, because while you're doing this volunteer work for Ethiopia, you're also at the same time wearing some hats for Sew Powerful. Talk about some ways that you volunteered for Sew Powerful.
Yeah, I like to sew purses. Like I said, I'm a quilt in a day. So, I like to sew that easy, the beginner purse, mostly. I really like to sew sort of assembly line style, which I think a lot of people don't like to do. They maybe like to do one at a time. But if I can bang out 10 flaps and have them sitting ready, then I really like to do that. I know you ask everybody about whether you make straps or do the webbing, I definitely am webbing.
Alright, Team Webbing.
I don't have the patience to do those straps sometimes. Let's see, I help moderate the monthly YouTube. So if you see the typing on the YouTube, that's me in the background, trying to type furiously and say thank you to everybody that Jason and Cinnamon and Dana can announce their purses. So that's really fun. I love seeing all the purses and the purse cam there.
You've served as a Regional Coordinator in the past, right?
I did. I was Regional Coordinator and now Regional Chapters Manager for for western states, California, Nevada, Arizona and Utah. So so that's a new role. I'm really excited. I love the chapter idea. Haven't found a lot of sewist here in the Bay Area. I think everybody's I don't know, too busy working or something maybe. I don't know. But I'm always hopeful to find local people who maybe want to start a chapter here and in the meantime, be able to support people in the other in the other states as well.
Well, you have Arizona and Arizona has two or three active chapters there. So maybe it'll work its way further west as time goes on as people hear about all of those. Yeah. So, you're the Region 2 Chapters Managers. So we're excited that you transitioned from that role that we no longer have because of our big focus now on chapters. You know, as we record this, at this very hour, we have a booth in Phoenix at QuiltCon and more and more people are hearing about Sew Powerful today. If somebody is thinking about joining maybe if you could share what appeals to you about Sew Powerful, what would you advise somebody who's thinking about volunteering with us?
You know, there's so many things to love about Sew Powerful, but I think what motivates me the most is what I see in the leadership. And maybe this is my HR background where I want to know what's going on in the top levels of an organization to be able to support it. When I was in Zambia, and since then what I see is that Sew Powerful allows the local Zambian people to be experts in what they need, and how they run the organization there. They're definitely supported by the board and Jason and Cinnamon, but Esther is an equal. You know and we see that sometimes with ministries where we think, you know, we're so smart, we can run everything, and we can tell you what you need. And the truth is we can't. We're not there. We don't understand the culture, the language, the social compound of the location. So, the experts are on the ground in Zambia, and knowing that they have a voice and drive the ministry and the results as much as the board and Jason and Cinnamon really appeals to me. So, from that perspective, I really like it as an organization. But you know, if I was asking people if they wanted to join Sew Powerful, I would say, as a seamstress, I want what I do to matter for something. And what I see is when I make a purse, it makes a difference in a girl's life. It allows that girl, she might be 12, or 14, or whatever, she can stay in school, and she can go to school, four weeks out of four weeks. And that, to me is a huge motivation. It means her grades will be better, it means she won't marry as young as typical. It means she'll have a higher lifetime income as she pursues her education going forward. And I love that. I want what I do to matter in the long term. And it's a tiny thing. It's one purse, it's 10, purses, whatever. But I like to imagine a girl who is able to sit in a classroom today because of what all our seamstresses across the world are doing. And that really is a huge motivational factor for me
Torey, I don't think anybody could have ever said that better. Thank you so much. It's been a pleasure talking with you, getting to know you a little bit better. And, as always, very, very insightful comments from you. So, have a great day and we will talk to you soon.
Thank you, Jan. I appreciate it.
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 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.
Surprising Hobbies and Surprising Vocations with Sharon Helms
Meet Region 6 Chapter Manager Sharon Helms. In this episode we are going to get to know Sharon, learning about her surprising hobbies and vocations. Sharon has been a Sew Powerful volunteer for a number of years. She has a creative way of introducing people to Sew Powerful, making it easy for them to become engaged. Warning: Sharon's passion for Sew Powerful is contagious and you will come away feeling the same joy in your heart.
sewing, skirt, Sew Powerful, purse, kits, Cabbage Patch dolls, blessed, fundraisers, Illinois, Iowa, pop up shop, chocolate, pastors, tent making, talent, Moline, God, fabric, granddaughters, Selectric typewriter
Host: Jan Cancila
Guest: Sharon Helms
- Moline, Illinois: https://moline.il.us/
- Sweet-Delights: https://sweet-delights.com/
- Selectric Typewriter: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IBM_Selectric_typewriter
- Cabbage Patch Dolls: https://cabbagepatchkids.com/
Jan Cancila, Host 00:04
Hello Sew Powerful podcast listeners. Today's guest, Sharon Helms, has served Sew Powerful in a couple of different capacities. She has surprising hobbies and vocations. She is a passionate Sew Powerful volunteer. She goes out of her way to make it easy for others to get started. And speaking of started, we're going to get started right now. Hello, Sharon. How are you today?
Sharon Helms, Guest 00:47
Hello, Jan. Fine, thank you and you?
Oh, just fine. Just fine. We're having lovely spring like weather today and winter weather tomorrow, I guess, sort of what everybody's experiencing. Sharon let's start off. Where do you live?
I live in Moline, Illinois. It's right on the border of Iowa, the Mississippi River and then Illinois. We're right there.
You're right there. But where are you today?
Well, today I'm in DeKalb Genoa area of Illinois. It's about an hour and a half east of Chicago. I'm at my daughter's house and getting ready for pop-up that she's doing Saturday. She does chocolates and cookies. And her business is called Sweet Delights. And they are.
And so, when you say pop up, you mean like a little pop-up store, right?
Yeah, she's working on a store. They have a storefront that they're beginning to open up in March. But they thought it would be fun to have a little pop up to give people a sneak peek. Because people are interested in it and been after her for a while to do this, so it's happening.
Well, and I understand your daughter comes to chocolates naturally. That's something that you've done too. Right?
Right, right. Yes. When we lived in California, I was blessed to be able to stay home with the kids. And I did the chocolates, suckers as sort of a flukey thing for my daughter as a fundraiser for the banner group at her high school. And next thing I know it took off, and we were doing chocolates for the LA Municipal Court System as their fundraisers and I had three kids, the husband; we were all working, doing the chocolate. So, she does come by it naturally.
Wow. And did any of your other children take up chocolateering?
No, they just eat it.
And what is the term for that? I guess that's connoisseur.
Well, we call them taste testers.
Taste tester. Do you have any openings? Could I sign up for this job? Okay, well, let's back up a little bit. Tell us about your childhood. Where did you grow up? Did you have siblings?
Actually, I was raised in Moline, Illinois was where I live right now. And I had one sister, and I was the path maker. The oldest so the path maker and that but I was blessed with my mom and dad loving us. Yes.
Wonderful. Now, can you tell us a little bit about your family? Your husband?
Well, I'm married 50 some years? 53 years? Going on 50? Yeah. A long time.
Now once you cross that 50 line, it all starts to blur together. I can say that from experience.
It does. 50 plus years. Yeah. To Jerry and I have three children who are all married and six grandkids
And do they live near Moline?
Yes. Well, Missy is about two hours from us, and that, so it makes the trip okay. But Jeremy lives all the way in Iowa. And
Which is just across the bridge.
Across the river. Yeah. And Jonathan and his family live in Moline as well. So
Oh, oh, that's nice.
We're blessed there.
So it sounds like everybody's not too far apart. You get to see each other.
We do. We do.
That's fantastic. Now, tell me a little bit about your career. I have never interviewed anyone on the Sew Powerful podcast who was a purse maker but also has your credentials. Tell us what you do.
Well, I, I have spent my time in secretarial financial responsibilities. And because of my husband's ministry, we did move around. And so, I was able to glean from where I worked, but also was able to support the family plus also being able to support the businesses where I was at. So, I was the one job I found really interesting was for the educational department at a technical logical manufacturing because I worked with six gentlemen that were from different countries. And it was very interesting. And they taught me, it's called the MTST. I don't know. It's years ago; it's pre computer, but it's a magnetic type Selectric typewriter.
Oh, I had one of those in one of my jobs. Yeah.
Okay. So yeah, they had that.
It was upgrade from the manual typewriter that I started with so yeah, I remember the Selectric. Yeah,
So now besides that, don't you and your husband share a vocation?
Yes, we pastor. And we've served churches across the states from California to New York, different times in our life. And right now, we're pastoring in Moline, Illinois, which I find interesting how sometimes God brings us around in full circle. Here we are back where I was born. He wasn’t. He was born in LA. So yeah, it's interesting. And it's a fulfilling, and it's challenge at the same time.
Well, and you know, Jason talks about being tentmakers. Does that resonate with you?
It does, it does. And I feel like the capabilities that God gave me in with finance, and banking and secretarial was the tent maker, at those time periods, for when we were in different positions. And when I did the chocolate, you know, we were in a position where I needed to be home a little bit more than a nine to five type of thing. And so, to see how God blessed the chocolate, to where we were supplying it for the LA Municipal Court System as their fundraisers to see how God works, in giving us tent making capabilities when we need them, or didn't know we had them in ourselves. So that was looking back, I see God's hand more and more in our lives.
Yeah, age does that for you, doesn't it?
As you look back and reflect sometimes, we just are so busy living our lives, we don't stop and think about it. And, you know, it's nice to take that pause and really reflect. Well, Sharon, you've been sewing for a while. Why did you start sewing? And how did you learn to sew?
Well, my mom taught me to sew, and it was out of a little bit of a necessity. But not just financially. I know this might be hard to believe, but I used to be tall and real thin. But now I say I'm settling and maturing, and my sister-in-law says to me, 'Sharon, you sound like an old building.' But things happen. But the ready-made items out in the stores were not long enough in the sleeves, or the length of skirts, which in the public school way back then we were required to wear. So, it became a necessity in order for me not to get in trouble at school. So, she taught me how to sew and and I will just add a little bit thing because my sewing machine, it's computed, and we can name it. And so, my sewing machine I named it after my mom, Dolores.
Oh, how nice. I love that. Oh, I love that. Well, and you shared with me a little story and it brought back memories to me too. And probably to some of our other listeners. How did the school determine that your skirt was long enough?
If the dean of women or girls thought our skirt was too short, we had to kneel down. And if the hem of the skirt didn't touch the floor, she took the hems out of the skirt. And if it still didn't hit we were sent home or she gave us a skirt to put on.
Oh my goodness.
Yeah. And this was public school, not private public school.
Yeah, I know my granddaughters couldn't possibly relate to any of that. You have been sewing for Sew Powerful for a little while. How did you hear about Sew Powerful to begin with?
Actually, I heard about it through Pixie Faire. One of the things I did when we were in California was Cabbage Patch Time, was the doll then, and my daughter would work with me. But we did craft shows and had Cabbage Patch doll clothes. And then when we moved, etcetera, and life took place, then I thought, Well, hey, here's the American Girl doll. And I'm the one for detail and little, I like that. But I also made the dress as one of a kind with a little flair here and there. And so, it became a business that I wanted to be called M and Bean. They were for my two granddaughters. And that's when Sew Powerful was mentioned, off Pixie Faire, it just became, I could do that.
Oh, great. And so, you started making purses when? You do have a different way of doing this. So
So, explain that.
Well, you know, our intentions are great, all sorts of stuff. And then all of a sudden, it's like, oh, wait, that's not gonna happen. But my mom was diagnosed with dementia. And for a year and a half, my sister and I took turns living with her because we couldn't leave her alone. And it got to where, you know, she needed more help than what we can take care of. And long and short of it, part of that affected me physically. But then there was other issues as well. And so, then a physical issue that took place really knocked me out from 2015 through 2019. I just look back on that. And it's like, okay, Lord, help me to learn what I need to learn through this. Let me be thankful, which I am, don't get me wrong, I'm thankful. And it entailed open heart surgery, blah, blah, blah, blah, battery operated, blah, blah, drugs, and blah, blah. But 2019 was my last time I've had a procedure. So, I'm very, very thankful, a different perspective of life. So, I can't really say that I've sewed all those years. But my brain was going, and I have, I have a lot to be thankful for. I know it was in God's hands. And he wouldn't let me let go of Sew Powerful in my thinking, I couldn't let it go. It was there. And I'd say, well, God, I'm not really doing what I feel like I could do. And that's okay. That's okay. Because I look back and think, okay, I needed that time. And I'm okay. And I'm blessed. And I'm very thankful to be alive. And I've got it covered now for a lot of Sew Powerful. I'm doing okay.
All right. Well, thank you for sharing that. So I think what I hear you saying is that you wanted to start sewing, life happened. And so, when you came back, you were really not up to sewing but you found another way to serve Sew Powerful. Tell us what you, what you do.
Well, besides prayer, because it has become something that's really meaningful to me. And I liked the way it set up. And that was a struggle at first, but I feel like God used all this COVID stuff because nothing is going to come back void. He's going to use it, whether people like it or not. What I see and feel, and sense now is Sew Powerful, grew so fast, that you couldn't even blink. It was like, blink and wait, here's another it just, it just grew and that see God's hand in that. And now it's to where you can talk about it. And you can feel good about presenting it. And here's things that are offered to where you can come in and participate and and be part of this and feel welcome and included and still live your life. Do you understand what I'm trying to say there?
You know, so I've been able to do kits. I have a lot of sewing kits ready and the new regional chapters manager if they ever want me to come in, I'm able to come because of distance or something. I got kits ready to where all they have to do is sew it. I mean, everything's in it; everything's cut out, lined, even to where I have the little Sew Powerful, peel the paper off and iron it on logo and a strap. I've used the time and picking up grandkids, I'm sitting in the car at least 45 minutes to where I take all the webbing I've got and I measure. I mean, someone looks at me in the car, I think I've where I've got 52 inches. I'm measuring, you know, it just can't go inside somewhere so I sit out in the car and measure, or the church has blessed me with over 50 skirts that they used for a program. And basically, most of those skirts I made originally. And its good fabric, so they gave it all back. They said you can do whatever you want with it. So, a couple ladies in the church have washed them all; they are all clean, and and then another one has taken them apart. And these skirts when they were first originally made, they had at least five yards of fabric in them. So, I figured it out that we could get out of an average woman's skirt, at least maybe 12 purses, or so I've been trying to get that a little more organized. Because it's so overwhelming to have that much fabric.
And but it's a blessing too and I appreciate the Colorado Sisters taking some of the fabric and I want to send them some more.
They probably would like that.
So, if I understand this, so rather than sewing the completed purses, you feel like your contribution is to make these kits.
if that will help people, because it can be overwhelming. Here's a pattern. You know, here's how you cut it out. Here's how you sew it together. I'm very visual. I like to see something. And when I first got involved, I thought okay, well, there's got to be an easier way for me maybe to help introduce it a little bit more. So that's why I've come up with doing the kits. I like a structure, myself personally. So, all the flaps, and the back of the person and the front of the purse has the iron-on fleece, Pellon iron-on fleece, just because I want that structure to help keep it stable, that's me. But all of them have that already ironed on. And all the lining pieces already have the interfacing lined on. I mean, they're all just ready to just sit down and sew and I feel like once they start sewing, you know, of course, I'll be honest with you, I can't stand cutting out, I just
If I had that outfit cut out, it was done. Because it took me longer to cut the thing out than to sew it. So I don't want people to get discouraged. So, if that's a way to start, I'll do that.
I just think is so incredibly generous. Thank you for doing that, Sharon. You have served Sew Powerful as the Regional Coordinator in Illinois. And that position has now been replaced by what we call Regional Chapter Managers. And you have region six, which I guess goes from the Mississippi River to the Atlantic Ocean. You know, when we did this and divided the United States up into regions, part of the division was not as much based on geography as the number of chapters, but I have a feeling given the region that you have that you're going to end up with, with quite a few regions [should be 'chapters'] there. And if you send each of your chapter leaders, one of your beautiful kits, you know, you're gonna have a lot of purses coming out of region six. So that is really exciting. You've talked about this a little bit before, but can you specifically say what it is about the Sew Powerful ministry that appeals to you? And sort of weave that into what you would say to a volunteer who was thinking of starting up with Sew Powerful. How does that all fit together?
Well, when my husband and I, we felt like we worked with youth for several years. And of course, there's camp times and things and so they would have some fundraisers to help earn their way to camp especially for families that have more than one child that was heading off for summer camp or winter camp. But our thinking was, if we we did not give a sponsorship for the full ride of the camp price. We felt like if they, they didn't appreciate it, or know what they were really getting if they didn't have part ownership of their trip. So, a lot of times it was half or maybe three fourths we would provide, but they had to come up with something. And we even helped them do that. And I feel like because that was our thinking for so many years, here's Sew Powerful is this is it, they just don't go in and say, 'Here.', What they've done is gone in and had the people become ownerships themselves. They didn't go in and say, 'You need to do it this way. And you need to do it that way.' And I appreciate the fact that they have Esther, they talk to the women in the compounds, what would you like? What would you like, let us see how we can help you accommodate that? And that's a big thing there for Sew Powerful with me is because they haven't just gone in and taken over, or that they have given ownership to the Zambian people for those areas. If I can make a purse to help them, fine. That's great, because they're the ones that eventually is what's going to take place with that purse. Does that make sense?
Yes, and if somebody is thinking, well, I'd like to volunteer for Sew Powerful, but maybe I don't have time, or maybe I don't sew all that well. What would you say to them?
Well, I have a scripture I'd like to share just real quick.
It's out of John 6, and it's verse 9, and it's the feeding of the 5000. And it's time to eat, but they don't have any food, they don't have money to go buy food. And so, in verse 9, it says, 'There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two small fish. But what are they among so many?' And I thought about that last part. What are they among so many? And we don't have a thought about that part of the Scripture. A lot of times we just know what God's done. But there's so many of us that God's given us a talent and it's like, okay, I can press fabric. I press fabric real good. You know, but some people don't like it. You know, there are people, I'm gonna be honest with you. I don't like to cook. It's not me. Growing up, my mom taught me how to cook. It was put in the oven at 3:30 at 350 degrees. So, my cooking, meh, but I can cook. I just don't like to. But we we have a tendency to look at ourselves like, well, that's not a talent. Yes, it is. Cooking is a talent. You know? Yes, it is. One purse is a talent. One card is a talent. You know, I'm not a card maker. My brain just goes uhh, you know, when it comes to time. I can, I could do it, you know, but that's not my thing. I don't feel like that's where my talents lie. I tell you; I got my six year old granddaughter who puts these kits together for me. Because I'll cut out some of the things and I'll say, okay, get out four bags, and she'll get out the four bags. And said, each of these bags, now get a flap. Here's, here's the pile flaps, put them each in a bag, you know, and she'll do all that. Okay, that's a talent. And not only that and teaching her how to count. But I mean, it's just we have a tendency to look at things being so grandeur if our talent, you know, but it's like, what, what are they among so many? We have no clue what can be done with the so many, you know, because of our our talent. And that's what I'd like to encourage you know, don't look at anybody else. What they're doing is great to look and see encouragement about how you want to do something. But you do what you feel you need to do with Sew Powerful as unto the Lord and then it just, that's where you have to leave it.
I think that would be a good place for us to leave this too. So, Sharon, thank you so much for your time. It's been a pleasure to talk with you and to get to know you better. And I know that people who listen to this are going to be really inspired. So, thank you so much.
Well, thank you for having me, Jan. I really appreciate it.
You're welcome, bye-bye. I will talk to you soon.
If what you've heard today inspires you to want to make a difference, I urge you to explore the Sew Powerful website at www.sewpowerful.org. That's SEWPOWERFUL dot ORG. The website has great information about the organization. It's where you can download the free purse patterns or even make a donation. We hope you will join us again next week when we bring you another Sew Powerful story. Thanks for listening. Now, go out and have a Sew Powerful day.
Quilt Show Inside Scoop with Show Managers Betty Johnson and Jan Paul
Meet two Sew Powerful Quilt Show managers who give us the inside scoop as they prepare for their roles as Show Managers. Betty Johnson will oversee the Sew Powerful booth at Quiltcon Phoenix and Jan Paul leads the way at AQS Branson. Betty and Jan share how they have prepared, the materials and guidance they have received, and why they have taken on these roles. They also talk about the Quilt Shows themselves and the activities you and your families can enjoy if you make these shows your destination. Betty and Jan offer encouragement to anyone thinking of taking on this fun job.
Caroline Barnett, Dream Center in Los Angeles, Betsy King LPGA Hall of Fame golfer, Kathryn Compton, World Vision, Princess Zulu, Esther M’kandawire, Jason Miles, Cinnamon Miles, purse making techniques, embroidery designs
Host: Jan Cancila
Guests: Betty Johnson, Jan Paul
- Sew Powerful 2021 Virtual Summit: https://Summit.SewPowerful.org
- Dream Center: https://www.dreamcenter.org/
- Caroline Barnett: https://www.carolinebarnett.org/about/
- Betsy King: https://www.liveabout.com/betsy-king-profile-1563843
- Golf Fore Africa: https://golfforeafrica.org/
- Katheryn Compton: https://www.worldvisionphilanthropy.org/kathryn
- Princess Kasune Zulu: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Princess_Kasune
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.
Jan Cancila 00:20
Hello Sew Powerful podcast listeners, I have a double surprise for you today, we are going to be speaking with Betty Johnson and Jan Paul. You're going to get two for the price of one. Betty is the show manager for the upcoming Quiltcon Phoenix show in February and we're going to talk to her about that one. And Jan Paul is the show manager for AQS Branson that's going to happen during many people's spring break in March. So, we have two quilt shows coming up. We haven't been to quilt shows in a long time and Sew Powerful is so excited to be back. So let's start talking about quilt shows. And you're going to be really enticed to want to attend. So here we go. Betty and Jan, how are you?
Betty Johnson, guest 01:09
Doing well, thank you.
Jan Paul, guest 01:11
Doing well. A lot of snow here so I can stay inside and sew. Yeah, make purses.
Jan Cancila 01:18
All right, excellent. Well, let me start off with you, Betty. You are the show manager for Quiltcon Phoenix. Tell us the dates and a little bit about the location of where the show is so people can find it.
Betty Johnson 01:32
Okay. Well, our Quiltcon Phoenix is at the Phoenix Convention Center right in the heart of downtown Phoenix between 4th and 5th Streets, just north of Washington. Lots of good parking around there. We're going to be in the North building. And I really would love to see everybody come on over and stop by booth number 641. We're going to be in the lower level of the North Building. I think registration is open still for anybody who'd like to attend, going on to the website, which is Quiltcon.com. Very easy. And I think the registrations about 12 bucks. We are going to be open between Thursday, which is February 17th, and Sunday, which is February 20th. Even though some of us volunteers have a great opportunity to set up on Wednesday. So, I'd really like to encourage anybody in the Phoenix area during February 17th to 20th to stop by the booth, and look at how beautifully displayed we have 106 purses. And let me tell you the special thing about our booth. We've got Jason and Cinnamon; they're coming, and you get to meet and greet with them. And I think that's just a really big plus for our first show coming back from last couple years of COVID.
Jan Cancila 02:45
Okay, all right. I'm going to ask you more about your show, but that's a great teaser for us. Jan Paul is the show manager for AQS in Branson. Give us the lowdown on your show, Jan.
Jan Paul 02:58
Actually, this will be the very first ever AQS show in Branson. They were originally planning to do it in 2020, and then COVID. So, when we're finally able to get back to having shows they are having this one, and it's going to be at the Hilton Convention Center at Branson Landing, which is a area that's kind of the old downtown part of Branson. And there is a parking garage so there should be plenty of parking and not much trouble parking. There are one day tickets that are going to be $12 for AQS members, $15 for nonmembers all the way up to the multi day ticket that would last all the way from Wednesday until Saturday. And as you mentioned the show is in March, March 23rd through the 26th. The multi day tickets run $28 for members to $35 for nonmembers so it's not a very expensive show to go see. And I think it'll be a lot of fun. It's gonna be like I said the very first time they've ever had one. So
Jan Cancila 04:12
And we're talking about Branson, Missouri which is a destination city. If people come with their families because it is spring break, what kind of attractions might they find in Branson?
Jan Paul 04:24
Branson has a lot of family friendly attractions. There is a huge theme park called Silver Dollar City that is sort of a 1800s kind of theme of old timey stuff. That's a lot of fun. They have rides, they have food, they have all kinds of shows going on inside the park. So that's a fun place to go. They have music shows. Dolly Parton has a huge theater there. I can't remember all the theaters but if you Google 'Branson', there are tons of things to do. One of the neatest things that they have is they've just opened a brand-new aquarium that is amazing, which would be a fun activity to go to. But Branson's got little small amusement parks for kids. There's a big lake for fishing and boating. And one of the attractions is called Branson Belle where you can go out for a show on an old riverboat and have dinner. So, a lot, a lot of things to do. It's a touristy destination, kind of fun place. So, there's lots to do for everybody.
Jan Cancila 05:35
Yeah, something for everyone. That sounds like a lot of fun and that the weather should be a little nicer six weeks from now.
Jan Paul 05:42
Jan Cancila 05:43
And of course, Phoenix in February. That's a wonderful destination, isn't it, Betty?
Betty Johnson 05:48
Ideal. You're looking at temperatures already so that I know what to expect down the road here two weeks. And we're looking at highs in the upper 70s, lower 80s. It's gonna be nice, lows, you know, in the 60s. Beautiful time of year to come to Phoenix. You don't want to wait till July to do that. Come in February.
Jan Cancila 06:06
Yeah, absolutely. Well, now both of you are show managers. And I know that you're working on being prepared for the show, can you give us sort of the high-level view of what preparing for a show is all about? Betty let's start with you.
Betty Johnson 06:22
Well, preparing for the show has many layers to it that I'm learning. This is my first show. So I've appreciated all the materials that others have put together, checklists and reminders and booth layouts and those kinds of things. But in addition to those kind of administrative or logistical things, we've got to make sure we've got enough volunteers because we'd like to have two people in the booth, at least at all times. And so, I've been able to find six, seven different volunteers, in addition to Jason and Cinnamon, to come join us at the booth. And these are people who are available through the Facebook group who are purse sewers. So, they are already knowledgeable about Sew Powerful, and about purse making. But there's also then the training component, once we get those volunteers in place. Got to get them ready to go as well. So, logistics are the stuff, the display and the people. And those come the big picture of things that I'm working on right now to finish up.
Jan Cancila 07:19
Okay, and your show is about two weeks away
Betty Johnson 07:22
Just a little bit less. Actually, the counter on the website at Quiltcom.com is 12 days and two hours. So that's what they're counting ways.
Jan Cancila 07:31
And when this airs, it's going to be you know,
Betty Johnson 07:34
even fewer days,
Jan Cancila 07:36
5 days and counting. And Jan Paul, can you talk a little bit about how you're preparing for the show?
Jan Paul 07:43
Well, first I want to say after hearing what the weather's gonna be like where Betty is, I may come help just to get out of here.
Betty Johnson 07:52
Well, I'll find you space, we can always use a great purse maker at Phoenix Quiltcon.
Jan Paul 07:58
I am so impressed with the materials. They have been so helpful in planning the quilt show. I did the Paducah Quilt Show in 2019, before the checklists and all that kind of stuff. And it was a little stressful trying to think of all the little details that needed to be done. And this has made it so much easier. There is a Show Managers Handbook, there are lists of everything that we need and and you have even put links for the places that we can order them if we need them. It has been just a ton easier for me doing this show. And of course, I had a practice run on a show that got canceled due to COVID last fall. So that that also was I went through all the planning stages, and but we didn't do the show. So that was helpful.
Jan Cancila 08:57
That that was your dress rehearsal.
Jan Paul 08:59
That was my dress rehearsal. Like Betty, there's, you know, of course, all the things to do as far as getting the equipment that's going to be in the booth. That's really just a matter of gathering things together. It's getting the volunteers. That is the big thing. Oh, and Cinnamon and Jason are coming to our show too, I didn't say that. Yeah. Yeah. So, if you can't go to Phoenix, come to Branson if you're closer to Branson, and you'll get to meet them there. And I'm so excited to get to work with him again at a quilt show. I also have ladies from my chapter that are interested in coming and I have told my sister that she is now going to repay me for all the sewing and hemming and mending that I have done for her, her whole life and she has to come and help in the booths too. So, she lives about an hour south of Branson, so she's gonna have to come, come help out.
Jan Cancila 09:57
Oh, that's excellent. So So, Jan Paul, if I understand, you're looking for people for volunteers to work in the booth, is that right?
Jan Paul 10:05
That is correct. People who can come and work in the booth either for one day or multiple days, you know, whatever they would like to do. And as we talked about earlier, it's a great place to come and bring your family. And you could work in the booth, if you want to come and volunteer in the booth, while your family's out doing another things. And then in the evenings, there's things for families to do together. So that might be something to think about as well. If you're having to make you know, a little bit of a drive to get there. There is stuff to do.
Jan Cancila 10:40
And Jan, I saw that you put a post on Facebook in the Purse Project Group, asking for volunteers. So, is that the best way to have people respond to that post to get in touch with you about volunteering?
Jan Paul 10:52
That is. They can private message me through Facebook through the Facebook group, if they want to do that. Yeah.
Jan Cancila 10:59
Okay. That's great. And and Betty, what about you? Now you sound like your schedule is pretty complete on volunteers at this point, is that right?
I'm very fortunate, Jan, you forwarded me some folks that live in the Phoenix area. And I don't think everybody knows, I don't live in Phoenix. I live about two hours north of Phoenix. So, Jan was able to help me scout out some folks in the Scottsdale-Phoenix area to reach out to and we got enough folks, which was really, really heartwarming that that was not, you know, a stumbling block for us. Something that I'd like to share though, too, with planning this convention and hosting the booth being the show manager, is all the stuff we're going to have available to folks that stop by the booth. So that's why I really encourage people to stop by because you're going to be able to bring your already sewn purses. If you're a purse maker in the area, please come to the conference, convention and stop by and bring your purses. We'll have 106 of our purses already on display. But we'll be accepting donations of persons. We'll also accept donations of cash of course. We'll have some things to give to folks to do that, like our We Are Sew Powerful book; we'll have the pattern booklet, which is printed and many, many pages available to those that would like to make a donation. We'll have little gift packs of ribbons and fat quarters and strapping. So, we're going to have stuff to give to anybody who'd like to stop by and make a financial donation at our booth. So, in addition to sharing the information, we can have them look and see see the purses and see how they're made, and get the instructions if they'd like to do that.
Jan Paul 12:39
Yes, and that's a really cool thing that draws people in is seeing the little fabric packs, the ribbon packs, the strapping packs that we have displayed are cute. They're really cute. We hope you'll use them to make a purse, but you could use them for something else too. Yeah. And with a donation you do get those so that that is a cool thing. I'm glad you mentioned that.
Jan Cancila 13:03
Now, I know these quilt shows typically have some big-name people that are either speakers and or trainers. Betty, who do you expect to see at Quiltcon Phoenix?
Betty Johnson 13:15
Well, and let me share that Quiltcon Phoenix is hosted by the Modern Quilt Guild. And they are at least national if not more than just nationally recognized; over 16,000 members of that quilt guild, including my favorite cousin, Donna Moscinski, who's in Chicago. She has worked with the Chicago Quilt Guild for a long time. This organization supports and encourages the growth and development of modern quilting. So, I think that's a twist to regular quilting. And they do this through art, education, and community. So, their featured speaker and this young lady, she looks young lady to me on the on the website. She's got an exhibit of her quilts. Her name is Latifah Saafir. And Latifah happens to be one of the co-founders of the Modern Quilt Guild back in 2009 in Los Angeles. So, if you come to the show, you'll be able to see her; she's a keynote speaker. She has an exhibit of her quilts, and she is a co-founder of the Guild itself.
Jan Cancila 14:14
And Jan Paul who can we expect to see in Branson?
Jan Paul 14:18
There are several instructors that will be there, but probably the one that most people would know is Eleanor Burns. She had a television program for several years and she is going to be one of the main instructors, along with several others. And if you would like to find out who all the instructors are, there's a website that is AmericanQuilter.com. If you go to that website, you can click on Quiltweek and then the Branson show and actually any of the others and see who the instructors are and what the schedule is. So, there might be somebody that you really want to learn from that you can find that's going to be there.
Betty Johnson 15:02
And Jan can I share with Jan, Jan Paul, (Jan and Jan; Jan squared here) that for Phoenix, our classes closed a couple of months ago. They filled up very quickly. So, I'm guessing that probably the classes may still be open for the Branson show. So, if you're looking for that experience of sitting in a classroom and learning, now's the time for the Branson show for the March, and if there are any future programs coming up, you know, two, three months ahead to get on the class list is a good time to do that.
Jan Cancila 15:34
Instruction is one of the activities that the quilt show. But there will be a display of hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of beautifully made quilts, and they will have been prejudged. And so, you can walk around and see who has the blue ribbon quilt, and honestly, they're just amazing. And then there's a big vendor section. And I don't think we have our booth number yet for Branson, do we?
Jan Paul 16:02
Yes, yes, we do. We are booth number 1315. [NOTE: The Branson Booth number has been changed since this was recorded. The new booth number is 1000.]
Jan Cancila 16:06
Okay, and that tells you something of how many vendor booths there are. And, you know, it's just amazing to walk through there and see all the vendors and then of course, stop at the Sew Powerful booth so that you can meet Jason and Cinnamon, drop off the purses that you've already made and save yourself the postage, make a donation and pick up some of the great merch that is going to be there in the booth. You know, I have talked to a lot of people who have found out about Sew Powerful through our booth. And one organization in particular, one of their members was just strolling through and somebody sort of almost, you know, you reach out and you hand them a flyer and I think she maybe reluctantly took it. She was very interested. But then she said she went back to her hotel room that night, and she was going through her bag of goodies, sorting things out of, you know, keep are save. And then she started reading the Sew Powerful flyer. And it dawned on her what a great organization it was. She talked about it at dinner with the other people from her group, brought them all back to our booth the following day. And now they've done several service projects for us. So you never, never know who casually walks by and what it might turn into. And so, I think that's really an exciting thing. So,
Jan Paul 17:34
Yes, I had that experience in Paducah, at the quilt show there with a lady just took a flyer was a little interested. She came back the next day with a bunch of her sorority sisters. It was Delta Sigma Theta, which is a national sorority, and they were just they were beside themselves. They were so excited. And they planned to do a service project. They were so excited and wanting to share the information and you just don't know, I mean, the way I look at it is, you know, we're just planting the seed and God's gonna take that seed and the people who need to know about it are gonna know about it and do something with it. And we just, that's all we do is plant the seed in their mind of making a purse and supporting this ministry. So yeah, it's cool.
Jan Cancila 18:25
I know. And so many relationships have developed because of that personal and Jason and Cinnamon's relationship with Baby Lock was initiated at a quilt show. And so, if you are in the booth, keep your eyes and ears open for opportunities. There was a big fabric donation that happened because of a relationship there as well. So, like Jan says, we're planting seeds, and you're never sure when the harvest is really going to come in. And we just hope that it's a long-term thing. Well, I mean, this sounds like a it sounds like so much fun to attend the quilt shows. But it's it also sounds like it's fun to work in the booth. Jan Paul, you've done that.
Jan Paul 19:11
Jan Cancila 19:11
Several times. Tell us what that's like to be in the booth. I mean, what if you're shy? I mean, you know, if I'm shy, am I going to feel comfortable talking to complete strangers?
Jan Paul 19:21
Well, you know, not having a shy bone in my body that's hard to speak on. But yeah, you have a great time, especially in Paducah, you know, with several ladies. And they told me at the time that they, you know, were a little apprehensive about it, because they weren't the kind of people who put themselves out there. They were a little shy. And they did great. But you know, by the time it was over, they they were just old hands at it. And I think it's because you're not talking about yourself. You know, you're talking about Sew Powerful and the ministry and people are interested. I mean I was surprised most people were very interested and engaged when we talked to them and handed them a flyer and, you know, had questions wanted to know a little bit more, um, some of them said, Well, I don't really have time for that right now. But I'll keep this card and, you know, maybe share it with my quilt guild, or my sewing club, or my church group, or whatever. So, yeah, it's not that it's not that scary once you get started.
Jan Cancila 20:29
And Betty, you said something about training for the booth workers. What do you have?
Betty Johnson 20:33
Yeah, a lot of great information for those of us kind of running the booth. And one of those items is a training manual for the volunteers with some different opening statements or questions that we can ask people walking by the booth. Something else though, that we've done with Sew Powerful I'll harken back to last year was our Speak Up for Sew Powerful. So anybody who has any inkling or interest in maybe hosting a booth or running a booth for Sew Powerful at an upcoming Quiltcon in their area, I would recommend looking at those videos and maybe practicing some of your elevator speeches or one minute speeches, because that perfectly aligns with what we're going to be doing in the booth for four days coming for me in February and Jan, for you in March, perfectly aligns. And I feel very, very prepared now that I was participated in that Speak up for Sew Powerful, but also with the training information, I'm prepared to give that out to my volunteers ahead of time, so they can feel comfortable. What's what's fun, too. And, Jan, I'm going to digress just a bit. We host our welcome Meet and Greets twice a month with Sew Powerful on Zoom meetings. And I get to be on every one of those. And I get to hear Jason and Cinnamon talk about the history of Sew Powerful. Listening to it multiple times reinforces in me the knowledge, the facts, the information about Sew Powerful, but I always learn something new in each one of those Zoom meetings. So, I'd like to recommend to folks, maybe you participated in a welcome zoom, maybe you haven't. But please do in the future, because you're going to learn so much more that will pay off at a future convention that maybe you'll participate in or run.
Jan Paul 22:12
That is such a good idea. And I really like what you said about how if you do want to be a show manager, there is information for you to give your volunteers. So, it's not like you're just, you know, left there to come up with something on your own. It is all laid out for you exactly what to tell your volunteers to say, like you said, there's a little printed out elevator pitch, one minute pitch to give to people who are coming by if you can't think of the words to say yourself, you've got it right there. So yeah, thanks for bringing that up. That was good.
Betty Johnson 22:51
Something something that Jason and I did and with Sue Kirby's help is we've, you know, had weekly meetings leading up to the February convention. We've used lists, and Jason and I divvied it up. So, I have my list of things to get things to bring. And he has his list, because we had the big list ready to go. It was a divvy up, not kind of recreate the wheel situation. So even down to safety pins, or a step ladder, those kinds of things are on the list. So, I knew just pack them up, make sure I've got them. And Jason's got the fliers and Jason's got the booklets and Jason's got, you know, other things on his list. Between us everything is covered. And I feel like even my first aid kit, I'm bringing a first aid kit, who would have thought that? Well, it's on the list. So now I didn't have to worry about creating that list. So very easy for somebody to step in the role of show manager. So that then what you're doing is following a script following the protocol following the checklist, and you feel very prepared about it.
Jan Paul 23:54
Exactly. And I would really encourage anyone who lives in an area where there is a big quilt show, to think about taking on the role of show manager. It is not as overwhelming as you might think it would be. It is all planned out step by step. And it is one of the most rewarding things that I've ever done. It's a lot of fun. You meet fun people. And it's really, it's great. I mean, I can't say enough about how fun it is. I've met so many people at Quilt shows that I worked with in the booth that I see their names in the Facebook group. And of course, I've worked at the Houston Quilt Show, the very first one I ever did in 2018. And I met Jan C and she sat beside me at the donor dinner, and I met Cinnamon and Jason and I met Shirley Utz and you know that that is very special to me right now. Pat Quigley. I met Leslie Unruh. She came and stayed with me was my roommate when I did the Paducah show. So, I mean, it's just it's like, I don't know. It's kind of like we're a little sorority of purse makers here. And it's fun to get to be together at Quilt shows and learn more about each other. And also, to do what we love together with is talking about Sew Powerful and the purses and the girls and talking about my girls.
Betty Johnson 25:24
Question, is there going to be a show in Paducah this Spring?
Jan Paul 25:28
There is going to be a show at Paducah. I haven't heard yet whether we're going to be there or not.
Jan Cancila 25:33
Our plan right now is to do the show in Phoenix, the show in Branson. And then in late July, there's a show in Birmingham, England, the NEC Show that we plan to participate in. And really, we're using Phoenix and Branson as sort of a bellwether to see what participation is like, how difficult is it to get volunteers, is the attendance good, etc. And, you know, there aren't as many shows in the spring and summer. Fall is really the quilt show bonanza if you will. And so later after Branson, we're going to be making some decisions about what future shows we would like to attend.
Betty Johnson 26:18
Where, Jan, on the website, could someone go to look that up to see, let's say in April to see what shows we might be planning to participate in in the fall?
Jan Cancila 26:29
When we do these quilt shows, we put out on our Volunteer Opportunities page, we put out a little job description for a booth worker, and for a show manager. And we do a show by show. So right now, we don't have any of those out there because we're sort of still in the evaluation phase. But as soon as we decide what shows we want to participate in for the rest of the year, you can go to the Sew Powerful website and look under Serve With Us and then Volunteer Opportunities. And then we'll have little job descriptions where you can apply to be the show manager or one of the booths workers in those shows. So
Jan Cancila 27:09
And I you know; I did want to say something about the the documentation that we have. You know, I'm hoping that this is used as a guideline. We don't want to stifle anyone's creativity. And you know, a booth layout on paper may look fantastic. And you may get to the venue, and it may look nothing like what you expected it to look like. So, there's certainly room for creativity. And all of those things are in there as guidelines to help you especially if you haven't done it before. But on the other hand, we want to present a consistent look. If somebody went to the Phoenix show in the Branson show, they should be able to recognize our booth for the similar way that it appears and that our message is consistent.
Jan Cancila 27:57
But there is one other observation that I have. When I first started doing shows, and we would talk about girls missing school on their period, this was so surprising to almost everyone. Yeah. And the longer I did shows, and we mentioned that the more people were familiar with that. So, I think Sew Powerful and other organizations have done a good job of educating people about the issue and people are aware that a solution is needed. And they're most appreciative of what Sew Powerful is doing. So, at first it was more of an education. And not everyone is going to know about it for sure. But there was less education about the problem, and more time to talk about how we were offering a solution. So, I thought that was great progress over time that I observed.
Jan Cancila 28:52
So okay, well ladies, as we wrap this up, any advice, I know that you're inviting everyone to come to your booths in your shows. I know that there are more than two dozen people that make purses that live in the Phoenix area. You all know who you are. I hope that you're planning on stopping at booth 641 between February 17th and 20th. Branson is a less populated area but there are certainly people that that go there as a destination or live not too far from there. And so, we hope that you'll plan to visit the AQS Branson show March 23 through 26th. But as we wrap this up, Betty any parting words of wisdom?
Betty Johnson 28:53
Well, I'd like to share that this is just another great opportunity for those of us that volunteer for Sew Powerful to become more engaged and become more knowledgeable about the mission. And the more I learn, and I've only been around the block here for a year and a half, the more I appreciate what God's wisdom is showing through us and through our work with Sew Powerful. It is affecting the girls in Zambia, but more than that, it's affecting us purse makers. You know, Jan mentioned in our Welcome meeting that we had, you know, earlier this week about how those of us who have been retired are looking for a purpose in our lives. This is fulfilling that purpose for me right now in my life, my connection with and my work with Sew Powerful, making purses and volunteering for different roles. Even as a booth participant, a volunteer, it can serve a purpose for you in your life. So that's my advice.
Jan Cancila 30:30
Thank you, Betty. Jan Paul?
Jan Paul 30:33
I have to amen, everything that Betty just said. And that is exactly how I feel about it. I'm retired. I had been actually praying for a year or two for God to show me what did I need to be doing? How did I need to be spending my time? And then I found Sew Powerful. And I really feel like this is what I'm supposed to be doing. And it's meaningful. And as Betty said, it's something that has not only helped girls in Zambia, but it has helped me personally, a lot. I have struggled with depression for a number of years. And this is something that really got me out of myself, and interested in others, and got me interested in what I needed to be doing to serve the Lord instead of, you know, focusing on myself. And so, you never know what part of your life or someone else's life God is going to touch through your service to Him. And I think that, you know, Sew Powerful is just such a gift to me, and to many other women and to our girls, and the women in Zambia. And it's amazing how, as the Bible verse says, God works all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. So that's what I think of what's so powerful.
Jan Cancila 32:10
Well, thank you both. There's nothing else to say. You've both said it all. And thank you so much for your time. We're going to close right here.
Jan Cancila 32:19
If what you've heard today inspires you to want to make a difference, I urge you to explore the Sew Powerful website at www.sewpowerful.org That's SEWPOWERFUL dot ORG. The website has great information about the organization. It's where you can download the free purse patterns, or even make a donation. We hope you will join us again next week when we bring you another Sew Powerful story. Thanks for listening. Now, go out and have a Sew Powerful day.
ABOUT THE HOST
Jan Cancila has been making purses for Sew Powerful since 2014. She serves the organization as Director, Global Volunteerism, the Area Manager for Shows and Events-Mid/South USA and as the Houston Regional Coordinator. She was a public speaking major at Hanover College and holds an MBA from Our Lady of the Lake University. Jan had a 25-year career with The Coca-Cola Company before owning and operating a linen and party rental business in Houston. She is married with two grown sons, a lovely daughter-in-law and two remarkable granddaughters. Jan’s published work includes more than 100 online articles for Examiner.com. Reach Jan with comments or suggestions at email@example.com.