Hey gals! You are about to meet a POWERHOUSE EXTRAORDINAIRE! She has a STUNNING MINISTRY that you’ll be crushing over for sure! Her passion is to create communities where vulnerable or marginalized women connect with God, one another and individualized resources that will aid in transforming their lives. How are they accomplishing this task you might ask?? Jewelry!! Gorgeous, hand-crafted works of art that you will LOVE!! And while we’re talking here…I’ll let you in on a little secret! They are designing 3 custom pieces for our new Shine Emporium store that will be launching in 2019!!! Can you hear me squealing with glee right now?? I know—I’m LOUD—but I’m really excited!!! So let’s not delay this introduction any longer—then we can squeal and jump up and down with delight together as we marvel over the heart of this ministry! Meet my new SUPER SPARKLY FRIEND, the lovely Michele Dudley!
Michele is the heart behind Fashion & Compassion and it’s her vision and passion that directs our work to serve the oppressed and impoverished. She graduated from the University of Southern California and prior to starting Fashion & Compassion, she worked for KPMG and served as a VP for the Global Corporate Investment Banking division at Bank of America. She currently serves on the Boards of Education Equals Hope, The Barnabas Group Charlotte and is a co-launcher of the Ignite Justice Conference! Her heart for people truly knows no bounds and when she’s not out changing the world or driving carpool, you can find her reading or running. Hear her awesome story below!
I’m grateful that LeeAnn invited me to share a bit about myself and Fashion & Compassion! I’m a wife to my husband, Eric, of 23 years and mom of 4 – twin girls who just turned 20 and 2 teen boys. We’ve also had the privilege of having 2 college students from Burundi be a part of our family for the past 7 years. I believe that when we take a step of faith to serve others, God allows these “others” to teach us as well. This is my story of how the Lord led me to start Fashion & Compassion through meeting some courageous and inspirational women…
When I was 8 or 9, I remember looking out the window of our two-family home (aka duplex) on our maple-tree lined street in the suburb of Boston where I grew up. I thought – why was I born here on the beautiful street and not in “Africa”. In my young mind, thanks to the media about war and famine, “Africa” was the epitome of poverty.
I didn’t understand that generational poverty and busing riots were occurring only a few miles from my home. I didn’t understand racial, gender or socioeconomic inequity. But I knew my life was different from billions of others in the world, and in the US, because of where I was born.
My mother grew up poor, the child of immigrant parents and my dad grew up in a working-class family. He saw how his parents lived paycheck to paycheck and determined to change that in his own life. By working 2 jobs most of my childhood, he succeeded in moving our family to the “rich” part of town and I graduated from a private university debt-free.
Fast forward to 2008 – I went on a vision trip with my church to Rwanda and Burundi. While on the trip, we visited a genocide memorial where 11,000 men, women, children and babies were brutally murdered. I stood amongst the bones next to a survivor of the massacre with thoughts similar to those I had looking out my window when I was 8… why am I here as a visitor rather than a survivor or victim?
I met MANY people during that week that forgave people who murdered family members. I considered my attitude toward forgiveness – I have trouble forgiving someone for stealing my parking space, yet these people are not only forgiving but rebuilding relationships with people who killed their loved ones? I was stunned.
Back at home, shortly after this trip, I became friends with a young woman who was trafficked into sexual exploitation when she was 16. A friend encouraged her to leave the lifestyle and they began helping other young women escape.
Soon after that, I met an artist who survived 30 years in an abusive marriage in order to protect her children. She courageously bought a one-way ticket south to start a new life, leaving everything she owned and everything she knew behind. Now she’s our lead jewelry designer using her skills and her compassion to serve other women.
I also met a young woman who came to Charlotte from Haiti after the earthquake to escape poverty and destruction. She taught herself English in a matter of months so she could reach for her dream of providing a better life for her younger sisters and family back in Haiti. She graduated from Nursing School earlier this year and is financially supporting her sisters as they pursue college.
Meeting these people, and many others since, transformed my life. I did not pity them – I was inspired by them and what they were overcoming to help others. I considered my life in light of these new friends and prayed about how I should respond. I began to dedicate my time, my financial resources and my personal network (or social capital) to walk alongside courageous and amazing women like these on their journeys. The result was Fashion & Compassion.
We started by partnering with groups of women in Rwanda in Uganda who had survived genocide, war and extreme poverty. Over time God connected us with other small Artisan groups in Ethiopia, Mexico, Honduras and Ecuador.
In Charlotte, we began by periodically hiring a few women overcoming sexual exploitation to make necklaces from broken paper bead jewelry and beautiful Ethiopian crosses. As we strung beads, the women opened their hearts and I learned about their hopes and dreams for the future. We began inviting more women facing other challenges such as addiction, incarceration, and abuse as well as refugees and immigrants to join us in making jewelry each week.
Our mission is to create communities where vulnerable or marginalized women connect with God, one another and individualized resources that will benefit them as their lives are transformed.
This is interesting to note: Our mission has nothing to do with making jewelry… jewelry is merely the tool we use to gather women and provide them with a gentle re-entry into the workforce. AND—we do so much more than that! We believe in supporting the whole person and that women need to heal spiritually, emotionally and physically in order for their lives to be truly transformed.
This mission we are so passionate about is accomplished in our weekly jewelry project communities that provide part-time, transitional employment to women overcoming the challenges. Each week in Charlotte we host 3 jewelry project communities that serve about 35 women each week—adding up to about 120 women per year. These women are our neighbors who did not grow up on a tree-lined street in a suburb and graduate from college debt-free. They have had to struggle for every achievement.
You can be a part of this awesome ministry!!
Our jewelry sales provide 65-70% of the income we need to support our work. Please consider purchasing our jewelry and accessories for yourself and as gifts and share our work with others. We are grateful for your support!!
To shop or learn more visit: FashionandCompassion.com
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