Informed of a sale, Ebony’s eyes sparkled like jewels.
“Somebody bought my earrings!” she shouted, reflecting a new sense of pride.
The earrings on the table at an exhibit in Little Rock at the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Assembly of Arkansas not only represented basic income but also transformation for a group of inner-city girls from Helena, Ark.
About 10 teen and pre-teen girls, part of CBF field personnel Ben and Leonora Newell’s Together for Hope ministry in Helena, came together as a business and are now a community. These girls, who had little hope, now have turned into entrepreneurs and visionaries – a shining element in the jewel of a project originating from the Arkansas Delta.
“One aspect of ministry is creating jobs,” said Ben Newell. “Coming out of poverty, this gives the girls a chance to see themselves and the world more positively.”
The young girls, from 9 to 18 years old and from impoverished backgrounds, have formed a small co-op, Delta Jewels, in which they make jewelry as a source of income; most are saving some of that income for a college education.
The design is theirs. They make the earrings, necklaces and bracelets out of trinkets and beads of different colors and shapes. They have been sold at stands and exhibits at conventions for a reasonable price, most from $10 to $20. Each piece of jewelry is tagged with the name of the creator. Fifty percent goes to the cost of material and the business. The girls, about 10 in the current arrangement, work about five hours a week after school and get 50 percent from each item sold; ten percent is set aside as a “community tithe.”
“It started as just a way to make money,” said Rev. Vivian Hoskins, a minister in Helena who works with the girls. “And they learn business skills and marketing skills. They come up with ideas of their own. One girl suggested we open up a display in an old storefront that has worked very well. They learn very quickly.”
Most of them didn’t realize they could be so creative. And they have fun doing it.
“In the process, they also learn things like conflict resolution and promotion and marketing skills, plus the fun and friendship,” said Hoskins. “It’s a cooperative. Working together is important.”
The young girls develop skills they will need later in their education or in the workplace. It was developed from a jewelry-making co-op created by Wanda Kidd of Cullowhee, N.C., who realized how her jewelry-making skills could transform into a ministry. She traveled to Helena to train the girls.
And Delta Jewels has evolved into more than a business.
“They are learning money-management skills, and we try to teach them to give back and get in the habit of putting aside a tithe,” said Newell, noting the girls have generated about $2,000 at various events by early April. “The girls choose the charity that receives the “community tithe.” This year it went to the burn unit at St. Jude Children’s Hospital in nearby Memphis. One of the girls had a friend who had been treated at the burn unit and they felt a bond there.
And the vision is still growing.
The St. Jude effort has also led to a puppet ministry in which the girls learned to put on shows, one recently for children in the burn unit. As a long-range goal, the girls now want to raise enough money to buy a well to provide water for a village in Africa. That costs about $1,500.
“It’s interesting to watch how things have happened,” said Hoskins. “At first the girls were thinking strictly about self and the money they were making. Now that it has grown, they are trying to think up and create ways they can help others. They are thinking beyond themselves.”
And the quality of the jewelry surprises many potential customers.
“We have a 9-year-old, and you really can’t tell the difference in some of her jewelry from the teenage girls,” Newell said.
The girls are also encouraged to sell and promote their jewelry, learning people-relation skills.
One of the best in the “selling” aspect is Brenda Miles, 18, who plans to attend the University of Memphis this fall, partly on funds raised from her participation in the program. Miles serves as mentor to the younger girls.
“When I started, I didn’t know anything about jewelry; it was not my forte,” Miles said. “Now, I know it from A to Z, the whole thing. I love creating them. I love marketing.”
What if there were no Delta Jewels? Where would the girls be?
“No telling,” said Hoskins.
“I had one girl tell me that if it wasn’t for Delta Jewels, she wouldn’t have the skills to go to college,” Miles said. “She would probably be on the streets, getting into trouble by not doing the right things.”
David McCollum is a contributing editor to EthicsDaily.com.