HELENA-WEST HELENA, Ark. — As soon as the girls — ages 11 through 18 — started opening boxes and showing the earrings they had made over the past few weeks, the gawking began.
“Oh, those are so cute,” said one college student.
“They are so pretty; they’re going to sell like hotcakes at General Assembly,” said another college student.
And sell fast they did.
The jewelry-making co-op called Delta Jewels, then just weeks old, sold more than 250 pairs of earrings at the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s General Assembly in Memphis, a short 90-minute drive from the Helena-West Helena community center where the co-op is based.
Delta Jewels, made of about 10 girls and several adult mentors, is the latest economic development project in Helena-West Helena, where CBF field personnel Ben and Leonora Newell serve as part of Together for Hope, CBF’s rural poverty initiative in 20 of the poorest counties in the United States.
“This is the next platform for missions — creating jobs,” said Ben Newell. “This project helps teen girls earn a decent living and begin to see things in a positive mode instead of the continued negative mode associated with poverty.”
The business works like this: the girls make the earrings that sell for $10 per pair. About half of that covers expenses to make and sell the product. Of the $5 profit, the girls give 10 percent back to the community, whether it’s to support a local ministry or another community betterment project. In the end, the girls take home $4.50 in profit per pair of earrings.
Three days a week the girls meet to make earrings. An adult mentor starts the session with prayer and a devotional, and then the work begins. Using their own creativity, they combine different colored and textured beads — and they always sign their name on the back of the packaging that holds the finished product.
“(Delta Jewels) teaches them a trade and gives them a head start in the business world,” said mentor Brenda Miles, 18.
The idea for a jewelry-making co-op started in March, when Wanda Kidd of Cullowhee, N.C., realized her jewelry-making skills could be used by a ministry. Through sales at CBF of North Carolina’s spring assembly and at churches, Kidd helped raise $1,000 in start-up funds that bought each girl tools and materials to make her first 25 pairs of earrings. In May, Kidd traveled to Helena to train 10 girls.
When they lined up side-by-side each girl’s first pair of earrings, one girl said, “I can’t believe I made earrings!”
In the co-op, Kidd’s not-for-profit business — Embracing Hope Design — operates as the wholesaler that finds materials at affordable prices. Delta Jewels produces the product, and Open Hand Enterprises — an economic development nonprofit that birthed out of Together for Hope — helps with sales. While event sales like that at General Assembly are good, Open Hand is currently looking for retailers that will sell the earrings on a consistent, year-round basis.
Kidd also worked in Brooklyn, N.Y., and Nada, Ky., another Together for Hope ministry site, to train more girls and start more jewelry-making co-ops.
To learn more about partnership opportunities with Together For Hope, contact Chris Boltin at (800) 352-8741 or [email protected].