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Why I Said “Yes” to the HUGG Story

Four years ago, I found myself burdened by the number of orphaned children in the world. Even though our family had adopted and fostered and become active members in the orphan care community—the burden for me grew heavier.

Until one day, my husband came back from a trip to Haiti and gifted me with a handful of bracelets. He told me that orphaned young men made these colorful street bracelets and how they had just aged out of a Haitian orphanage and were struggling to survive. “Survival bracelets” I called them.

The burden I had carried for so long changed into a God-sized dream to stop children from ever having to become orphans in the first place. By equipping these young men with Jesus first and jobs second, they would stop perpetuating the problem of poverty and orphans and lead their spheres of influence for the glory of God. And that is exactly what happened.

These young artisans are earning a fair wage, receiving spiritual discipleship and the best part is they are giving back to their communities. Max, one of our original 8, lost both his parents at a young age, he knows what it feels like to be homeless and hungry. For this reason, as soon as he started earning a salary, he began feeding children in Canaan, a village close to his heart. In the last three years, he has started a foundation and now houses and provides for 12 boys.

He uses the same principles he learned with HandUp and applies them to his own ministry in Canaan. In fact, I am happy to announce that we recently launched Max to lead his own artisan cooperative in Canaan. Why is this so significant?

Because he has chosen to employ several of the mamas in Canaan so they can keep their babies out of orphanages. This is orphan prevention through job creation. Jesus first and jobs second. The HandUp model is working!!!

What started out as survival bracelets has flourished into the HUGG Mission Market concept. The items you buy are tokens of success for the makers with whom we partner, but they are also reminders to all of us that everyone deserves the chance to earn a dignified wage.

The Mission Market is a powerful way to do missions as 100% of the proceeds go back to our mission to equip young men who’ve aged out of orphan care in Haiti with Jesus first and jobs second. For 2019, HandUp aims to:

  • Hire an on-the-ground Program Director to oversee all program-related initiatives
  • Develop a 6-month character-based development program (LeKol HandUp) targeting young Haitian men
  • Formalize our Christ-centered business training workshops for program participants to launch their own businesses
  • Extend our HandUp House lease for another two years to provide a safe working environment for our artisans

So it turns out that this burden I had in my heart had a purpose. God planted it there to answer the prayers of 8 orphaned young men in Haiti and of course—in true God-sized fashion, He turned it into something so much bigger and beautiful than any of us could have imagined. All it took was a “yes” and one small step of obedience on my part……and countless other “yesses” from family, friends, supporters and shoppers!

We have learned that it takes local community to make a global difference and I am asking that you take a moment to ask God what your “yes” looks like today.

You can click here to make a donation or check out our HUGG Holiday Market and pick up a gift with a powerful story. It’s a win win!

May His name continue to be made famous among the nations. To God be the glory….always.

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Why Giving HUGGS is Saving Lives

Let me assure you that this is NOT a call for donations.

What I am asking is the following:

For you to consider carrying HUGG pieces in your church book stores, coffee shops, gift shops and lobbies.

For church leaders to learn more about a movement that seeks to create jobs in impoverished communities such as Haiti. We should be casting a vote to support artisans like Max by using our purchasing dollars for good. 100% of HUGG sales go back into our operations to create more jobs in Haiti. But more importantly, your purchase is saving lives. 

Let me explain HOW:

Two weeks ago, I had the privilege of meeting with the Association to Save the Children in Canaan and Onaville.

This committee was founded on the principles that all children have the right to shelter, education and access to food. Canaan is located about 10 miles outside of the capital city of Port-au-Prince. It is a post-earthquake, make-shift city settled on dry dusty hills with no plumbing nor electricity. It is a hard place for a family to carve out a living, but it is even harder for the children that drifted to this settlement without an adult to care for them.

Max, a HandUp artisan, knows just how hard it is to be an orphaned child in Haiti. He found himself a homeless teenager in Canaan. Although he loved his village, he knew that God was calling him to the city of Port-au-Prince. He didn’t know what he would find there, but he knew the answers were ahead of him.

After a few months of living on the streets of Port-au-Prince, Max was approached by a young man by the name of Patrick. Patrick had just aged out of an orphanage and was living with 6 other young men who had transitioned from the same boys’ home. Later Patrick would share with me the reason he was drawn to Max.

“I knew we needed someone like Max in the apartment. We needed someone to teach us more about the Bible and Jesus.”

After several visits with this young evangelist, Patrick invited Max into the tiny 3-room apartment he and the other young men shared. It wasn’t long before Max carved his place within this band of brothers. It would be months still before I’d show up in their apartment, asking these young men whether they wanted a job. These 8 would become the backbone of the HandUp program.

As soon as Max started receiving a steady income through HandUp, he went back to Canaan. It was simple at first. He started out by purchasing rice, beans and oil for a local lady to cook for some of the orphans there. Then it grew to him building a shanty for 16 parentless children.

Max’s shanty for 16 children.

He had very little resources and several of the other HUGG artisans started pitching in to help meet some of the children’s basic needs. Aside from taking care of the 16 most vulnerable children, he started working with other needy children in the community. Bible studies, crafts, singing and dancing all became part of a weekly program under Max’s leadership.

But it was too much for him to bear. He witnessed two little children die simply of infections that could have been prevented with antibiotics. After this incident, my Life Group in Conroe, Texas started supporting some of Max’s efforts by providing for food costs and allowing him to set aside some savings for emergencies.

These extra funds were the catalyst that Max needed to jumpstart his program. He formed a committee with HandUp artisans and local community members to bolster their efforts towards saving children from the grips of poverty.

Under Max’s leadership, the group has committed to taking care of 12 of the 16 orphans under Max’s care. The 12 boys will be living in a one-room house rented just for them. The rest of the group are girls and I will save their story for another day. We will continue to partner with the committee until we’ve placed each little girl in a loving home. But for now, this committee does the best they can to meet the needs of these children that God has entrusted in their care.

Max, Marcial and Richardson & the new home for Canaan boys.

Without HandUp Global Goods…

There would have been no job for Max and the other artisans.

Without a job, they would have been too busy surviving Haiti rather than helping Haiti survive and THRIVE.

Tools for Ministry

Max’s efforts to build a program in Canaan is a result of what he has learned under the leadership of HandUp staff. Education, spiritual discipleship, and mentoring are all things that have been poured into Max over the last three years. Without this holistic approach, Max would not have had the necessary skills to lead this ministry in Canaan.

A HandUp, Not a Handout

Because of one job, 16 orphans have their basic needs being met.

Because we give a handUp and not a handout, young men are experiencing a dignity attainable only through the work of their own hands.

Young Haitian men like Max must be employed, mentored, and trained so that they can be the ones to help their communities.

Once, these young men were destined towards the path of becoming orphan makers. Because of their jobs with HandUp, they’ve broken through systemic poverty and are being transformed into Opportunity Makers.

The Struggle is Real

Although our retail and wholesale orders are slowly gaining momentum; our donations are at an all-time low. Without these funds, we are unable to meet our operational expenses on the ground.

But I’ll be honest–it’s the sales that we need. We have beautiful pieces that tell an equally beautiful story. If we tell it right, God’s church WILL RISE to the occasion. I know God cares about the makers that make the things we wear and He desires to use the church to bless them, not to exploit them.

There are 23 young men in our program. Many who are also making an impact in the communities in which they live.  Would you allow us an opportunity to share their stories in your church?

THREE VITAL Ways to help:

  1. Host a Sunday Pop Up this Spring/Summer in your church.
  2. Invite us to come share the HUGG story at your next Event.
  3. Carry HUGG products in your church.
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Our Clothes Can Serrv The Community

Since January, I have been creating a fair-trade capsule wardrobe. It has been going well and it has made me really think before I buy. At times this has been challenging but also freeing at the same time. This concept has caught on in my HandUp Global Goods family. While not everyone is ready to dive in to the capsule wardrobe, for the month of June, each member of the HandUp Global Goods team has purchased a fair-trade item to wear.

Last week, I kicked us off with a cute top from Girl Set Free. This week, our fearless leader, Natul is sporting a cute top from Serrv (see what I did there in the title)! This bright, lightweight tunic is 100% cotton and is perfect for these very warm summer months. Serrv has a variety of tunics, dresses and breathable sweaters that is sure to match any style. Right now, you can take an extra 40% off your clothing purchases! Just typing the word sale makes me super happy!

Serrv is unique in that they are an online store that sells a little bit of everything and each of those items that they sell are fairly made by artisans around the world. Think of it like an online fair-trade utopia! It has everything from home décor, to food, to clothing and more.

Going all the way back to 1949, Serrv is one of the first companies to sell fair-trade products in the United States. They are a founding member of the World Fair Trade Organization and the Fair Trade Federation. Their mission statement is simple and clear, Serrv is a nonprofit organization with a mission to eradicate poverty wherever it resides by providing opportunity and support to artisans and farmers worldwide.

With 55 partnerships worldwide with various artisans, farmers and co-ops, there is something for everyone. Don’t be sad you missed a sale! Give Serrv a try today and you can sport a pretty top like Natul.

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How One Shirt can Make a Difference

Over the last year and half of blogging for HandUp Global Goods, I have come across so many amazing companies. The fashion industry, while it still has a long way to go, has made significant strides to protect their artisans. What I really love, however, is a company that not only focuses on fair and ethical sourcing but also gives back.

Girl Set Free focuses on fighting against human trafficking by working alongside many reputable human trafficking advocates. Human trafficking is just a new name for slavery, an issue that is still very much alive within all societies. With an estimated 27 million individuals in slavery today, human trafficking is one of the fastest growing crimes. Each purchase you make with Girl Set Free goes to stop human trafficking.

I bought this cute shirt to add to my fair-trade capsule wardrobe (read more about that here) from Girl Set Free. This super cute and soft shirt has been perfect this summer. I love the wider cap on the shoulder and the simple but beautifully stated “By Grace” on the front. The Grace Tee is perfect for a capsule wardrobe because you can easily add layers as the seasons change. It will be summer here until November, but I am looking forward to pairing it with some cute fall outfits once the weather starts to change. It is also a perfect backdrop for all my HandUp Global Goods jewelry!

Summer casual
Dress it up with a skirt and cute shoes
My favorite way is to pair it with my go-to jeans

Girl Set Free just launched a new website where they are offering all kinds of super cute and ethically made products. They have beautifully hand-woven cross-body bags, hand turned pens, and t-shirts with a message I can stand behind. I have fallen in love with the heart of this company.

Simply stated, I trusted and obeyed and have the most amazing tribe that believed in me but believed in God more and they never let me lose sight of that. Girl Set Free started with my personal redemption story. Little did I know, saying yes to hard and holy things would lead to so much freedom and healing for others. Not only for our artisan partners but for me personally. God called me to rest this year after a long season of healing and years of striving. You see, I felt my worth came from my work because I held onto lies from the enemy. It was time for me to lay that all down. I’m humbled and have cried many tears since we started this journey but the growth has been beautifully hard and I’m counting the fruit now. Ephesians 3:20 – “Now to him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to his power that is at work within us.”  -CEO Amy Kratzer

Check out their new website, purchase some amazing items and let me know what you think.

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Give Your Local Hero a HUGG

A couple of years ago, I asked one of the HandUp artisans what he thought of the man who had taken care of him as a child living on the streets. He got quiet before he answered as if weighing his words—“I love him.” he said.

When I asked him if this man had been like a father to him, he perked up and said, “Papa Jimmy was more than a father to us boys, he was a protector.” It made me sad to think that this young man, who had little notion of a father’s role, would think that the word “father’ meant anything less than “protector” or “provider”.

Yet, a protector is what he needed most as a child living on the streets and that act alone earned the love of this young man for Papa Jimmy. A few months later, it occurred to me just how faithful God has been to these boys.

When they were young and vulnerable, God sent Papa Jimmy, the protector, to try to mitigate the violence that they faced on the streets.

Then, the last five years of their adolescence, God sent Mike and Carrie, the providers, to bring them into a loving orphanage.

Then it was time to leave the orphanage. They needed to be able to protect and provide for themselves. So God sent my husband to Haiti and this single trip, as many of you know, was the beginning of HandUp.

“God is Father to the fatherless and the defender of the widows in His holy dwelling.” (Psalm 68:5)

The story of the boys of HandUp reminds me that He protects and defends through regular people like you and me.  

My prayer for these young men is that one day they will be able to fully live these father roles for their own community, church and children. That the word “father” would entail all the good things that our own children experience with their fathers. It’s more than just protection and provision—it’s giggles and tickles and stern talks and late night prayers. It’s temporarily pulling the plug on your life to go be with your grown son who is struggling through his last course of college. I was talking to a friend on the phone the other day and he shared with me that he was staying with his son in another state because he knew it was the right thing to do. I was amazed at his dedication to leave his business so he could provide the emotional support his son needed. This is being a father.

Good daddies give their children layers of confidence, assurance and security that is hard to attain otherwise. That’s why so many of us are messed up. Did I just say that? I know I struggled because I had a father who barely provided and who hurt me instead of protected me. Yet, I learned the richness of a father figure through my father-in-law and through watching my husband interact with our children.

I dedicate this blog to all the fathers and father-figures who are out there protecting, providing and infusing their children with steadfast security. YOU really do make the world a safer place to live.

Click here to gift your local hero with a HUGG that gives back to young men who’ve aged out of orphanages.

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End of Year Teacher Gifts that Give Back!

I’m THAT mom-the last minute gift shopper.

I buy birthday gifts on the way to friends’ parties and wrap (if stuffing tissue qualifies as “wrapping”) them in the parking lot. There was a while that my car console was a cornucopia of ribbon and tissue paper. I got quite good at the whole “panic shop for party” thing. No need for plastic grocery bags, just ring up the gift bag—pop that baby open and fill ‘er up!!! Seriously—this is how I roll.

As much as I try to get ahead of the game, buying gifts never seems to scratch its way to the top of my daily lists!!! So for now, yes, it’s hurried and probably not very thoughtful—but by-George—we make it to the party.

With the end of year teacher gifts up ahead, I need to find something super-easy that I can throw together without hassle—but it HAS to be thoughtful, you know?

After all, this is the person who has lovingly guided my littles for the last nine months. One of my children’s teachers, in particular, deserves the Teacher of the Year award for never calling me to complain about my son. I KNOW him—there is no way his passionate convictions were laid to rest in the classroom. Yet—not one call or complaint. This lady is a saint! Blessed are the teachers who don’t take ALL matters to the parents.

So how do I genuinely show her my appreciation without having to scour stores and spend A LOT of time and money? If you are wondering the same thing and you, like me, pick out gifts sort of last minute—I do have some thoughtful ideas that are easy, inexpensive and packed with meaning.

Your teacher will be thankful for the goodies AND the benefits each one brings to impoverished communities. THIS is using your purchasing power for GOOD!

Package 1: $30 – Teacher Love Bundle

Our classic “wrap the world around your wrist” bracelet with a burlap bound journal and orange flavored Zambeezi lip balm!

Teacher Love Bundle – $30

Package 2: $45 – FOUR Handmade Bracelets

Buy 3 Akolads and Get the 4th one Free! Each waxed cord bracelet comes in a cute HUGG muslin bag and shares the story of the artisan who made it.

Buy 3, Get 4th Free – Akolad!

Package 3: $15 –THREE Handmade Macrame Bracelets

Need a little something extra to complete your perfect teacher’s gift? Add this beautiful gold-filled macramé bracelet for just $6.00/piece or  buy any combination of 3 for $15!

So, dear mama, make it easy for yourself and get these artisan-made beauties shipped to you today.

Teacher Special will run through May 24th.

 

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Edible Coffee: Have Your Coffee and Eat It Too

Coffee Thins

I have discovered something pretty amazing. Something that combines two things that I love the most. Chocolate and coffee!

I know, the marriage of chocolate and coffee is nothing new. I love a good Mocha every now and then. But today I am talking about something a little different. This new chocolate and coffee combination is something new entirely, at least to me. This is morsel that has packed an entire cup of coffee into one delicious chocolate/coffee square. An edible coffee that is easy to pack away in your purse or your desk and eat when the caffeine slump starts to pull you under.

Coffee Thins are USA made and have been developed by Eight O’Clock Coffee Company and Krispy Kreme. Their chocolate bars consist of 3 squares and each square is equal to one cup of coffee.  There are 6 enjoyable flavors to choose from with my favorite being Latte. What is crazy is that they really do taste like a cup of coffee! It is like biting into your favorite cup of joe. The nutrition is equal to an amount of coffee as well.

I am not saying these have taken place of my morning coffee. But they are super easy to pack away and pull out when on the run. Each square is individually wrapped to make it wonderfully convenient. You can order online here or you can find them at your local grocery store.

Pick up a bar today and let me know what you think.

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Share the Importance of Fairtrade by Joining the World Fairtrade Challenge

It has been a crazy last few weeks. Sickness has ran its course through our house, busy schedules have not slowed down even though we have been sick and I have a husband who is getting ready to go to Haiti in a week. It always seems to go this way before one of us heads out on a mission trip. However, this can only mean one thing: God is getting ready to do some amazing this on this trip! My husband will be doing a blog takeover once he returns to share his stories.

A few weeks ago, fashion revolution week took over to show everyone the beautiful people who make your clothes and accessories. This week, there is an opportunity for you to be a part of this global community by participating in the World Fairtrade Challenge. Starting Friday, May 12th, through Sunday, May 14th, Fairtrade America is hosting a fair-trade celebration and they want everyone to join. The concept is simple: to show the world the importance of buying fair-trade products. More and more people are buying fair-trade produce and products which allow farmers and workers to have a livable wage and a sustainable lifestyle. This continues to have an ongoing effect within their local communities.

How can you join in on the challenge?

You can register here to say that you are joining the challenge. Once you join, make a fair-trade purchase (it can be food, coffee, clothing, accessories, etc), post it on social media and use #fairtradechallenge. You can also treat your friends, family and/or coworkers to some fair-trade goodness. If you need some more specific ideas, you can check out more here and you can follow me on Instagram @thefairleslie.  

The purpose:

The goal behind the World Fairtrade Challenge is to show not only the importance of buying fair-trade but how it is becoming more accessible. I get so excited when I find new fair-trade produce available in my grocery store or the number of stores that are carrying fair-trade clothing and accessories. The best way to know if something is ethically sourced is to look at the label. Some will have a fair-trade logo while others may not have a logo but will state they are ethically sourced and produced.

Join the World Fairtrade Challenge this weekend! Do not forget to use the #fairtradechallenge to tag your photo. If you are unsure what to buy, remember Mother’s Day is coming up this weekend. What a great time to buy your mom something amazing and ethically made.

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Adorn a Child with Hope and Love: Home Décor

It always amazes me how God works in all of us separately but at the same time can ignite the same passion and vision in us. Today’s organization is both fair-trade and missional-minded whose passion is for sharing the love of Christ with orphanages in Kenya. Similar to the vision of Hand Up, Pamba Toto came into existence because of the heart God gave them for orphans. Pamba Toto sells beautifully hand-crafted pieces to raise money for 2 orphanages in Kenya called Sanctuary of Hope #1 and #2 through Hope’s Promise Orphan Ministries.

When you go to Pamba Toto’s website, you can meet all the artisans that make each piece of their beautifully hand-crafted items. They range from scarves and other accessories to home décor and kitchen ware plus much more. They have so many items to choose from that it was hard to decide what to buy. If you are looking for a beautiful piece of home décor, you need to check them out.

I did fall in love with their beautifully hand-carved and hand-painted wooden bird mobile (Please forgive my amateur picture taking skills). My girls had a hand at helping me pick out this piece as well. They love birds and this mobile has several types of birds that are super colorful. They were as excited about it as I was. I also love their aprons and placemats. As we are nearing summer, it is fun to bring some color in to the house. I say play with some fun textiles and look at their home décor and kitchen ware.

Check out Pamba Toto and let me know what you think. What was one of your favorite pieces you found in their online store?

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When Buying is Not an Option, Upcycle!

I talk a lot about fair-trade on the blog and there is a reason for that, it is so very important. This week is fashion revolution week. It serves as a reminder for those lives lost during the collapse of the Bangladesh factory killing over 1000 workers. I do believe the industry has changed in the last 4 years. There is more awareness, more advocacy and more companies out there trying to make a difference in the lives of their workers.

However, there is still a lot out there that do not know about fair-trade or what exactly it is. My hope, is that through this blog, more people continue to understand the importance of fair-trade. The item that I hear the most however is that fair-trade is so expensive and making the transition over can be daunting. I totally get that. It can be very expensive. It is cheaper and easier to buy in large store that mass produces their items. A few thoughts on this:

  1. Try focusing on buying just one item fair-trade. It does not have to be everything. That is crazy unrealistic. As a wife and a mom, I understand that. By purchasing just one item though, you are still making an ENORmous impact in someone’s life.
  2. Focus on quality over quantity. We live in a culture where we like our stuff. But let’s be honest, we have too much. This is an area that I have been working on this year. In January, I started my fair-trade capsule wardrobe and it has really put a lot in perspective. I did not realize how often I run out and grab myself something. It has been quite a change, but I like how it has stretched me to think outside the box.
  3. Thrift shop! Buy used. There are so many cool options on items that we can buy used. Some items you come across have never even been used! One woman’s lost is another’s gain. I have written more on this subject here.
  4. Instead of buying, create! No collective moan here or rolling of the eyes. You can do this. So much of the items we think we need are items that we can easily create.

If you are like me, you may have grand aspirations to sew. Things to know about my sewing machine: I have one, it sits in my craft room. I walk by it. Sometimes I clean off the dust that has been collecting. But really, it is like a giant paper weight on my desk. I also have two girls who LOVE to wear dresses and skirts. These same girls, however, love to wear those dresses and skirts and then dig in my flowerbeds looking for roly-poly’s, worms, lady bugs or anything else that creeps.

I love that they are little explorers. But do I want them exploring in new dresses and skirts I buy them? No. No I do not. My type-A self kind of freaks out about this. So, I took to Pinterest and I found a simple skirt pattern (trust me, if I can do it, anyone can). What drew me to this skirt pattern is it uses old t-shirts! How cool is that? This patterned continued to amaze me because it uses the hem of the t-shirt as the hem of the skirt! No hemming?!

Old t-shirts. I got these at Goodwill
Ta-da! Super cute skirts

Cute, right? And I promise it is as simple as it looks. If you can sew a straight line, you can do this. Now my girls can play and dig in the dirt all they want in their skirts because they are old t-shirts. You can read the step-by-step of how to make these skirts here. If you do not have old t-shirts laying around, hit up yard sales and/or thrift stores. Dust that sewing machine off, upcycle some old t-shirts and let me know what you think.