When God Builds Something Special

Wow – a big life milestone flashed in my face today!

I got all emotional this afternoon when I saw that World Vision was retiring the program I had the honor of helping to create 10 years ago. It made me realize – when God builds something special, there are three things we must do!

I’ll get to the three things in a minute… but first a little background…and the flier I saw today…

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Background Of The World Vision Caregiver Kit Project

Involving Church Folks In The HIV/AIDS Issue: The Caregiver Kit Program as it became known was started with a conversation between Todd Johnson of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church and I, at the La Boulanger Sandwich Shop in Menlo Park in January 2006. Todd had connected with Steve Haas previously, World Vision’s VP of Church relations, and inquired about World Vision helping to mobilize 1,200 people to do something hands-on during a Sunday morning. They had discussed a new idea perculating up in Seattle – to buy and bag up supplies for the World Vision HIV/AIDS Caregivers. Todd wondered if we could do 10,000 of these kits.

Their church was going to call the event ‘Compassion Weekend’ and Todd had advocated that HIV/AIDS be a focus. He wondered if there was a way to get church folks involved in the HIV/AIDS issue in a meaningful way that wasn’t overly controversial. He wanted moms, dads, kids, teens, and senior citizens to all work together (somehow) to make a real difference.

What happened in the following months and years can only be described as a miracle of people, process, and products (to steal a line from Marcus Lemonis). Here is what I mean,

People: Dana Buck and Phil Ewert were the World Vision folks that had started to put together the list of items that Caregivers needed. Dana went on to direct the program for 10 years. Their original list had 59 items that we had to narrow down for practical purposes. Todd recruited an amazingly talented project manager, Nancy Rosa, to be the Project Manager on the Menlo Park Presbyterian side and she recruited John Blaha and an impressive group of volunteers to make it all happen. I should list them all. There were so many awesome people.

I had the honor of being the Project Manager on the World Vision side and tried to pull things together without getting fired for neglecting my major donor duties. Dana Buck knew a guy named Toby Capps of McKesson Medical Surgical – who helped make the product sourcing possible. Dana also involved Dave Finsaas and Kristen Tweardy as they coordinated logistics from World Vision’s Denver Warehouse. And then of course there was Princess Kasune Zulu, the courageous advocate who came and told her story of living positively. She made us all cry and explained the situation on the ground in places like Zambia.

Princess Kasune Zulu at the first Caregiver Kit Program

Princess Kasune Zulu and the Caregiver Kit Program

Over the course of the next two years we assembled an army that put together 21,000 of the first 25,000 Caregiver Kits that World Vision received – and created the model that ultimately accomplished the 500,000 kits mentioned above. World Vision hired Cassie Smithco and amazing administrator, and Andy Smith, an incredibly gifted pastor to expand the program in the Bay Area, and MPPC faithfully created kits for 10 years. I left my role in 2009 and wasn’t able to continue in the program formally, but always attended events when I could. My heart was always right there.

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Amazing people at the 1st Caregiver Kit Build. Toby Capps, Nancy Rosa, and Dana Buck!

Process: What Dave Finsaas explained to us was that if you were going to try and assemble over 1,500 kits in a few days, you couldn’t go purchase the items locally. He had tried it in response to Hurricane Katrina, with a Denver wide program, and although they cleaned out every Walmart, RiteAid, Walgreens and related store in Denver, they could only get about 1,500 kits worth of helpful stuff.  So we had to find a better way. Dana found that way when he discussed the program needs with Toby Capps. Toby to the rescue! He was able to have all the needed supplies drop shipped straight to the program location. Problem solved.

Dave Finsaas helping coordinate the shipping!

Dave Finsaas helping coordinate the shipping!

Nancy Rosa, John Blaha, Kristen Tweardy and other smart folks figured out how to get 1,200 people involved in a well coordinated and fun way. The event started with an educational program that lasted 30 minutes, then 90 minutes of assembling the Caregiver Kits. Young and old alike found it fun, engaging, and most importantly spiritually meaningful.

The Caregiver Kit Program Was Engaging To All Involved!

The Caregiver Kit Program Was Engaging To All Involved!

Eric Zimmerman helping make it all happen at the 1st Caregiver Kit event!

Eric Zimmerman helping make it all happen at the 1st Caregiver Kit event!

Todd Johnson At The 1st Caregiver Kit Event With Bob and Megan

Todd Johnson At The 1st Caregiver Kit Event With Bob and Megan

Product: The heart and soul of the Caregiver Kit program was learning that there were Caregivers in Africa (77,000 when we started the program) caring for AIDS patients with literally no supplies. They were so desperate they would use, then wash and re-use cotton balls if they could find them. They would use Banana leaves, or plastic grocery bags, as gloves. They would care for their loved ones, at great personal risk, with or without the products they needed. We had to help them. The Caregiver Kit was the perfect product to equip them with what they needed.

The caregivers are the heroes of our story!

Toby Visiting With Caregivers In Zambia in 2009

Toby Visiting With Caregivers In Zambia in 2009

Dana Buck With Caregivers In 2009

Dana Buck With Caregivers In 2009

Toby With The Caregivers In 2009

Toby With The Caregivers In 2009

World Vision Caregivers In Zambia In 2009

World Vision Caregivers In Zambia In 2009

World Vision Caregivers Zambia In 2009

World Vision Caregivers Zambia In 2009

What To Do When God Builds Something Special

When God builds something special you’ve got to do 3 things.

#1 – You’ve Got To Document It. The three most important words in the human language are, ‘write it down’. If you really believe God is up to something big, then get your camera out and take notes. His story is amazing – he works miracles – but how will people know if we don’t tell the story! It’s been an honor for me to participate in the Caregiver Kit program by telling the story. It’s fitting that on the last day – I do the same by writing this blog post.

#2 – You’ve Got To Celebrate It. We need to be dancing with tears in our eyes! One of the most meaningful parts of Compassion Weekend for me was always the Sunday night service where people would get up and share their testimony about how building kits impacted their lives. Celebrating what God had done only seemed right. We sang, we clapped, we cried, and we celebrated together.

#3 – You’ve Got To Learn From It. The Caregiver Kit project wasn’t perfect. It was God using flawed people, with flawed organizations, to make a difference in this flawed world. But it had program attributes that were deeply important. Program attributes that ten years later, we still think about every day at Sew Powerful. Things like:

  • Involving donors in the hands-on work in a meaningful way.
  • Donors supporting field workers from their home with enthusiasm and activity.
  • Unlocking the resources within a donor community through hands-on service.
  • Slowing down the giving process, so it can really have the deep meaning in the hearts of the donors, and having it revolve around something other than simply writing a check.
  • Teaching donors about an issue via hands-on service.
  • Organizing large organizations to do what only they can uniquely do – in support of the greater cause.

How Does All This Apply To Sew Powerful?

Well, in addition to the fact that Dana, Toby and Andy are all board members and helped us create the Sew Powerful Purse program – the main thing is inspiration, insight and relationships. It’s a miracle that our purses are now on their way to the World Vision Zambia Kapalulwe community location – the very spot where lots of the pictures in this post were taken in 2009. We have the relationships to scale up the purse program.

It’s time to go on an epic run friends. Let’s start to look forward to the day when we will have completed 500,000 purses and helped 500,000 girls achieve academic excellence!

Can we mobilize hundreds of thousands of seamstresses to participate in what God is building through our purse program? Can we unlock millions of yards of fabric that are sitting around unused? Can we involve sewing and fashion companies to get involved? Can we explain the desperation and urgent need of girls in poor communities through our program?

Let’s do this!

Thanks for reading this insanely long post. I felt like it had to be written. I’d love to know if you ever made a caregiver kit!

Grateful for your support,

Jason

Half Way Out Of Poverty

Lots of women in poverty know how to sew.Half Way Out Of Poverty

They’ve learned the trade skill from their mothers or grandmothers. Usually without a sewing machine.

They might not even know it – but they’re half way out of poverty. They’ve got the sewing skills – but they also need the tools and resources to create a small business out of it. Some of it is the machines, some of it is the fabric, some of it is the sales training.

One exciting example we recently heard about is from the city of Kamishly, Syria.

The Jinishian Memorial program (a Presbyterian Mission Agency focused on combating poverty) began working with young women who were forced to drop out of school at an early age.

The young Syrian women told JMP that they had sewing skills but lacked equipment and a market to sell their goods.

Together with JMP they developed a program and escaped poverty.

How did they do it?

  • The women were trained in the latest sewing techniques and pattern designs.
  • They were given a loan to purchase the equipment they needed.
  • They also found their market in sewing choir robes and school uniforms.

After six months the women were able to repay the Jinishian Memorial program for the sewing equipment in full.

They were also able to provide an income for themselves. As time progressed, they were increasingly capable of contributing to their family’s education, health care, and overall welfare.

They didn’t need a handout. They were already half way there. They just needed a bit of technical guidance.

This is just one example of how sewing can transform lives.

Giving women the resources necessary to begin the journey out of poverty is what Sew Powerful is all about. This isn’t charity – it’s serious business.

We hope you’ll join us on the journey.

Jason & Cinnamon Miles