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Saturday, December 27, 2008

Anyone can make a difference

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. --Margaret Mead

Recently I had a conversation with someone who showered praise upon the group of us who founded A Little Something. She said we must be incredibly special people to take the initiative and make a difference for so many women and their families. She went on to say that the world needs more people like us.

Here's the thing. We are all pretty darn normal and average in most ways. I think if you met us in line at the supermarket, or if you sat with us at one of the many meetings we sit through for our jobs, you'd find us to be smart, funny, and personable, but not extraordinary. And that's the point.

As a new year is ready to unfurl its days, people around the world will make resolutions to do more, to do better, to try harder, to make a difference. Many won't follow through because they think the task is too daunting. The task may, in fact, be huge, but you start off thinking not about what you can't do, but what you know you can do for sure.

It is the ordinary people who make a difference in our world every day. We are everywhere. I stayed up very late a few nights ago and found out (much to my delight) that each day, Oprah! is shown for a second time after The Late, Late Show. On this particular program, a group of teens discussed their service project wherein they raised money to build a school in rural Kenya. At first I thought, "Well, that's nice. They probably pooled their money, had some car washes and bake sales..." and while I was having that thought, the story unfolded to reveal that these kids--regular high school kids--also traveled to Kenya to live in the village for three weeks while they built the school themselves.

Now they had my attention. The story was compelling on its own, but watching those kids become aware of the complexity of need--the domino effect of aid or neglect--gave me goosebumps. The kids were flummoxed by the work--none had ever done any construction work at all before this, and after receiving oral instructions and only a very rough idea of how to construct a building from the ground up, they set about building something that would make a better future available to an entire community. They didn't know what they were doing, but they had faith that they would figure it out.

During the trip, the students figured out a lot about the world and about themselves and about the capacity to effect change within and outside of oneself. A group of smart, sharp, high achievers got on a plane and went to Kenya. A group of considerate, aware, compassionate, critical thinkers came home less than a month later. It was obvious that by being physically present in the midst of need, by seeing that there are answers--although not easy ones--these kids were profoundly changed. I would bet that their experience in Africa will continue to affect them for a lifetime. As a result, these kids will find a way to make everyday actions have meaningful impact. Isn't this the true essence of education? Do any of us know what we're capable of until we're knee-deep in new challenges and commitments?

When you sit down to make that list of New Year's resolutions or just a wish list for personal change, don't set out to change the world. Instead, think of how you can incorporate mindfulness, meaningful gestures, compassion, and the talents you already have into any given day of your life. If you keep at it, you'll be in the midst of significant change before you even realize what's happening before you.

Several months into the creation of A Little Something, I was reminded of the story of the starfish on the beach. Perhaps you know it. I believe it is the perfect metaphor for how we found ourselves up to our eyeballs in entrepreneurial benevolence. We weren't setting out to start anything; we were really just trying to help some women we already knew.

The Starfish (an exceptionally abridged version)
An old man walked along the beach early on a summer morning. During the night, the tide had washed in thousands of starfish that were now hopelessly stranded on the sand. The tide was going out and as the sun climbed higher in the sky, the chances of the starfishes' survival was waning.

As the man made his way along the beach, he walked bent over, picking up starfish after starfish and throwing them back into the ocean. A young man walking the opposite way approached him. "Old man," he said, "are you crazy? There are thousands of these things out here. You can't possibly save them all. What difference does it make if you throw a few back into the water?"

The old man didn't break his rhythm. He picked up a starfish, looked at the young man, and tossed the starfish into the waves as he said, "Made a difference to that one."

My advice to you: Start where you are. The opportunity to make a difference is there. Let it find you.

For an inspiring story of a young person making a difference for the women of Darfur, click here. It's two minutes of very worthwhile reading.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Always thankful

Before I get into the subject of this post, I want to issue a small apology that this post wasn't here on Thanksgiving Day. As Chief Blogger, I try to be timely in posting, but this holiday finds me mostly in a horizontal position, tissues strategically placed nearby along with two vaporizers, at least one cat, and frequent cups of hot tea. I'm feeling somewhat better today--relatively speaking--so I didn't want to delay in saying what is ever-present on the minds of the members and organizers of A Little Something.

This Thanksgiving, we take time to appreciate the many people who support us in so many ways. We are thankful every single day, but in our busy lives, we don't always take the time to articulate this deep appreciation we hold in our hearts. We have known from the beginning that we had a worthwhile idea, but we also knew we were going to need a lot of help to make the dream a reality. We've come so far in a little over a year, it feels like we've been traveling at warp speed.

Many people have taken the time to tell us how we have impressed them with our work. Let there be no doubt--we work very hard on this project, in addition to doing our "real" jobs and tending to our families. Still, our load has been lightened countless times by the kindness of friends and strangers alike. We have worked, but you have been beside us--guiding us, encouraging us, supplying us, and sometimes holding us up at those times when we felt too tired to remember why we were doing this at all. You reminded us. For this, we are deeply grateful.

I can never make a complete list of everyone who has contributed to our project in the past 14 months. What surprised us, though, was that so many people who had no idea who we were had faith in us and most important above all else--had faith in the refugee women who were taking this leap of faith and trusting us to see them through to something better for themselves. We believe that when someone believes in you, new possibilities are easier to believe in yourself. Call this the chain of believing.

Oh, how I wish we could remember everyone we want to thank this Thanksgiving. Please don't be offended if we don't mention your name--we are thankful for your support, be it through cheerleading, encouragement, advice, idea sharing, jewelry lessons, financial assistance, or for sending us some of the bajillion beads that have kept the project going.

First, thanks to James Horan, Slavica Park, Denise Lines, and Sheryl Johnson whose support within the Colorado Refugee Network gave us credibility from the beginning. Thanks to Tammy Powley of for lighting an Internet flame that we hope will never go out! Tammy has also found quieter ways to help us out--because she is kind and special! One of our other first friends (thanks to Tammy) was Margot Potter, crafter, author, and QVC pitch woman extraordinaire. Margot has connected us to some invaluable resources, and she has always been available for much-needed emotional support on those really tough days. Her books are well used in our program, and she has never missed an opportunity to share information about A Little Something and about refugee concerns, as well. She also added a little sparkle to our supply stash--something we never could have done on our own. Rock on with ya bad self, Margot.

Speaking of Potters, Drew Potter of Beadalon generously facilitated a major donation of supplies. I know there's always a tax receipt with a dollar amount on it, but in the end, some gestures are priceless. Likewise, Sara from Softflex hooked us up with some desperately needed stringing wire--one of our costliest expenses. What a relief to have our pennies to spend on other desperately needed items!

The folks at Beyond Beadery (Betcey Ventrella) have certainly done their part to very generously help our bead show budget go a bit further. A lot further. More than once. Even after we already cleaned out the dollar bin.

Arwa Jumkawala's dad sent us the heaviest box we ever received. We never knew you could actually fit that many beads in a flat-rate Priority Mail box, and we were amazed by this feat of Tetris-like skill. The beads were fabulous, too, and they have become a staple in every new-start kit we send out. Darlene Milam is our most-delayed thank-you note recipient, but she doesn't hold it against us. Capitola Girl actually had a friend hand deliver her bead donation--because lugging beads to Denver is so much easier than shipping! For The Love of Beads sent us some beautiful beads even though they were just getting started themselves, just as Cara Holland made her own generous donation while her new business was so new it hadn't even opened yet.

The members of's jewelry making forum support the women of ALS in too many ways to list. Thank you Anne Weinheimer and Rena Baum for putting together the best-labeled bead donations ever and for being so concerned for our collective health and sanity. The online community has supported the women of ALS very generously and bloggers, posters, emailers and others kept the word moving all over the Internet. We received assistance from people we didn't even know in the virtual sense. Here are some of those folks, plus a few who help us "in person:"
DD Hess (the women love your beads!)
Janet in Connecticut
Jannifer L.
Jeanine P.
Jennifer (St. C.)
Keller in Kent (first name unknown)
Kelley (squared)
Laura L.
Lesley in Canada
Lynn (Plum Cow)
Mary V. in Dublin
Michelle Mach
Solamente/Melanie Schow(your beads took our breath away!)
Val K.

Closer to home, Katrina, Lisa, Christy, Susan, Slavica, Julie, employees of Whiteman elementary and Emily Griffith Opportunity School (who will buy even the most "Charlie Brown" pieces in our collection), the treasurer's office at EGOS, and the many volunteers have lent a hand to benefit the refugee women working in this program. Also, African Community Center for inviting us to be part of their 2008 African Extravaganza, our first really big event. Izzy Sandoval, your generosity in lending us your van has broadened the possibilities of what we can do and where we can go with the women--Your kindness widens our world!

Jean Clark and Ginny Czarnecki get a special thank you today. Jean and Ginny joined us very recently, and they are fearless. They are willing to try anything and learn anything. They've taken on the often grueling task of taking our show on the road to craft sales. Although it is the season for church bazaars and alternative gift markets, it is sometimes difficult for Susan, Anna, Jaime, and I to be available to go to the sales since we all have erratic work schedules. Thank you Jean and Ginny for helping our co-op members get their creations to market! Thank you for driving SUVs. Thank you for having good upper body strength and a good eye for arranging the table and for having a good head for problem solving and for remaining unfazed by early-morning wake up times. Thank you!

I probably forgot a lot of people. I apologize for that. My head is stuffy and my body is tired, so I'm not thinking as well as I should be. If anything occurs to me while I'm sleeping, I'll edit the post later.

We are blessed to have so many friends. The list here is incomplete (by a lot), yet it is still long. There is so much to be thankful for: Friends and supporters, patient husbands, women who are finding confidence and skills, all of the healthy babies that were born to our members this year, newly arrived refugee women who seem to find us almost immediately after arrival, our own energy, and a successful (if tiring) first year.

We could never have done it without you. Thank you.


Sharon, Anna, Susan, and Jaime

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Stretching the possibilities

Thank you Beadalon!

Recently, A Little Something was very fortunate, indeed. With the help of Drew Potter at Beadalon, we were able to receive a large quantity of stretch cord. Stretch cord is a favorite stringing material among the Beadwomen, especially for our beginner-beaders who don't yet feel comfortable using tools and crimps.

All stringing media tend to be our costliest expenditure. We are grateful and relieved, and yes, very excited about this wonderfully generous windfall. Thanks, Beadalon, and thanks, Drew!!

Monday, November 10, 2008

What we take for granted

Today, November 10, is a day when bloggers around the world are sharing their thoughts about refugee concerns. How could we not participate?

In an average week, I spend about 70 hours doing something refugee related. There's teaching, running the Denver area's in-home tutoring program, catching up with students and volunteers, and of course, working on the many details of A Little Something. People talk to me. They tell me their stories, even when I never ask a question. I absorb all of these bits of information and try to make sense of them in a larger context. Often, there is no larger context.

On Saturday, I spent a good part of the day rearranging the things in my basement. I did this to make room for the many things A Little Something seems to acquire as it goes along. While rummaging through a box of files, I sat down on the tile floor and visited with my past.

Before I worked with refugees, I had a thriving career in the cable television industry. I did many jobs and worked on some fascinating projects, but at the time, I was one of a handful of pay-per-view specialists shaping the future of what was to become on-demand programming. The work was fast-paced, challenging, and fun. I met a lot of people, including more than a few who were well known in the entertainment world.

While sorting a box, I came across a picture of me with Don King. It made me laugh, but later I remembered why I gave up a more glamorous life for the one I have now. Shortly after I was transferred to Denver, I became a volunteer in the program I now manage. Until then, I didn't know anything about refugees. Once I learned, my life was irrevocably changed.

In the 13 years I've worked with refugees, I have never ceased to be amazed at the resiliency of the human spirit. I don't know that I would have the strength to make the refugee's journey, and so I admire the people I know even more.

The women of A Little Something have stories as varied as their backgrounds. They have all experienced loss, though, and many still live with uncertainty. These women are survivors. They have endured things that most of us would find unimaginable. Although the women have survived, many have lost loved ones. Some have been lost through fatal incidents, while others are truly...lost.

In every conflict, people get lost. Often, families scatter during an attack, but they are never able to completely reunite. In the U.S., we tend to buffer potential uncertainty by believing in the systems we have in place that identify us, even when we, ourselves, cannot. Elsewhere, the task of keeping track is not so simple. It can take years of walking and asking, walking and asking, before a missing person's whereabouts is determined.

One woman recently told me her story of trying to leave her country while she was nine months pregnant. She had to stop to give birth along the way. She said there was no razor to cut the baby's umbilical cord, so a woman traveling with her found a sharp rock to do the job. She said she had terrible abdominal pain, but it wasn't safe to stop, so she held her newborn close to her chest and forced herself to keep going, despite the pain, the fatigue, and the bleeding. The thing that troubled her most, though, was that she had nothing with her to wrap up the baby. She feared he would die from exposure or be snatched away by a lion. Fearing the latter, dreading the loss of yet another loved one, she stopped sleeping until she reached Kenya.

This story made me think of the clean, bright, and modern maternity wards in our hospitals, birthing centers, midwives, doctors, and Apgar scores. Most people just have no idea what millions of births are like in the harshest areas of our world.

I looked at the picture of Don King and me. I remembered. It was the people. I left the cable industry and its flash because I wanted my days to count for something--for someone. I hear the refugees' testimony every day. Each new story reminds me I have skills and talents that can help other people find their new place in a chaotic world. I cannot fix their problems or patch together their shattered lives. Still, with some compassion and professionalism, I can help someone take one more step toward gaining instead of losing.

If our situations were reversed, I could only pray that someone would be there to offer the same to me.

To learn more about Refugees United, an organization that helps refugees reunite with loved ones, click here. Spread the word. Dialogue fosters awareness.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Teaching teachers

Sometime back in the spring, we submitted a conference proposal to the organizers of COTESOL, the professional organization for English as a Second Language professionals. The title of our presentation was: Stringing Together Benevolent Enterprise and Basic Skills, or, How to accidentally start a nonprofit.

We believe we have a program worth explaining. Beyond the origins of the program itself, A Little Something has helped the participants acquire language, literacy, and math skills, as well as improved critical thinking and life skills.

Before coming to the U.S., most of the women we work with were not accustomed to having so many decisions to make. They definitely weren't ready for the barrage of options and expectations they now encounter on a daily basis in this country. We believe that the women who are participating in A Little Something have benefited from it so much that we wanted to share the idea with others who might find the idea useful in their programs.

We didn't have a lot of hope that many people would attend the presentation. It was scheduled in the last time slot of the last day of the conference. We kept our fingers crossed that people would come and there would be more people in the audience than there were presenting (six). Jaime, Anna, Susan, Sharon, Haiffaa, and Khadiga were prepared to tell our story to anyone who came to listen.

Our worries were unfounded. About 15 people came to learn about an interesting way to combine benevolent enterprise with basic skills. They learned about the project and the people involved. Two adventurous participants volunteered to be part of a hands-on jewelry lesson--given entirely in Arabic. Thanks to Barb Vaille and our volunteer (whose name we didn't get) for their willingness to try something new!

We'll be doing a similar--but much longer and more in-depth--version of this presentation at the international TESOL conference in March. There are 8,000 people expected at that conference, so with a little luck, A Little Something might just rock the multicultural education world!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The other season

You probably learned that there are four seasons in the year in North America, but there is actually one more season. For those who make and sell crafts, the prime selling season starts in Sepetember and wraps up just as holiday gifts are starting to be unwrapped.

Imagine creating a boutique that, in order to be successful, has to be attractive, well organized, stocked, properly merchandised, and adequately staffed. This boutique also has to fit into a 10'x10' space, be completely portable, and put together in about an hour by as few as two people. Maybe one. And then it's all done in reverse at the end of the day.

Let me digress for a moment to appreciate my husband, Leo Livecchi. He is that invisible ALS member who loads my car on sales days, then unloads and unpacks the canopy, the boxes, the furniture, and our endearing mannequin. He helps me re-sort the merchandise into the right containers and then puts all of in storage until the next round. After that, he cooks dinner for me because he knows that if he doesn't, I'll just eat peanut butter out of the jar and call it a night. He's not just a great husband, he's an outstanding volunteer. Without his care and participation, our project would probably falter quite a bit. Yeah, Leo! All he really wants in return is for the crafts group to find a way to rent an office so that our home will no longer be crammed full of the beads, boxes, books, and piles of craft supplies that belong to A Little Something.

So far, we (A Little Something) have five sales scheduled for this season. If you're in the neighborhood, please stop by, say hello, buy something lovely, and, maybe staff the table for a few minutes--we might need a restroom break--or hang out and help us pack up at the end of the day.

To find out where we'll be this fall, check back soon--there will be a list of sale dates over on the right side of this page.

See you soon!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Swept from the Himalayas

A Little Something is growing into a big something. Word is spreading throughout the refugee community here about our endeavor. Although we worked primarily with African women a year ago, we have diversified rather quickly as new groups have been included in the U.S. refugee resettlement program.

We barely got started with the Burmese Karen weavers when the Bhutanese started to arrive. A word about the Bhutanese. This group is almost exclusively ethnic Nepali. When the Bhutanese government enacted a policy to maintain an ethnic balance favorable to the ethnic majority, the ethnic Nepalis, or Lhotsampas, were forced to leave Bhutan. Most fled to Nepal where they have been living for the last 16 years. Through the United Nations’ refugee resettlement program, more than half of this population will be permanently resettled in the United States. Click here for a brief overview of the Lhotsampas’ culture and refugee situation, and click here for the addendum that gives addition cultural information (it’s quite fascinating).

The Bhutanese have been arriving here in Denver for a few months now. We found out that the women are skilled in several crafts, including jewelry making, weaving, knitting, and crochet. Several of the women wanted more information about A Little Something, so we scheduled a meeting. With the other groups, organizing meetings has been a bit of a struggle, as the women have shown little interest in organizing themselves this way. We were in for a surprise.

When meeting time came around, we were ready to go…almost. We were expecting eight women, but 24 showed up. It was disconcerting but exciting at the same time.

The group was lively, to say the least. My head was swimming with details as I tried to remember the do’s and don’ts of working with this culture…Caste system…age…more. The women all wanted to speak at once. They had dozens of questions, and, unlike our other groups, wanted to let us know that they were quite interested in learning to be businesswomen.

As the meeting concluded, seven of the knitters set out with Jaime and me to immediately embark on a field trip. Seven wasn’t a random number—it was the number of people we could fit into our two cars. Who knew we needed a bus? We grappled with seatbelts and automatic locks, and when everyone was properly secured, we headed off to buy yarn at The Lamb Shoppe (say it out loud and you’ll get the joke).

I’m pretty sure the employees at the shop weren’t expecting so much activity on an otherwise-uneventful Thursday afternoon. The women swept into the shop in a wave of brightly colored saris, a human bouquet that was chattering excitedly.

The next hour was spent touching yarn, comparing colors and discussing texture, looking at crochet hooks, choosing knitting needles, and carefully selecting just the right supplies for each person’s first project. There were a lot of questions…”Can I get this?” “I don’t know which needles to get. I can get both? Really?” “What size needles do I need for this yarn?” “Can I really make anything I want?”

In the midst of this, Jaime and I picked out yarn for our other knitters and for A Little Something’s supply stock. We reveled in the fun of it, the rich colors and sumptuous feel of alpaca, cotton, and fine wool. A few skeins quickly became armloads of yarn.

After the shopping was finished, Jaime and I took the women to the nearest major bus stop. As I approached the intersection, the bus was pulling up to the curb. I swung into the gas station so the women could get out of my car safely. They didn’t want to miss the bus, so they tried their best to wiggle out of the SUV in a hurry—no easy feat in a sari. From the rearview mirror, I watched them scurry toward the bus in a flurry of colorful dresses, arms filled with pink plastic bags full of yarn and knitting needles.

A bell was dinging in my car telling me that a door was open. I assessed the situation and saw that all of the doors had been left open by my passengers. I needed to move because another car was trying to ease around my Jeep to get into the station. Then I looked again. The driver, a woman with long blonde hair, was laughing good-naturedly at the scene before her. It probably was a little different than what one normally expects to see on a trip to the Conoco.

The women were so excited to start working on their projects, I would bet that several are probably well along in their creations. Jaime and I—and the women at the Lamb Shoppe—are all eager to see what our knitters have made with their first supplies.

Here is a slide show of the meeting and the yarn-buying excursion. Enjoy.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Many hands make light(er) work

Labor Day has passed, school is back in session, and the smell of craft-fair season is in the air. There is a lot to do, a lot to organize.

Back in July, several friends of A Little Something stepped in to take over booth duty at a big event on a very, very hot day. They were a bit taken aback by how much work goes into hauling all of the booth supplies, setting up, breaking down, and loading out. It gave Katrina an idea.

Since our project started a year ago, many people have asked to join us at our group sessions with the refugee women. We've had to explain that we were forced to abandon the "sewing circle" concept very early on. The logistics of scheduling, transportation, and childcare made us rethink how and where we could work with all of the participants. Some people wanted only this group/gathering type of involvement, but there were still other people who continued to say, "Well, when you find something that you need help with, just ask."

And so we asked. Anna and I invited would-be helpers to spend an afternoon helping us fix jewelry, tag, price, sort beads, sort more beads, organize supplies, and more. We made it a potluck and got to work.

There were nine of us all together--ten if you count my husband--plus two dogs. It was a glorious Sunday to be outside with good people. Anna, Haiffaa, Lisa, Katie, Katrina, Christy, Slavica, Susan, Leo, and me. And Ginger and Phoenix (who, I might mention, didn't work very hard, especially considering they are both working breeds).

If anyone had thought they acquired insight into our process at the craft fair, today they realized that the sales are just a fraction of what it takes to keep us humming along. Our helpers worked more like machines than elves as they considered what happens after the donated materials come in and before jewelry is sold. More than this, Slavica summed up what everyone was thinking just after entering the front door: "Oh my gosh. This has totally taken over your house!" Yes, I am keenly aware of that.

In an attempt to bring some order to the chaos, we all worked like busy bees for hours. Haiffaa was unusually quiet, but she was surrounded by food and drink, and must have been feeling her Ramadan fast very strongly while sitting among us.

Looking around at all of the activity buzzing around us, I was struck by how lucky we, as a group, are to have such good friends. We have friends who spread the word about our project via blogs, Websites, emails, and newsletters. We have friends who tell us about grants, supplies, shopping, and upcoming sales. We have friends who send us beads and wire and findings and fiber and storage boxes and magazines and books. We have friends who bless us with cash. Without our friends, A Little Something wouldn't be anything at all.

Everyone agreed that it was a fun afternoon. Even Ginger and Phoenix enjoyed the day(although we're still not sure who licked a little icing off of the brownies). Katrina suggested that we make this a monthly event, but that if monthly is too much to coordinate, meeting every three months would certainly be a possibility. As I was thinking, "Oh, nobody is going to want to do this with us every month," everyone else was happily agreeing with Katrina.

So, here's to our friends, our support and supporters. I can't imagine how we would get along without you.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

A Little Update

It's a hot summer here in Denver. That hasn't stopped women of our group from creating. We have a lot of jewelry to sell, and we just got a commission job! How exciting is that?

August is going to be a bit quiet for us. We don't have any sales or events to attend. There has been a lot of travelling among those of us who organize and those who make beautiful crafts. That trend will continue through the month.

Our big challenge right now is trying to find what we need to get the weavers started with their projects. We have no idea how or where to buy weaving fiber, let alone the materials needed to make a backstrap loom. If you know about these things, please contact us! We need help!

We hope that when September rolls around, we'll have a full roster of crafts sales, church events, and more lined up for the entire fall. If we clone ourselves, we'll even open an Etsy shop online.

For the moment, though, we still need an office and work space near Capitol Hill in Denver, as well as a lawyer and someone to file our business papers with the state.

We need to take August off so our heads don't explode from being full and thinking about everything we still need to work on!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Hot, hot, hot

As a group, we learn as we go along. Here at A Little Something, we're making a lot of notes. The latest would be: No more events that take place on AstroTurf. No unshaded events in July. Label the boxes. Hang the banner on the canopy before raising it to its full height and you realize the tallest person in the group is 5' 4". Have a lot of safety pins and S-hooks on hand. Figure out why the women are so resistant to using a crimp tool.

The list goes on. We have another list, too:
Try every event until we find what works best for us. Involve the girls. Don't be shy about asking for volunteers to help work the sales. Don't forget: Lots of people want to help; they're just waiting to be asked.

The event we attended on Sunday was challenging in some ways, but a delightful surprise in others. The event itself was faith-based in nature, and we weren't sure how our project would fit in. Since our project is an offshoot of the CRESL In-Home tutoring Program, though, it seemed like a no-brainer to have both groups represented.

I have never spent any quality time on AstroTurf before. It's...bizarre. We were very careful not to drag the canopy or tables across the fake grass as we positioned everything during setup. Susan brought three of the Somali Bantu teen girls with her, and together, we made a great team. We just weren't fast enough setting up.

We got the jewelry part of the booth set up, but before we could arrange everything for the home tutoring program's side of the booth, we were flooded with customers. The cyclists from the Sea to Sea bike tour were very happy, indeed, to be able to buy beautiful, meaningful souvenirs from Denver that were not only special but that could be easily tucked into the tiny bit of storage the cyclists had available. Ah, we were selling the right thing!

Throughout the morning, our booth was filled with visitors. Some came to shop, while others came simply to find out what we were all about. Many had heard of the home tutoring program and wanted to know how they could help. Many of our customers were very generous not only in their purchases, but also in telling us to "keep the change" as we wrote up their sales.

We've had our share of events where few people showed an interest in what we were trying to accomplish. They saw only merchandise and didn't wish to go beyond that. Sunday was different, though. Susan and I were educators and advocates, and we appreciated the opportunity to teach others about the positive parts of the federal refugee resettlement program.

Did I mention it was hot on Sunday? My all-things-sports expert informed me that on a sunny day, the temperature on the football field would be about ten degrees hotter than ambient temperature elsewhere. Indeed. The temperature in Denver was 97 degrees, but at Englewood High School, it was about 107 degrees on the field. Mercy.

Susan never, ever complains, but I easily make up for that personality trait. I tried not to fuss about the heat too much, but I was very uncomfortable. As it turns out, the event wrapped up early. The heat made me start thinking that there must be something fundamentally wrong with me to keep spending so much of my free time volunteering for this cause. I definitely had a few minutes of, "Why do we even bother..." since it was almost unbearably hot out. I looked at all of the stuff we had to pack up and all I could think was, "I just don't want to do this."

Almost on cue, a group of about seven or eight people seemed to materialize out of nowhere. One of them called out, "Hi! Do you need some help getting packed up and loaded?" And there was our salvation. Many hands really do make light work. We got the booth taken care of and my car loaded in a fraction of time it normally takes.

I don't even know how much money we actually made. I'm still too tired to put on my accountant hat. It doesn't matter. I mean, the women will be happy to be paid, but I know I speak for Susan and myself when I say that the day had other contributions for us. To know that we got people thinking about the refugee situation here and worldwide, to know that we may have recruited volunteers or even inspired someone to volunteer at a resettlement agency or a school is payment enough.

We both meet a lot of people in the course of our day, but some of the friendliest and most sincere we've ever met were with us on the blistering green AstroTurf on Sunday.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Thanks, Sara!

A special thank-you to Sara at the Softflex Company. Sara arranged for a generous (as in large) donation of Softflex beading wire for the Bead Women of A Little Something. Wire is usually one of our biggest expenses, so we are particularly appreciative of Sara's kind gesture.

Thanks, Sara!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Come see us in Englewood on July 27

Our next sale will be:

Sea to Sea Bike Tour--Denver Rally
Sunday, July 27
Englewood High School
3800 S. Logan St.
Englewood, Colorado

9:00 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.
and then
11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

Please note that there is a one-hour church service starting at 10:30 and the booth area might not be open at that time.

The Sea To Sea Bike tour includes more than 200 bicyclists riding across the United States (and part of Canada) from Puget Sound to the shadow of the Statue of Liberty. The purpose of the tour is to raise awareness of and to inspire others to work to end the cycle of poverty locally, nationally, and globally. To learn more about the tour and its purpose, visit

A Little Something was invited to participate in this event because of our mission and commitment to empowerment through education and self-sufficiency. The rally is not a crafts fair or festival like those we normally attend; rather, it is meant to bring people together to learn about and connect with volunteer opportunities that build supportive communites and programs that contribute to ending the cycle of poverty.

Sharon (who is a former Very Serious Cyclist herself) will be wearing two hats at once and hoping it's not too hot, as she is the volunteer coordinator for the Colorado Refugee English as a Second Language In-Home Tutoring Program and as a member of Team A Little Something. If you're not busy next Sunday morning, stop in and maybe buy a nice necklace or a woven bag, or just chat with us about why we do what we do. Of course, if you'd like to be a home tutor here in Denver, Sharon would really like to talk to you!

Since this event will be relatively small, it would be a good time for you to come and shop with us--take your time, try things on...We hope to see you there.

We were our own best customers

It's probably something that every veteran crafts seller already knows: Sometimes, even the best planned events aren't as successful as we expect them to be. In this case, on Sunday we participated in an arts and music festival in the city's largest park.

We made a checklist:
  1. Jewelry? check.
  2. Weaving? check
  3. Knitted items? check
  4. Display? check
  5. Banner? check
  6. Cooler full of bottled water? check
The festival should have been great, considering the location, time of day, and overlap with another event. It just didn't turn out that way. It was a very hot weekend--102 degrees in the park--and the event sort of fizzled in the sizzle.

We sold a few things to the festival goers, and then our helpers started showing up. Slavica, who oversees the ESL program at Emily Griffith, bought a beautiful traditional woven Karen bag, but missed out on a darling red charm bracelet that Hajia bought from Haiffaa. Jaime bought a scarf and a necklace. Cathryn looked at everything and spent quite a bit of time seriously considering a woven Karen blouse and skirt. All in all, those of us who were there to work at the booth did the bulk of the shopping.

We are lucky to have access to a new EZ-Up canopy and as of this weekend, a brand-new banner. This may seem inconsequential, but these things really do help us look more professional. More important, I drive a Jeep, and although gas prices will do what they will do, this is the official A Little Something haul-it-all vehicle. As long as this project goes on, I cannot get rid of the Liberty. It is the only vehicle of those owned among us that is long enough to haul the EZ-Up, plus accommodate all of the other things that go into creating a mini-boutique in the middle of a field.

The booth looked great, we had plenty of help late in the day, and everything was on course for a profitable day, but in the end, we only sold a few items. It was just too hot, and it was the third or fourth consecutive day of just too hot. We went through almost a case of bottled water, plus some Gatorade for the electrolytes.

All was not lost, though. Since business was slow, we had a chance to fine-tune the displays and walk around a bit to check out the competition. Jaime spent most of the day tagging all of the new jewelry and reuniting earring and necklace sets.

We get to do this again next week, albeit on a much smaller scale. Let's hope for strong sales, lots of volunteer recruitment, and many opportunities to educate visitors about refugee resettlement and the A Little Something project.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Introducing...More dynamic women!

We've talked about it for almost a year. We talked about it some more. We tested the waters with some sample products. This week we finally had our plans in place and so we were able to formally launch the next part of A Little Something: The Karen Weavers' Cooperative.

That name is still under construction as we will surely have more than just ethnic Karen women from Burma in our fiber arts group. We hope to eventually have other Burmese ethnic groups, as well as weavers and knitters from Nepal and Bhutan. (more on that in a future post).

Today we scheduled our first informational meetings for the women. Things got off to a somewhat discouraging start when our first meeting went completely unattended. Jaime and I, along with our translator, Margaret Htoo, decided not to let this influence us too much. We drove across town for the second scheduled meeting. This time, things went better.

Margaret, who is a weaver herself (and a little dynamo!), left Jaime and I at the steps of the apartment building where the meeting was to take place. She went around the neighborhood and knocked on doors, gathering up prospective participants and asking them to remind others that it was time to meet. As Jaime and I were chatting on the steps of the building, I looked up to see Margaret half a block away, with a small train of Burmese women in tow. Having escorted her first group to us, she set off once again to shepherd a few more to our part of the street.

I am normally a person who prepares her comments, who makes notes on index cards (middle-aged memory lapses--ugh), and who has an agenda for every meeting. Maybe it's the heat, maybe it's my insomnia-induced fatigue, but I decided to just wing it. That seemed OK until we went inside and the women filed into the room. I stood in the room and realized I had no idea how to approach this group.

We have known the African women for a few years, and I, for one, am more familiar with them personally and culturally. As I set to work assembling a small photo display, I hoped that Jaime and I would explain the project in a way that would engage the women's interest and not in a way that would leave them thinking we were going to exploit them.

My worries were unfounded. The Burmese women do not harbor the trust issues that we encountered with our foundation group. They were polite and curious, they laughed at all of my jokes (and I give lots of credit to Margaret for being able to translate the nuances of my humor), and they nodded often as we explained the details of the project.

As I took a break from talking, Jaime took over and as she spoke, I looked around the room. We had seven women there for our first meeting. They range in age from 15 to 62. Some are educated, some are not. Three are so quiet, I could not hear them introduce themselves, although I was standing only a foot away. Margaret speaks English very well, our veteran ALS member, Htee Ku Paw, is a solid intermediate speaker, and the rest of the group comes in at zero English. A couple of the women have been here since last summer whereas two others arrived only last week. All of these women lived at least a decade of their lives in the Mae La refugee camp.

I don't know that if I had been relocated only a week ago that I would be up for joining a group of any kind. In fact, I would probably still be recovering from jet lag. Not these women. They are eager to get going.

When Jaime and I finished our part of the presentation, we asked the women if they had questions. They looked at each other. They looked at us. They looked at us. They looked at Margaret. Finally, Ko Gay said something very brief to Margaret. Margaret translated: "They want to know when they can start."

At this point, the women all started chatting at once. There was a lot of hand gesturing in the air and discussion among the whole group. Margaret leaned over and said, "They're talking about where they can weave and how they can set up their looms. In Burma and Thailand, we lived in bamboo houses, so you could tie the loom onto a post on any wall. It's not that easy here." (click here to see a slide show of Karen weavers in a refugee camp in Thailand.)

I had a laugh at my own expense. I've been thinking about the details of this project for a long time, and I have a vision of the many things we can do. I know that the Karen weave with a variety of fibers, and many spin their own. Traditionally, the weavers use homemade vegetable dyes to hand-color each skein of silk or cotton. I have envisioned us all working together outside of one of the apartment buildings, having "dye days" and warping fiber, making skeins, and building looms. Margaret's comment had just brought me back to reality with a big thud. Forget finding a community workspace; we need to find a way to use backstrap looms in modern Denver apartments!

As the meeting wound down, Jaime made a somewhat humorous observation. When we meet with the African women, the meetings are noisy and boisterous. There is spirited debate, and we are bombarded with questions. Side conversations go on while we're talking, it's hard to stay on topic, and every point has to be considered from many sides and with many "what ifs."

The Karen women, on the other hand, listened quietly, inquired politely, paid attention, and trusted us without question. Jaime and I realized that we hadn't ever had an A Little Something meeting that was so...subdued. Things are going to get interesting when the whole group is together. Furthermore, we've found that if we plan things more than a week or so in advance with the core group, they forget about those events when the scheduled day arrives. Last-minute wrangling works best. Margaret, on the other hand, very politely admonished us for not giving more lead time in getting the word out about the meetings. She recommended--several times--that in the future, we plan ahead.

Although there were only seven women at the meeting today, we know that there are at least seven more who wanted to be there but who had appointments or English class in the morning. In addition, there are other Karen women who don't weave but who wish to apprentice, and a few more who don't know any crafts yet, but want to learn to make jewelry.

Something is happening to our project--excitement is growing. It feels like we're on the verge of something much bigger. I think we're about to...bloom!

(The newest ALS members, in order pictured: Margaret Htoo; Paw Ku Thay; Hai Gay Moo; Paw Pah; Ko Gay; Than Myint Yee.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Dispatch from the dining room floor

The other day, I sat on my dining room floor (the current official headquarters of A Little Something) and started going through the latest batch of necklaces and earrings the women turned in. Last week, Anna and Jaime went visiting, and spent some time with Sharifo and with our newest member, Sahara, and Sahara's daughters.

As I sat there on the cool hardwood, I looked over the work and I was stunned to realize that Sahara and Company had started making very pretty, truly original designs right off the bat. This group has an innate sense of design and color that is right-on. The technical skills need some work, but that will come with time and practice. In the meantime, I plan on inviting some friends over for afternoon iced tea and cookies, and when everyone is comfortable, I'll pull out the jewelry so we can make adjustments and then tag and bag. Hee hee.

I digress. After Anna and Jaime finished their rounds, Anna called me to let me know she had some things to drop off. She sounded very excited on the phone--and that's saying something for someone whose natural speech patterns tend toward the very, very mellow. Anna hurriedly told me that she couldn't wait for me to see Sharifo's latest work--it was, for sure, the prettiest work she had produced so far. We thought that Sharifo would take a break or stop altogether once her baby was born, but having a newborn hasn't slowed her down one bit! Her creativity seems to have gone into overdrive since the baby arrived in May.

Fatuma, Khadiga and her girls, Zahra, Mama Moumina, Sharifo, and Sahara were all teaching themselves. They worked out the measurements and the counting, the symmetry and color combinations. Double strands, pendants, patterns, and convertible pieces--when and how had they learned these things?

When I learned to make jewelry, I didn't have a teacher to show me what to do. I learned from books, mostly (Margot Potter's Impatient Beader was a lifesaver!), as well as from magazines and online resources. It took me a few months to find my groove and to try to find my own design style. It didn't come all that naturally, but eventually, I got there.

Anna and I recently discussed how when we went back and looked at our own first pieces of jewelry, we realized what mediocre attempts ours had been. When we started working with the refugee women, though, we both found new enthusiasm and just as the women were trying, we also paid more attention to our creativity and attempted new things. Shortly after that conversation, I noticed that Jaime had also started creating very pretty pieces for herself. The three of us all had a few girly-girl moments along the way where we complimented each other on our lovely jewelry and accepted lavish compliments from each other.

As I pulled more necklaces out of the bag, I wondered if the women felt this same sense of happiness about their creativity. Were they enjoying the journey from making saleable items to making beautiful, original crafts? Did they wake up in the morning thinking of a color combination or a particular bead they wanted to use in a necklace? Do they share our excitement for the creative process? These kinds of questions are difficult for us to ask, and even if we had an interpreter, this kind of conceptual language doesn't translate well.

I wanted to think that the beautiful, colorful, and detailed work I was holding in my hands had been created with joy and not just with a sense of doing business. It seems to me that it's not possible to make something so wonderful without having put heart and soul and passion into it.

Some of the women in our program have survived things that are far too horrific to share with you. It is a fact that many of them suffered terribly in the refugee camps, and most experienced profound depression after they arrived in the U.S. In addition, all of them, every single one, lost someone very dear in one armed conflict or another. Now I marvel at their resiliency, their survivor mentality, their willingness to start over, keep going and to try something that is new--and possibly a little frivolous--along the way.

There is so much more than beauty in art. The things we create carry some of our personal history, our emotions, our ingrained experiences, and our personality in every piece. When you look at the bounty of beaded jewelry created by the women of A Little Something, you might be tempted to see only a barrage of color and sparkle. But if you sit beside me on the floor and hold these pieces, these small wonders, you will soon understand that you are bearing witness to a handful of miracles.


Sunday, June 29, 2008

We ask for A Little Something for the first time

Since A Little Something became a reality less than a year ago, we have tried our very best not to ask anyone for anything. We believed that by doing the work we were inspired to do, the things we needed would come to us, one way or another. To date, this has proven to be true, and even the most cynical among us has marveled at this phenomenon of abundance some have likened to The Secret (a book that none of us has actually had the time to read).

Now, after all of these months of things falling into place, we have encountered a situation we cannot resolve. For the past eleven months, we have managed to pull together this program without having a home base of operations. The supplies are at Sharon's house. The finished work and prepared kits are at Anna's place. Susan has the notes on each women's particular situation. The statistical data is at Jaime's office, while the participant files, PR materials, and main phone number are at Sharon's office. We have reached a point where our project needs an office of its own, a home for A Little Something, a central point of operations.

What is standing between us and that is approximately $700. That is how much we need for the first month's rent plus a month's deposit on a small (verrrry small) office. We aren't looking at any posh downtown suites; instead, most of the places under consideration are no more than 300 square feet--about the size of a moderately large bedroom. If we're lucky, we'll get into a place with utilities included. Actually, on our budget, that's our only option.

We haven't yet worked out the logistics of accepting a monetary donation for this purpose, but if you know of anyone who could help us out with $700, please contact me, Sharon, at We hope that our legal advisor, who also donates her time, can help us make this an easy transaction for...someone who has $700. We might even be able to pay you back some time in the future.

We always feel uncomfortable asking anyone for anything, so although we find making this request to be awkward, it's something we're willing to do because our office needs are very specific and we are willing to ask for help getting not just a place, but exactly the right place for us (which we've found but lost out on more than once).

We humbly put this request out there, and if this is the right thing to do, we know it will come to pass. Here's hoping.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Precious Potential

I invite you to share in a five-minute food-for-thought snack. You'll feel a sense of fullness you didn't expect. I encourage you to also click on the two orange links at the bottom of the presentation screen: About and Fact Sheet, as well as any other links that appear.

Go to:

After the initial presentation, please wait just a moment for the second part of the story to load. Take a look at the "Learn, Change, Share" words on the the screen. Click on the words for more information and some insightful videos.

As a friend of a program that has a huge stake in the education of women, I hope that you find inspiration in this short presentation.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Busy again!

It may appear that we're neglecting our project, but really, the Chief Blogger has just been too overwhelmed with work and health issues to focus on posting updates. We're here, we're busy, and we want to give you a quick update.

(It was Diversity Day at school,
hence the exceptionally oversized African dress)

So, you know that I, Sharon, am under the weather, and that's a little bit of a setback. Anna is away for the summer, so Jaime and I are trying to figure out how to cover Anna's home visit marathon schedule. Susan is away right now, but when she's here, she has a lot going on shepherding Somali Bantu kids to their many summer activities. Community building can be exhausting work, but being tired does not in any way mean our enthusiasm is flagging.

There has been a veritable baby boom going on among the women of A Little Something. Several babies have been born in the last few weeks, and there are at least three more on the way--soon!

Our last two sales had mixed success. We're learning that it's a lot of work to get everything inspected, ready, and tagged. Setting up the booth takes a lot of time and and a good eye for merchandising.

We haven't had much success getting the Beadwomen to join us on sale days. We aren't sure if it's a lack of interest, anxiety about speaking English, or some other issue that makes them reluctant to take on the business aspects of the business. For now, we want to get the teen girls involved with the hope that they will encourage their moms to participate in the events and share the responsibility of running A Little Something.

The next phase of our project is taking shape. Since last summer, hundreds of ethnic Karen refugees from Burma have been resettled in Denver. Among the many talents the Karen bring to our country is their gift for weaving. Perhaps you saw earlier posts here about Htee, our only weaver in the program to date.

Our plan is to start a weaving co-op, capitalizing on a skill the Burmese women already have. Again, the intent of the project is not only to make money, but for the women to use art as a means to empowerment and healing. The scars of the Karen run very deep, indeed. Many of the younger women have spent their entire lives in refugee camps in Thailand and are facing a daunting life of opportunity and learning for the very first time. We hope that this part of the Denver Refugee Women's Crafts Project will bring together not only our artists, but local fiber artists who have time and talent to share, as well.

Our project moves forward, sometimes in spite of itself, it seems. Anna, Susan, Jaime, and I face immense challenges on a regular basis. Sometimes we make this up as we go along because we don't really know how to proceed. We have made mistakes, but we learn from them. We do our best and as much as we can--which is actually quite a bit when you consider that we work "regular" jobs that are both demanding and sometimes emotionally difficult. I'm never sure if we should keep that to ourselves or let the women know that we struggle in our way, too.

The summer holds promise for many new ideas to take shape and be put into action. We might have the opportunity to be vendors at the farmers markets. We have the City Park Festival of the Arts coming up on July 20, and on June 27, a small celebration for the Sea-to-Sea bike tour, as well.

We will celebrate our first anniversary in about six weeks, and when you look at the year we created--with so much help from people here and all over the United States and Canada--there is a lot to celebrate. We'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Women's empowerment: Food for thought

"For millennia women have dedicated themselves almost exclusively to the task of nurturing, protecting and caring for the young and the old, striving for the conditions of peace that favour life as a whole. To this can be added the fact that, to the best of my knowledge, no war was ever started by women. But it is women and children who have always suffered most in situations of conflict.

Now that we are gaining control of the primary historical role imposed on us of sustaining life in the context of the home and family, it is time to apply in the arena of the world the wisdom and experience thus gained in activities of peace over so many thousands of years. The education and empowerment of women throughout the world cannot fail to result in a more caring, tolerant, just and peaceful life for all."
—Daw Aung San Suu Kyi (from keynote address to NGO Forum on Women, Beijing, 1995)

Aung San Suu Kyi has been the democratically elected leader of Burma since 1990. After the election, the ruling military regime put Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest, where she remained for most of the next 16 years. In 1991, she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace. She continues to work for the democratization of her country.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Stop in and maybe buy a nice necklace!

We often get asked these very good questions: Where can I buy A Little Something's jewelry and fiber crafts? Do you have a store?

Well, we don't have a store (yet), but we do have sales. Usually, we attend local events such as craft fairs and festivals. In the near future, you can find us at these events. Stop by and say hello!!

Diversity Day Culture Celebration
Thursday, May 15 9-2
Emily Griffith Opportunity School
1250 Welton St., Denver

World Market
Sunday, May 18 11-3
Augustana Lutheran Church
5200 E. Alameda Ave., Denver, CO

City Park Festival of the Arts
Sunday, July 20 12-6
Ferril Lake/City Park
Denver, CO