Hi, I’m Jenn. owner of Outpour Fairtrade Boutique, and founder of the nonprofit Operation: Outpour. I’m a wife, mom, foster mom, outspoken introvert and self proclaimed hot mess just trying to make a difference.
His Hope, Our Anchor
A tragic series of events in our town has temporarily closed the doors to our little boutique. Being a brand new business who has already been forced to close due to COVID, and was JUST starting to rebuild from that, now sits empty and boarded up due to the unrest our city endured. Our hearts are heavy, yet filled with so much hope, that He who began a good work is faithful to complete it.
Our store opened it’s doors ten months ago to bring financial support to our 501©3 non profit partner Operation Outpour. ( www.operationoutpour.org )
As I write, I’m currently back in Haiti. We are preparing to open for a new school year on September 7, 2020. This will be our second year in operation since we opened our doors September 9, 2019. The excitement and anticipation is so evident in the community. We had the privilege to sit down with multiple family’s to ask them what this school (Sorbonne Christian Academy) has done personally for their children. Every single one spoke of the HOPE this has brought. One parent referred to the school as a beacon of light in the community. One father welled up with tears explaining the blessing this is for his son. He said because of this school, his son will have a very different life than he had. (The father had no formal education, and currently tends a small garden that brings in $5-$8 dollars a week to provide for his family.) THAT WAS NOT A TYPO. Five – Eight dollars per week.
Several mothers said (almost word for word) the exact same things. They also said their children have been to another “school” but never even learned how to read or write in the years they were there. Within ONE year at our school, she was reading AND writing! When I asked 8 year old Paulina what her favorite part of going to our school was…. “being able to write my name, and my dads’ name.”
The importance of education in any country is vital, however the importance of education to an impoverished county like Haiti can truly be the difference between life or death. Education has the ability to break the cycle of poverty. I simply can not put enough emphasis on that.
As we begin to put our store back together again, our hearts are more determined then ever before to continue on, work hard and spread the word far and wide that these children and families absolutely DO exist. These families are counting on the sales made at our boutique, to help further the vision of Operation Outpour. Whether you have purchased our fair trade coffee, chocolate, artwork, jewelry, baskets or pottery… we thank you for your support in our mission and look forward to serving you again VERY soon!
I have had many people tell me I should write a book. Probably because of how rediculous my story is to some. However, if I was to write one, I would title it “Prayer, Perseverance and Prozac”.
I was diagnosed with major depression 15 years ago, and since then I’ve had two children, fostered multiple children, started a non profit and most recently partnered with some amazing strong women and opened a business. Depression does not mean you have to give up on hopes and dreams. It does not make you “unqualified” to pursue something new. I do know that is how it feels though.
Living with depression can seem debilitating at times as individuals are victims of their own brain chemistry. So many of us have been there- breaking under the weight of everyday life and too ashamed to admit it. Why are we so afraid to talk about it? Why are we so afraid to say it out loud? It’s OK to admit you’re not ok. You are NOT alone. One of the most frustrating sayings I’ve ever read, is the ever popular “Choose Joy”. I actually have a sign in my house with that saying, except not for the reason you would think. It’s a visual reminder to me that depression was never about a choice, therefore the phrase *choose joy* simply does not apply to it. You wouldn’t walk up to someone who is fighting cancer and tell them to choose joy. Nor would you tell a diabetic they should stop taking insulin and just have faith. That would be asinine.
Right now we are living through a pandemic. No matter what side of the mask debate you are on, life as we’ve all known it has changed. Give yourself grace. Give your family grace and the strangers you come in contact with daily grace. If you have never personally suffered from depression, I’m almost positive you know someone who has been affected by it. Surround yourself with a core group of trusted people and don’t be afraid or ashamed to ask for help… I’m actually preaching to myself with that one.
If you are struggling and not sure where to start, here are a couple resources that are available 24/7. Crisis Intervention 262-657-7188 and National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (English and Spanish) 1-800-273-8255.
Reach out. Take care. And FOR THE LOVE, don’t let anyone tell you to just choose joy.
This article first appeared in the July 30th 2020 issue of Smart Reader
Buy A Brick, Build A Future
September 9, 2019 our nonprofit Operation Outpour opened a school in a very rural part of Haiti to our first 43 students. It was a challenging school year to say the least. In the fall of 2019 riots broke out all across Haiti due to political unrest. Because of the danger of the riots, schools and many other businesses had to shut down. Things slowly began to subside by early 2020 with the children back at school – then comes COVID.
We opened our first four classrooms for kindergarten through third grade in the fall of 2019, with the plan (and full intention) of adding a second floor for the fall of 2020. In total, these eight classrooms will allow 200 children in this rural community to receive a high quality education, a meal, and access to medical care. Due to COVID all of our fundraising came to a screeching halt. In April we created an online fundraiser, Buy A Brick-Build A Future, and we are currently halfway to our goal. WE NEED HELP! We need people just like you, that says, even though I can’t do everything, I refuse to do nothing. You can find the link to donate a tax deductible gift of ANY amount right on our Operation Outpour Facebook page. You can also follow our journey as progress continues, see some of the children who are able to attend school for the first time, and be encouraged that you are making a difference in a child’s life.
We would LOVE the opportunity to share more about our mission and the difference this school is making in so many lives… not only the children, but the jobs that are being created in the community where the average income is $10-$15 per week. Yes, you read that right. Per week. If you’re interested in more information please contact us at email@example.com , reach out to us on Facebook, our website www.operationoutpour.org or in person at Outpour Fairtrade Boutique at 7619 Sheridan Rd (across from Chester Electronic) Wednesday through Saturday. Together we can do so much.
It’s good to be back!
It’s been a rough few months for everyone, but we are so grateful to have physically opened our doors at Outpour Fairtrade Boutique on May 29th! As owners, we took the time off to really focus on what we want as a business. How can we get to know our customers and offer the best customer service we possibly can. How can we educate everyone that walks through our door about the importance of fairtrade, and the many lives it impacts. We took the time off to research other countries to partner with, and fill our boutique with NEW products! We are so excited about having an inventory that empowers women (and men) and provides dignified jobs to countless artisans around the globe! Under a fairtrade system, developing countries get an opportunity to export goods such as tea, chocolate, gold, sugar, handicrafts, and flowers to developed countries thus promoting international trade. Even when commodity prices fall, farmers and artisans are still paid the guaranteed minimum price for their products, so they have a basic safety net against poverty. This system addresses the injustices of conventional trade, which too often leaves the poorest and weakest producers earning less than it cost them to grow their crops.
Our nonprofit partner, Operation Outpour, also focuses on the fairtrade system by bringing education to children in need, providing jobs, and teaching sustainable agriculture techniques to the children at the school, as well as their families and those in the community. Providing jobs and education in a rural part of Haiti has blessed so many. They focus on giving a hand up, not a hand out. (To learn more about Operation Outpour please visit their website at www.operationoutpour.org or find them on Facebook.) A percentage of every purchase at our Boutique goes right back into the mission of Operation Outpour.
Foster Care During A Pandemic
It’s no secret that our lives have been completely flipped upside down since March 13th. Every single thing has changed. The simplest family outing, eating at a restaurant, sitting in a movie theatre, a routine Dr visit, planning a birthday celebration… nothing is the same.
Imagine all of these sudden changes from a child’s perspective. Not returning to school to clean out their desk or see their friends and teachers. No summer sports, swimming lessons or end of year celebrations. An overall sense of loss, sadness and fear. Now imagine all of these sudden changes through the eyes of a child in foster care. Their world was already flipped upside down long before COVID-19.
Children come into foster care for a multitude of reasons, and no two children (or how they process trauma) are the same. It doesn’t matter whether or not it’s abandonment, addiction and substance abuse or mental health concerns – children in foster care often feel no sense of belonging. They feel they don’t fit in with their current home structure or at school. They suffer with low self esteem, sleep issues and food insecurities. I’ve spoken to many foster parents in the Kenosha area since this pandemic has started. The typical response I hear is that the children in their homes are struggling immensely. Children who’ve experienced trauma, thrive on structure and routine .They like to know what’s coming next. It gives them a feeling of control that they so crave.
We are all dealing with this in our own way, but children in foster care are facing a whole different kind of fear and uncertainty. As a community, I would encourage you to see how you could get involved in caring for these children, or those who care for them. Do you know a family who fosters? Maybe offer to send them a meal. How about a night of babysitting, and you bring a fun new game over to play with the kids. Not into the “hands on” kid thing? Send diapers and wipes. I guarantee nothing you offer is too small when it comes to caring for children in need. Like the old proverb says, It takes a village to raise a child.
During this time, the need for more foster homes is great. Not all homes have to commit to long term care. The need for short term, emergency placements and respite providers are just as great. For more information on the need in our very own community, please contact Community Impact Programs at (262) 654-1004 Ext 137.
A Different Perspective
(This story originally appeared in the 5/7/20 issue of the Smart Reader)
A woman I had just met in Haiti this past March, handed me her baby and begged me to keep him. Not just hold him for a minute while she ran an errand or used the bathroom, she literally wanted me to take and keep this brand new little guy (whose name I didn’t even know) and raise him as my own.
Why would any mother even consider this? She must be some sort of monster who doesn’t care about anyone but herself!
Except she’s not.
She’s actually just like me. A mom who loves her child fiercely. A mom who would move mountains if it meant helping or providing for that child. A mom who feels helpless when she can’t give the very best, for whatever reason, physical or emotional. She assumed because I was an American that I was probably wealthy and I could provide for her baby far greater than she ever could.
She was right.
I could have taken that baby, adopted him, dressed him in the sweetest outfits, fed him organic formula and baby food, bought the safest car seat, gave him access to the best medical care and education. She was willing to give up raising her own child, to have his most basic needs met, and provide him a better life.
That’s a mother’s love. That is what keeps me up at night. She shouldn’t have to feel like giving up her child is the only option to providing for him. IF this young mom was offered a stable job, making a fair wage she could be confident in her ability as opposed to waiting in desperation for the next person to come along that she feels could give him a better life.
When we opened the doors to our Fair trade Boutique, we made a commitment to stand united with woman and children exactly in the same desperate situation I just described. By partnering with artisans around the world, we’re committed to do our part, to sell items that are keeping families together.
Currently due to COVID19, our store is not allowed to be open to the public, however we are able to do curbside pick up and offer deliveries. Follow us on Facebook to see available items, then email firstname.lastname@example.org to place an order. Together we can make such a difference.
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A real struggle every day
I recently returned from another trip to Haiti. Every trip is hard, due to the extreme amount of poverty, hunger and sickness, but this one in particular seemed even harder. I led a medical team of nine down to Mirebalais Haiti for a week-long medical clinic to be held at the school our non-profit had opened this past fall.
I stood by and watched as Doctors and nurses saw everything from scabies and fungal infections to pneumonia and lacerations.
Two little girls in particular grabbed my attention. The help they needed to receive would have been an easy fix here in the states, but our team wasn’t equipped to help. The first little girl, five years old, was born with hydrocephalus and needed a shunt put in. She was in extreme discomfort due to the fluid putting pressure on her brain, she kept saying “her head hurt”.
The second little girl, six years old, had been born with a seizure disorder and simply needed to be put on a regular dose of seizure meds. Our Dr’s did their best to plan ahead for all the different kind of infections they could potentially see and help. Seizure medicine was not on the list.
Before we stepped on the plane to return home, I received word the both of these little girls passed away.
My heart shattered in a million pieces.
A surgeon, who was a part of our team, was planning on making the connections back home to be able to bring the little girl with hydrocephalus to the states for her procedure. It was too late.
Why am I sharing these stories with you?
As I write this article, we are in the middle of a quarantine here in the states. Shelves are bare, daily necessities are running out, hospitals are at capacity, schools and businesses are shut down. Definitely uncertain times, that are bringing fear to many. Now, take those same thoughts about what I just shared, and place yourself in a place without running water. Without electricity. Without food pantries or government assistance. Imagine never having been able to send your child to school or having any access to medical care. Having no “rainy day” funds for the unknown.
You guys, this is the very real struggle every day for millions of people. People like you and like me, who just want to provide and care for their families.
I’m certain we will bounce back from this. Shelves will once again be stocked and schools will be opened. My hope is that when that happens we don’t forget the most vulnerable in this world. My hope is that by experiencing this fear and uncertainties, our compassion for humanity and the least of these, will grow greater than ever before.
This article originally appeared in the March 12th, 2020 issue of The Smart Reader.
We all have basic needs. Food, water, shelter and access to proper healthcare. When these basic needs are not met on a regular basis, one is not able to move forward in life to better themselves through education and employment. That just doesn’t seem fair, does it? This keeps a peron trapped in the cycle of poverty, and makes them especially susceptible to being trafficked through bonded labor or as a sex slave.
We all have the ability to make our voice be heard. We all have the ability to take steps toward making this world a better place. Sometimes we may not know where or how to start, or even question if it matters at all. I’m just one person.
So why bother? Your small purchase of fairtrade coffee, jewelry or artwork can’t possibly change the world. You would be right. However, when your purchase combines with my purchase, and that combines with our neighbors purchase- we see the tide change. We see moms and dads being able to feed their children, have access to clean water and send them to school. Don’t ever think that your part is too small to matter.
Fairtrade is a system focused on alleviating global poverty, and promoting sustainability through ethical global trade. It respects and appreciates the hard work of people. It provides a living wage for marginalized producers. Fairtrade is anti-slavery and anti-child labor, it supports conservation of our environment, and empoweres woman and minorities.
Every time we spend our hard earned dollars we are casting a vote as to what kind of world we want to live in. What kind of world we want to leave to our children and grandchildren. As I write this column, I am back in Haiti once again, looking at the poverty first hand. The needs are endless, and always seem overwhelming. I can choose to say why bother, because the need is too great, or I can choose to help the one that’s right in front of me. That is a decision that is up to each of us. Continue to bother.
It’s worth it. I promise.
Work in Progress
This article originally appeared in the February 27, 2020 issue of The Smart Reader.
My first encounter with extreme poverty was like an unforgetable punch in the gut.
The kind you would never have seen coming. The smells. The sights. The panic feeling that this must be a bad dream, a nightmare. The kind of things you can’t unsee.
I remember visiting an orphanage and rocking a baby girl named Esther that had fleas jumping off of her… actually Esther was two years old, but she was the size of a six month old due to lack of proper nutrition. She had been abandoned in a field when she was three months old and brought to this orphanage who did the best they could with the very limited resources they had.
That was my first taste of being truely angered by injustice. It was the beginning of an awakening for me to do something. Anything. Sitting idle day in and day out, caaught up in my “first world problems”, you know, complaining about leftovers, laundry and checking my childs homework for the 10th time, were no longer going to sufice.
I began to research things like , the orphan crisis (that’s a whole other story) , the millions of people who dont have access to clean water, food, medical care or education. The more i read, the more I broke into a hundred pieces feeling helpless. What was I supposed to do? A stay at home mom from Wisconsin.
After a ton of trial and error, and talking to people much wiser than myself, I came to this conclusion. Education and job creation will break the cycle of poverty.
Myself and two partners decided to open a fairtrade boutique in Kenosha this past fall as one way to make a difference. Fairtrade is so simple, yet so profound. Wait for it… It’s the thought that human beings deserve to be treated fairly for the work they do and the products they make. Plain and simple. Not to buy their third vacation home or the latest Iphone, but do things like feed their children and send them to school so they can learn to read and write.
Mind blown? I know mine sure was when I realized the purchasing power that I possessed being born into one of the richest countries in the world. I became keenly aware of Maya Angelou’s famous quote “Do the best you can until you know better, then when you know better, do better.”
I’m choosing to do better. I think we can all choose to do better, no matter how big or how small. I’m choosing to speak up for those who can’t speak for themselves.
I invite you to join me.