I recently spent a weekend in Dallas with my friends M’Lou and Bill; the time had come for a good catch-up visit. Sometimes we do that with a marathon phone call, but they are involved with interesting projects that I wanted to know more about; when they invited me, I accepted.
My husband and I met M’Lou and Bill soon after they moved to Winston-Salem in 1973. They had been Peace Corps volunteers in Bolivia about the same time that we were directing a similar program in Guatemala for the American Friends Service Committee. M’Lou was hired to work with me at the NC School of the Arts doing publicity—first for the ambitious NCSA Summer Festival and later taking over my PR job as I began to work in the development office. Her husband Bill was a journalist and worked for one of the Winston-Salem papers.
Our friendship continued as they moved on to Charlotte and later to Dallas. We have visited back and forth and taken a couple of vacations together and have always been in touch. There is about 15 years difference in our ages, and at first we thought of them as younger siblings. But over the years they have been among our most valued friends. Both the food and the conversation were always outstanding when the four of us were together.
The commitment to service they demonstrated in their Peace Corps years has been a thread throughout their lives, in their work and as volunteers. Bill left journalism and now has a consulting business helping corporations, local and state governments, and nonprofit organizations diagnose their institutional problems and come up with solutions. M’Lou has two jobs: she works as staff for a small Texas foundation and as president of Honduras Threads, a nonprofit organization which supports the work of six women’s cooperatives in rural Honduran villages.
In 2002 the thread of service-oriented endeavors took my friends to Honduras with a mission trip organized by their Episcopal Church. During the process of discovering the needs and desires of the village where they were going to work, they learned that the women were looking for ways to earn a little money to supplement family incomes. In response to that, the idea for Honduras Threads was born. However, the volunteers understood that in order for the vision to be realized the village women would have to produce a quality product that could be marketed in the U.S. The women would first need to learn the appliqué technique and embroidery stitches as well as recordkeeping and business skills.
In Dallas the volunteers formed a board, applied for nonprofit status, and set to work. Now some nine years later, M’Lou manages the business in the US: developing new markets that include Internet sites, the Horchow catalog, shops and churches. They specialize in home décor (also for hotels) and have recently received a commission to make a wall hanging for Parkland Hospital. The women of the co-ops call it the “Joy Project”. I saw a painting of the design and agree that it is an apt name.
M’Lou also makes four trips a year to work with the women, take supplies, and bring back finished work. The beautiful designs for the pillows and table runners are the work of artist Pamela Nelson and designer Barbara Velhum; the Honduran women bring their own artistry to the work through their choice of color, fabrics and embroidery stitches. The co-ops are making a difference in their lives and the extra income helps the women feed their families better.
M’Lou is just back from a trip to Honduras and e-mailed me a report, which included this observation about the women: “They are amazing at figuring it all out and had a million questions about details. It's very exciting to see how they've grown and matured. In the early years, they were too embarrassed to ask all the questions they had because they thought it would make them look dumb. But now they understand that it's smart to ask lots of questions and get it right from the start.”
During my Dallas visit, I wanted to see the women’s work, so M’Lou took me to the office/work room/storage area, which has been made available to Honduras Threads by another Dallas church. I was overwhelmed by the quality and beauty of the work, and also the size of the inventory. M’Lou buys most of the background fabric in Honduras but all the decorative appliqués that create the designs use material from the US, much of it donated. I bought three different types of pillows to use for gifts, and had a hard time making up my mind because I liked them all. You can visit their website (/www.hondurasthreads.org/) and see the work.
The weather in Dallas was just perfect and every one I met told me how lucky I was to be there when it wasn’t hot. The food and the conversation were still outstanding even though my Bill was not there to make us laugh.