While developing the arts program in House Of Ruth Maryland’s shelter over the past three years, I am always looking for mediums that resonate with the women there. We began making jewelry in the fall of 2008, when an anonymous donor gave the House Of Ruth Maryland jewelry supplies; the ensuing jewelry making sessions in the shelter provided a space for conversation and creativity that proved to be healing and empowering for participants. The medium, which most women feel connected to, is more accessible than painting or drawing and allows them to feel confident about mastering new skills. Whether a fashion statement or family heirloom, jewelry is a part of women’s dress that makes a statement about the wearer’s personal identity. The seemingly simple object carries an immense amount of power. When women make jewelry for this project, they take back control over their identity, regain confidence, and add their voice to create awareness about domestic abuse.
Over the past 15 months, the Jewelry Project has touched 96 domestic violence survivors and their children in 50 workshops; 16 volunteers have contributed 250 hours, and since founding the project I have dedicated 320 hours to this initiative. Over 10,000 people have become aware about House Of Ruth Maryland through craft sales and events, and 88 individuals have purchased jewelry either for themselves or as gifts.
The project is self-sustaining, because participants trade jewelry they make for supplies; we then sell their jewelry to purchase new materials. The Jewelry Project had its first sale in December 2008, and has since raised $1323.40. Most participants donate one piece of jewelry for each piece that they keep; more regular participants design a line of jewelry that tells a story about their experience, and they receive a jewelry supply kit in exchange.
I am now working with the House Of Ruth Maryland to create an apprentice program that will complement the weekly shelter jewelry workshop. A core group of up to fifteen people will sign up for a 6-month apprenticeship, learning sophisticated techniques as well as gaining some entrepreneurial skills to use for their own jewelry business. We will develop partnerships with area jewelry programs at Maryland Institute College of Art and Towson University, in addition to connecting with local artists. In the first year, past residents who have already established their own business will co-facilitate monthly team meetings, sharing their passion and drive with newer members. Eventually, the apprentices, former abuse victims themselves, will facilitate the shelter-based workshops and will reach out to young women throughout the city by teaching jewelry making and dating violence.
The program will provide a window into alternatives and choices. “I started thinking to myself, maybe I can make something, make my own beads. I think making jewelry really has helped me. I can make the money for myself, that’s the way am looking at it now. I’m looking to get a career out of what I’m doing. I want to do all of what I can to make this work.”
Each apprentice of our 20-30 apprentices will:
==> Share jewelry skills with up to 25 domestic violence survivors per year
==> Mentor/educate approximately 20 at-risk teens per 6 months
==> Sell at least 35 pieces of jewelry per year
==> Affect hundreds of people through events and outreach.
The core group will make it possible to engage even more people in the program the second, third, and fourth year. Over time, the program will affect thousands of people, and, with enough resources, can serve as a model for similar initiatives nationally and internationally.