Every Tuesday, we will be highlighting entrepreneurs and leaders that are not only making a name for themselves, but are also showing generosity in unique ways. The individuals we choose are ones that have inspired us to continue doing what we love and are shining examples of what Take Heart Apparel Co. stands for as an organization. These individuals have shown the ability to be enterprising and generous and are not only changing the lives of those around them, but even of those all across the world. They are community leaders and world changers.
This week, our Tuesday Spotlight features the talented Ellie Schmidly. Whether she is performing on stage, serving her community in Springfield, Missouri, or empowering people in the third world country of El Salvador with local nonprofit I Pour Life to overcome poverty, Ellie exemplifies the definition of living generously. This is why we are honored to kick off our first Tuesday Spotlight with her inspiring story.
What is I Pour Life?
I Pour Life is a nonprofit organization that empowers people to overcome extreme poverty and all the devastating effects that come with it. We do this by giving people a hand up rather than a hand out.
[Learn more about I Pour Life here.]
How did you first become involved with this organization?
I went on a trip to El Salvador my junior year in high school when I Pour Life was just an idea. I knew the founder, who was my mentor at the time, and was involved in some of the volunteering opportunities that came up and I realized quickly that I cared very much for the mission of the organization.
What is your current role at I Pour Life?
Haha, that’s a good question. My current role is mainly over efforts in El Salvador, but I do a little bit of everything and I love it!
What are some of your projects in El Salvador?
In El Salvador, we have a 10×10 program, which is mainly about setting people up for sustainability, so we have worked with a few communities there and helped them transition from being refugee camps to being official communities. That has been so fun to be a part of. Kenton and Elsie Moody have been the greatest NGO to partner with there! They amaze me with how much they sacrifice for the community. We take medical clinics there and provide care to anyone and everyone including the women in the brothel district. We have been working with schools and teaching empowerment as well.
I’m aware you are also involved in the Springfield area, where you live. What are some of the things you do locally?
Locally, we work with other organizations that are already established to work with homeless youth. That’s really big. You could come downtown and see a ton homeless youth hanging out on the square. So really, going in and starting a relationship and being available to them is important to us. Whether it’s helping them study for their GED, helping them fill out a resume for work, or conducting a mock interview to prepare for a job, just being there through those steps to help them set themselves up for their future.
Prior to I Pour Life, had you ever been very active or involved in this field before?
No, I had no idea what I was doing when I first started volunteering with I Pour Life. To be honest, there are days when I say, “How should we approach this?” It’s so fun, though, because I never imagined I would work for I Pour Life, especially at a young age. Even though I’m still in school learning the skills to polish me for this job, I think having a heart for it has sometimes taken me places that skills couldn’t
From when you first began volunteering to where you are today, what is the greatest thing you have learned from this sort of service?
It’s funny, because working here locally, in El Salvador, or Ethiopia I’ve realized that no matter where you go, cultures are different and languages may be different, but people are all the same. They all want the same things, they want some dignity to what they do and they all want the ability to take care of themselves and their families and to do that with respect, not having to beg on the street corner or do something else for money. That’s probably one of the most interesting things I’ve learned. We are all after the same things and also want that relationship as well, to have someone step beside us and say, “Let’s do this.”
Is there a specific project that most excites you at I Pour Life?
Our 10×10 program gets me giggly with excitement. It really takes that idea of “teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime,” and puts it into practice. These participants come into the program as students and they learn a trade, their healthcare needs are taken care of, their children are put into daycare or school, they learn entrepreneurship and basic life skills, and by the end, they become mentors to incoming participants. So they go from being a student to being a teacher and that process for them is really empowering. It really changes their mindset. Then when you have groups of ten going through that process together, it begins to spread into a bigger and bigger group. It really begins to change the whole community from saying “I have to survive, so I’m going to steal from you- my neighbor,” to “We have to survive and we’re going to all do this together.”
The term that you use at I Pour Life is a “hand up.” What does that look like in application with the work that you do, specifically in El Salvador and Ethiopia?
A hand out is needed sometimes when it comes to a natural disaster or relief efforts. It’s very important. When you have someone who’s stuck in a mindset of poverty, though, they’ve been used to standing in line with their hands out, waiting for someone to give them something. When we go into an area and do a sustainability project, like El Salvador or Ethiopia, we try to meet the physical needs, because it’s hard to focus if you or your child are sick. Once we get past that, though, it’s really about teaching someone a skill and giving him or her the resources, environment, and initial help so they can in-turn help themselves. At the end of our 10×10 program, the participants have to pay back into the business. It’s like having a little bit of skin in the game. That’s after we’ve taught them how to save their money, how to take care of their kids, and how to market to people in their own area, rather than just selling their products to Americans or tourists. It’s really just setting them up for success; giving them a few tools that they can then use to further themselves, and then watch them flourish.
How can people who are reading this become more involved with the projects you are talking about?
Obviously, that’s the goal, to get people more involved. Not just financially, although to run these projects you do have to have finances and our website makes it easy to give, even just being a part through volunteering is a help, you can go on a trip to El Salvador or Ethiopia with us. If you’re young, you may not have a lot of extra resources, but you may have friends who would like to send someone on a journey to sustainability. You can start your fundraising page on our website. I’ve actually got one going on right now for myself. It’s really easy to set up and you can set a goal of something as little as fifty bucks. Whether it’s through giving financially, volunteering, or even just spreading our name, that all is incredibly helpful.
[You can read more about and consider giving to Ellie’s current fundraising campaign here.]
What are some organizations that inspire you?
Growing up in Springfield, I’ve always seen Convoy of Hope because they’re located here. A lot of people don’t know that when they do disaster relief, they’re usually one of the first people there but also one of the last ones to leave. Often, they’re there years after a disaster happens. When the media pulls out, often other relief pulls out as well, but Convoy stays. I love that. I also love Charity: Water. I think it’s brilliant that 100% of their fundraising goes to projects. That’s a great place for them to be. I also like 5 Pound Apparel. I went into the store for the first time this past November. They are local, but they are connected to so many causes through products. They give people a way to spend money for good and I love that. Glimmer of Hope & Kenton and Elsie Moody are also great! We’ve worked with them in Ethiopia and El Salvador. They’re well established and have great standing with the government and the people.
You are also a musician and songwriter, what are some of your aspirations in that field?
I’ve always really loved music and writing, and though I count myself still very new at it, I have a lot to work on; I think with music you can really pull at people’s emotions and connect with someone through lyrics and a melody. It’s kind of weird how that works. I guess my goal for that is to create music that connects with others, but more so, give them an opportunity to do something about it. You go to a concert with your friends and love it and have a blast and you talk about it the next week and then anytime it gets brought up you say, “That was such a great concert,” but I think it would be really cool to somehow connect the two: I love music and I love trying to find ways to help people, to give back. So to connect the two would be the dream for me in that area.
How can readers hear some of your music?
I am in the process of having some of my songs mastered, but you can follow me on Twitter and Instagram for updates. I’ll have that up on soundcloud for a period and then put it up on iTunes and a portion of whatever I make from that will to go to ipourlife and the efforts that we do there. The rest would simply go to recording costs and things like that.
What advice would have for readers who would want to get more involved in making a difference in the world and their communities?
That’s a great question. I like what you do at Take Heart, because you do target young people who want to do something., but sometimes society looks down on that and says, “O, they’re just young and passionate about it, but they don’t know what they’re doing,” which is true, we usually don’t know what we’re doing, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. I think if you have a desire to do something, you should think about what you have currently, a skill or a talent that you can do something with, and then connect it with a cause. Then from there, find a mentor, perhaps, they have no past in nonprofits, but they’re a great business person. You can connect with them and learn how to be a great business person and then you can take that coupled with your passion for people and turn it into something that can help others. Also, get other people on board with you. Get your friends involved. There’s definitely strength in community.
We’re incredibly grateful that Ellie took the time to speak with us and share about what she is doing. Please consider giving to I Pour Life and taking part in providing a “hand up” to people in El Salvador and Ethiopia.