By Joyell Nevins
TIPP CITY – Ellen Garner may have passed away last year, but her spirit lives on halfway across the globe through the Ellen Garner Memorial Tailoring Shop at the Angel House Orphanage and Secondary School in Tanzania, Africa.
The orphanage and school is supported by Grassroots Ministries, birthed by First United Methodist Church of New Carlisle and Tipp City United Methodist Church of Tipp City, and Smiles of Hope, founded by Lisa Alvetro of Alvetro Orthodontics. The orphanage started in 2005 with 30 children in the small town of Tarime in northwest Tanzania.
According to the Grassroots website, the children had suffered the loss of their parents from issues such as AIDS, malaria, and abandonment. The kids lived in two small rental houses for the first several years, as Grassroots began construction on a home that would hold the entire family in a nearby Gamasara village.
By 2010, 54 children moved into the new home, complete with farmland and solar electricity. Grassroots added a secondary school in 2011, with an opening population of 170 students in grades 9 through 11. Angel House is now up to 250 students in the school and 68 orphans in the orphanage.
Ellen Garner died as a result of a house fire Jan. 14, 2013. Her parents Rod and Ann Garner were so moved by the people who banded together to help and comfort them that they wanted to do something to give back. So the Garners decided to fund the onset of Angel House’s first sewing center.
“The community outpouring was so generous,” Ann said. “We did a donation to Grassroots as a thank you.”
Why Grassroots? Think Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon with a divine twist. Larry and Judy Riesser, who are actively involved with Grassroots, have a daughter named Beth Clark. Clark was Ellen’s host mom when she completed a co-op with apparel distributor Garan, Inc. in New York City.
Another good friend of the Garners is Troy High School teacher Jackie Lehmkuhl. At about the same time the discussion with the Garners and Riessers was going on, Lehmkuhl learned that one of her students, Noelle Culp, had just come back from a missions trip. Noelle had went to Angel House with Smiles of Hope with her mother, Leslie Culp. Leslie is a dentist who works with Lisa Alvetro.
“It was a God thing,” Ann smiled. “We just felt led that we needed to do it (fund the tailoring shop).”
In the shop in Tanzania hangs a purse Ellen made when she was 12 years old, above a plaque with a picture of the shop’s namesake.
“We want to say thank you so much for the opportunities that you are giving to these young women,” said Angel House missionary Holly Heyworth in a video for the Garners (view the video on the “Pray for Ellen” Facebook page). “We so appreciate your generousity and your love for the children of Angel House.”
The tailoring shop is a way for girls ages 10 to 16 to get vocational training. There are four sewing machines and multiple fabrics for them to use.
“Since a majority of clothes are still handmade, a seamstress can still make a living in Tanzania,” explained Alvetro. “Anything that helps women generate an income is very empowering.”
The students have made their own clothes and uniforms, and now create purses that are brought back and sold in the states. The proceeds from the purses help purchase supplies for the tailoring shop and pay school fees for the children. Each purse has a tag with the Ellen Garner Memorial Tailoring Shop logo and the signature of whichever student made that bag.
The first shipment of purses came this past winter and held 20 purses. This week, a missions team from Texas brought back purses from the tailoring shop, then shipped them up to Tipp City – 98 of them. And there are plans for more to come.
“Look at this,” Ann said as she surveyed her kitchen table overflowing with colorful handbags. “Look at what the Lord put together.”
To purchase a purse, visit the “Pray for Ellen” Facebook page or the Alvetro Orthodontics office at 1491 W. Main St., Tipp City.
Reach Joyell Nevins at 937-552-2205.