Erin Dummert may have been born with an entrepreneurial spirit, but where it has led surprises even her.
At 7, she approached her father about starting a Twix® Candy Bar factory in their home. While he was amused, he didn’t think it was a good idea, nor did he like his daughter’s alternative idea of turning their home into a restaurant.
So, Dummert, a former parishioner of St. Monica Parish, Whitefish Bay, took matters into her own hands.
“At 8 or 9, I crocheted customized scarves for Cabbage Patch Kids and sold them to my friends,” she said. “At age 15, I plastered canvas shoes with sequins and sold them to all the ladies at the retirement village where I worked. Somewhere along the way, there were homemade candles, chocolates, curtains, holiday decorations, refurbished furniture, and who knows what else.”
As an adult, she continued crafting and, in 2012, opened an online Etsy Shop, called “Little Random Boutique.” The shop features handknit items such as legwarmers, fingerless gloves and boot toppers, as well as jewelry, artwork, scarves and children’s hearing aid bands.
A stay-at-home mother of three daughters, 8, 6 and 4, Dummert spent her evenings crafting to keep her online shop stocked. Late in the evening, she would take salvaged, garage sale or thrift store finds and create works of art.
“We just moved to Charlotte, North Caroline for my husband’s job and I have been increasingly aware and appreciative of how blessed we have been, that he has been able to keep a good job throughout all of the difficult economic times in the U.S. and that I am able to stay home and care for my family,” she said. “We have always given to church and to various charities, but I didn’t have something I was connected to personally and that was weighing on my heart as I wanted to really care about something.”
Talents help others
While her Etsy Shop provided revenue, it cost her precious time with her family, so she closed it. However, a short time later, her parish priest at St. Matthew, Charlotte, delivered a homily on using talents to help others.
“He said, that our talents are not ours to keep, but are given to us by God, and we should share them,” Dummert explained. “So, it was immediately clear to me that I could use my crafting to help those in need. I decided to keep the shop open and donate all of the profits. I had a new sense of excitement for the shop, but I still didn’t have a clear idea of who I would donate to.”
Several weeks later, St. Monica parishioner and friend Colleen Hutt asked Dummert for donations for the Amukura
If you want to learn more or help the Amukura Orphanage
All of the profits from sales at Little Random Boutique are donated to the Little Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi who run an orphanage in Amukura (Kenya), and serve the poor.
Orphanage, run by the Little Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi.
Hutt learned of the orphanage in Kenya through Little Sister of St. Francis of Assisi Evelyn Kantu, an African sister from Kenya studying at Cardinal Stritch University. Sr. Evelyn, Dummert and Hutt were part of St. Monica’s Soup and Substance group where parishioners attended dinners at homes, read and discussed a religious article afterward.
“We stopped this after a time, but we had about 18 people who would meet in our group for the monthly dinners,” said Hutt.
“Erin was in our group and later Sr. Evelyn joined and we stayed friends after Soup and Substance ended. I began getting a parishioner’s newsletter, ‘At Home with the Faith,’ written by (Catholic Herald Family’s columnist) Annemarie Scobey-Polacheck where she focused on the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. I thought it would be a great way to grow in my faith if I committed to do one of these every day. One day, I was praying over sheltering the homeless and I received information that Sr. Evelyn sent on the orphanage in Kenya.”
Open house sells out
Hutt contacted Dummert about helping the sisters raise funds. Intrigued with the project, Dummert agreed to sell her crafts at an open house Hutt hosted last December.
“It was amazing how interconnected we all are and how all the pieces came together with Annemarie and her writings, the program, Sr. Evelyn and reaching out to Erin and her generosity,” she said. “On Dec. 2, I hosted a St. Nick’s boutique to raise funds for the orphanage and all of Erin’s things sold. We had a constant stream of people and ended up making around $800.”
By the end of last year, Dummert said she raised $3,000 for the Amukura Orphanage that houses approximately 20 children. According to Sr. Evelyn, temporarily working in Williamsburg, Va., the funds are greatly needed as the children are poor and have physical, spiritual, psychological and material needs.
“We also have 25 in the Iganga babies home and a larger group of street children at Kasarani Nairobi,” she said. “The children lack basic needs and I am very edified by the spirit of Erin, but not surprised. She is the kind of person who goes out of her way for the sake of others. I was so thrilled that she totally got enthusiastic about the needs of the children in the orphanage.”
According to Little Sister of St. Francis of Assisi Lucy Marindany, a Kenyan native who works at Sr. Ann’s Intergenerational Center, simple items such as diapers are difficult to provide in the orphanage.
“We have two sisters working there and they have had to use ripped up bed sheets for diapers, and the children have very little clothing or food. They are very malnourished and it seems as if there is a baby left crying on the doorstep very often,” she said.
“We get so many children. Every day there are three to four children who come to us because either no one wants to care for them or their mother died. We just need so much help.”
Orphanage looks for other funding
In prior years, the orphanage received funding from a New York organization, but with the economic downturn, funding has disappeared and the sisters are reaching out to other communities for help.
According to Sr. Lucy, several Milwaukee parishes collected diapers, clothing and other items for the orphanage and one of the sisters, Sr. Margaret (Jesire Sergon, a sophomore studying at Alverno College) brought them to the orphanage late last year along with money raised by Dummert’s work.
“Everyone is so surprised at the support we are getting for the children. People have been wonderful and in addition to collecting items, they have asked for envelopes to donate money. This will help the orphanage a great deal; we can’t even think about it because we are so excited,” said Sr. Lucy.
For Dummert, the most surprising aspect of her efforts is that God used her desire to create and turned it into a major grassroots effort to change the lives of orphans.
“I am now working with some amazing women who are getting donations, and raising awareness through cloth diaper drives, clothing, medicines, first aid and school supplies,” she said. “We had schools, Girl Scout troops, families and lots of neighbors helping out.”
Dummert’s work has helped her realize the needs are great.
“The thing that has struck me the most is that Sr. Leah, the director of the orphanage, said the children want me to know they are happy that I am their friend. That is so special to me,” she said.
“To think that there are 20 children across the world, living in a totally different world, that are counting on me is, I guess, what is driving me. That, and God is using me.”
In addition to her creations, Dummert’s shop consists of key chains, necklaces, tie clips and magnets that feature artwork made by the children at the orphanage. The artwork was made especially for the Amukura Project.
“It is beautiful to see their drawings and I think it would be great if we can find a market for them, in addition to what I made in my shop,” she said. “Each one includes information about the artist. The children would feel so good knowing that they have a hand in improving their own future.”
Dummert’s desire to help the children of the Amukura Orphanage has branched out to include members of her parish.
She is part of “Called to be Mom” — a group of about 20 moms who meet weekly, said Dummert, adding, “They have been so amazingly supportive.
I am now partnered with one of the women, Jen Pliska, whose family had a stagnant non-profit organization called the ‘Holy Spirits Institute.’ They immediately decided to re-start and make the orphanage a project of their organization. Together we are now working on all sorts of fundraising efforts and the rest of the women in the group are collecting donations and spreading the word. They have been wonderful.”