In a dusty village in Nairobi, Kenya, a woman fashions a purse out of fabric scraps no bigger than matchbooks.
A few months later in a Charlotte library, an 8-year-old girl receives her first purse – made from perfect little squares into a beautiful patchwork design.
They don’t know each other, but the woman and the girl know of each other. They’ve worked together to accomplish something, much like those patchwork scraps.
The scenario has played out 350 times so far in Charlotte since 2007. HIV-positive women, deemed unemployable by most, creating girls’ purses from thrown out remnants in their African village. Young girls in Charlotte, ages 8 to 10, receiving them as graduation rewards at the end of a six-week class on financial literacy.
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It’s the brainchild of Renee Bradford, a preacher at Mt. Carmel Baptist Church off Tuckaseegee Road.
Five years ago Bradford, who has a business degree and a master of divinity degree, launched First Purse Inc., a nonprofit organization that in one swift effort teaches young girls money management while giving young women thousands of miles away viable employment.
“The purses all have a history,” said Bradford. “When they arrive we get to tell the children the global story they’ve impacted. We also get to tell the women in Nairobi, ‘Look at your life. Look at what you’re doing. You’re making a difference and doing something great.’”
Bradford realized years ago that women’s financial circumstances were different from men’s, and they needed a different approach.
Generally speaking, women earn less. They spend more years away from careers to care for their children at home.
Women also live longer, and can spend the last years of their lives in financial instability.
Bradford aims to do something about that.
“We’re teaching little girls from the ages of 8 to 10 financial literacy, but if you dig a little deeper, I like to think we’re building financial resilience, and inclining others to do the same,” she said.
She brings her curriculum to anyone who asks. She’s talked to Girl Scout troops, in churches, and at the University City YMCA.
Through generous funding by organizations and individuals, she’s been able to offer classes to under-served children as well.
Each purse takes about $40 to get from Nairobi to Charlotte. Most of the cost is in shipping, said Bradford.
But it’s in those classes to the under-served girls that Bradford sees the most change. She starts off the class with an impactful statement”
“You are not what you own. What you have doesn’t define you,” she tells them. “What’s really important is what you do with what you have.”
Each class discusses wants, needs and the possible entrepreneurial ventures available to get there, but also the importance of financial stewardship.
“Money is really a tool so that you can give back and make great things happen in the world,” said Bradford.
In the past, the girls have held purse drives, asking women to donate new or gently used purses. This year they collected 1,000 purses. They plan for many of them to go to area homeless women who only have plastic bags to keep their important papers safe.
Bradford said the lessons in financial stewardship are the most rewarding to watch unfold.
“We’re getting to look into the eyes of children who are learning they have something to give,” she said. “Whether you live in the United States or you live in Africa, everybody has something to give.”