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November Volunteer Spotlight: AFG’s Volunteer Department spotlights volunteers who have gone above and beyond

Dec. 7 2017 | Tags: , , ,

Each month, Alternatives For Girls’ Volunteer Department, highlights volunteers who go above and beyond. In November, the volunteers of AFG’s Sew Great Detroit program were selected for their hard work on one of the program’s largest orders yet!

On November 13th, Sew Great Detroit delivered 175 beautifully handmade canvas totes to the German Marshall Fund’s BUILD Conference. The German Marshall Fund is a Washington D. C. based nonprofit that works with local and regional leaders in the US and Europe on urban policy issues.  This year, the German Marshall Fund chose to host their BUILD conference in Detroit.  While planning for the conference, the Director of the German Marshall Fund, Geraldine Gardner, learned about Sew Great Detroit, and Alternatives For Girls’ mission.

Each year, the German Marshall Fund designs a welcome bag for conference attendees showcasing the talents of the host city’s vendors and artisans.  Believing that the mission of AFG spoke to the values of the BUILD conference – equity, inclusion, and sustainability – she reached out to Sew Great Detroit with the hopes of partnering. Sew Great Detroit’s canvas totes were a perfect fit, and the German Marshall Fund ordered 175 of Sew Great Detroit’s signature tote bags to print their artwork on and use as welcome bags!

To help the young women in Sew Great Detroit complete the order, the Sew Great Detroit volunteers went above and beyond. They worked many hours to cut, fold, and measure in order to meet the deadline. Each volunteer showed a level of dedication well above expectation in order to support the wonderful opportunity for the group. Without them, the tote bags would not have gotten completed in time!

Alternatives For Girls would like to thank the many Sew Great Detroit volunteers who gave so much of their time and talents to this project.  It is because of them that Sew Great Detroit is so great! 

Interested in volunteering? Please contact Jessica Pate, Volunteer Services Manager, at 313-361-4000 ext. 248 or to discuss the next steps to becoming a volunteer at Alternatives For Girls!

Sew Great Detroit Moves to Ponyride: With the help of a group of dedicated volunteers, SGD moves to their new home

Aug. 31 2017 | Tags: , , , , ,

In July, Sew Great Detroit (SGD) moved from the crowded and cramped craft room at AFG that they had called home for nearly 3 years, to Ponyride. Bursting with inspiration and creativity, Ponyride is a nonprofit in Corktown that rents space to budding artists, makers, and entrepreneurs. Its mission is “to be a catalyst for deploying social capital to a diverse group of artists, creative entrepreneurs, and makers who are committed to working together to make communities in Detroit sustainable.”

SGD is a social enterprise program headed by AFG’s volunteers and supported by AFG’s donors, that teaches participants sewing and employment skills. With this move, SGD joins the ranks of over 60 other residents, including Anthology Coffee and The Lip Bar.

Four Young Women Learn to Sew, and Much More

The move coincides with the addition of four new members of the team. The young women, all residents of AFG’s Shelter, didn’t know how to sew before their first week. After only three days, each girl was able to make multiple baby bibs (a SGD staple) on her own.

“Sewing takes a lot of patience. I’m the type of person who has anxiety and sometimes panics. But it’s teaching me to pay attention and slow down. I really like it,” shares Angel, 18.

In addition to having more space and being around other creative business people, another benefit to the move is that it creates a separate space for work outside of their current home at AFG. It is also convenient, located only 2 miles away from AFG. This allows the young women to walk, bike, or take the bus to and from work. “I love that AFG offers a job for us. I like that SGD allows us to be productive and it makes us feel at home in the work place,” Angel explains.

Making the Move

With the support of AFG’s staff, Board of Directors, and Lois Cohn, new AFG Board Member and longtime SGD supporter, the process for applying for space and moving to Ponyride began more than a year ago. “The idea of moving to Ponyride has been a dream since we first launched Sew Great Detroit,” shared Janet McAuliffe, SGD volunteer since 2014.

Once the lease was signed, the space required electrical wiring and lighting to suit SGD’s needs. Thanks to a generous in kind donation from electrical contractor, John Jacobson, owner of J-Power, LLC, the work took only one day to complete.

Finally, with the help of AFG Facilities Coordinator, Robert Blurton, volunteers, and family members, the sewing machines, tables, and supplies were moved to the new space and operation resumed!

SGD Volunteers Teach Girls to Sew, and Build Confidence

SGD was created and made possible by a group of dedicated volunteers. “My favorite part of volunteering [with SGD] is seeing how the women blossom when they learn that they can do something new. The look of satisfaction on their faces when they sew for the first time is priceless!” shares Muriel, who has been volunteering with SGD for two and a half years. Toni, who has been volunteering for one year, agrees, “I love being at the beginning of a promising social enterprise that provides valuable skills to women.”

The new space is a dream come true for the volunteers. “It’s such an upbeat, stimulating place. Our space is light and bright. Even more importantly – it’s ours. We don’t have to share it with anyone. It feels so professional. The move is really a growth step for us,” says Muriel.

“Although we have a small shop (only 300 square feet), the Sew Great Detroit team, seamstresses and volunteers are working in the midst of other artisans that are producing exciting products and services. We have our products on display and every day both visitors and other artisans stop to admire the progress of our new team.  This encouragement is an emotional boost as well as a source of pride that really helps when learning something very new.” Janet adds.

Planning for the Future

SGD has big dreams for the future, “We believe that the entrepreneurial focused environment [at Ponyride] will help our team achieve the goals of expanding capacity to include more members and achieve financial sustainability,” reflects Janet. Another volunteer, Fran, who has been with SGD for almost 3 years, said; “I’m looking forward to watching SGD grow and expand into a viable manufacturing business.”

Currently, SGD is producing its “Hold the Phone” cross body cell phone bag, adult size chef bib aprons, child size reversible bib aprons, and kerchief style baby bibs. As the team develops their sewing skills, additional products will be added to the lineup.

As SGD settles into their new home, one thing that won’t change is the impact it has on its members. “I love being around other productive women. There’s going to be so many skills that I will take out of here,” Angel smiles.

You can check out SGD’s handmade goods at the Ponyride Detroit Design Festival on Wednesday, September 20th from 4 pm – 10 pm and Saturday, September 30th from 10 am – 6 pm and at the Ponyride Market on Saturday, October 14th from 10 am – 2 pm. We hope to see you there!

Sew Great Detroit Helps Build Confidence: One young woman’s experience learning how to sew

Jul. 5 2017 | Tags: , ,

Sew Great Detroit (SGD), Alternatives For Girls’ social enterprise program that teaches participants both sewing and employment skills, has been hard at work the past couple of months. This summer, they are selling their handmade goods at Ponyride Detroit’s Summer Market Series. The five members, who are also participants in other AFG programs, have created beautiful adult and children’s aprons to add to their supply of tote bags, baby items, cell phone bags, and more.

Building Confidence

Maddie, one of SGD’s newest members, joined in April. She has been a resident in AFG’s Shelter since February and before joining SGD she didn’t know how to sew. “It’s been so great!” Maddie smiles while sharing how her experience in SGD has been so far. “I like it a lot. I’ve been learning fast.”

Since April, Maddie has learned valuable sewing skills, like machine sewing and hand finishing techniques, cutting techniques, and more. “I’ve learned how to thread the needle and the bobbin on the machine, different stitches, and how to align the fabric on the sewing machine,” Maddie recalls.

For Maddie, her favorite part of being in SGD is the self-confidence she has found while learning a new skill. “I love looking at the project that I’ve finished and thinking ‘Dang, I did really good!’ It makes me feel accomplished,” she shares. After meeting specific sewing skill and job performance goals, Maddie earned her own sewing machine. The machine, which was generously donated by an AFG donor, has allowed her to practice sewing in her free time.

Dreaming of the Future

Maddie has also used her machine and new skills for practical uses. “I like sewing because it’s not expensive. If you rip a pair of jeans, you don’t have to buy another pair, you can fix it!” In the future, Maddie plans to expand her skills so she can make her own clothing. “I’d really like to start making clothing, like dresses and stuff, using patterns but choosing my own colors and fabrics,” Maddie dreams.

November Volunteer Spotlight: Muriel Van Dyke

Nov. 28 2016 | Tags: , , ,

Each month, Alternatives For Girls’ Volunteer Department, highlights one volunteer who AFG staff recognize as being a dedicated and passionate volunteer. This month we spotlight Muriel Van Dyke, a committed and creative volunteer from AFG’s Outreach Department.

Before volunteering, Muriel worked as a social worker and recognized the importance of programs that provide others an opportunity to learn a new skill and launch them into the workforce. After learning about AFG’s social enterprise program, Sew Great Detroit, she recognized the program’s value in the community and knew it would be a good fit for her to volunteer her time with. Since becoming a volunteer two years ago, Muriel has provided a wealth of knowledge and guidance to AFG’s participants and the growing Sew Great Detroit program.

In Muriel’s kitchen is a sign that says, “Rise by lifting others.” This is a phrase that Muriel lives by and incorporates into her volunteer work. “My goal as a volunteer is to ‘lift up’ the participants in Sew Great Detroit so that they can not only feel good about themselves but also begin to affirm others in their life – especially family members”. In doing this, Muriel hopes that she can inspire participants to have a positive outlook on their future.

Muriel’s greatest strength as a volunteer is her ability to recognize the potential in each and every one of the women that she has worked with. Muriel says, “I try to pass on a ‘can do’ attitude –with women who sometimes haven’t had a sense of worth or self-esteem– that gives them that belief. To see their smiles of satisfaction when they have successfully learned a new skill – and then have the confidence to move on to the next – is priceless.”

As a veteran volunteer, Muriel is continuously inspired by participants and their accomplishments and grateful for the relationships she has formed with the other Sew Great Detroit volunteers.

Thank you, Muriel, for your continued dedication towards AFG’s mission!

Interested in volunteering? Please contact Jenny Clement, Volunteer Services Manager, at 313-361-4000 x248 or to discuss the next steps to becoming a volunteer at Alternatives For Girls!

ARTIFACTRY Partners with AFG’s Sew Great Detroit: The Corktown boutique is now selling market tote bags handmade by women in AFG’s program

Nov. 1 2016 | Tags: , , , ,

One of the exciting things about AFG’s location in southwest Detroit is its entrepreneurial energy.  So many new businesses in the area are contributing creativity and opportunity to the neighborhood that AFG calls home.  Gail Kwiatkowski, the owner of ARTIFACTRY located in Corktown, is an example of someone who is contributing to the neighborhood buzz!  Gail describes ARTIFACTRY as an eclectic collection of new and vintage gifts, including industrial style furniture.

Gail was eager to be an Alternatives For Girls supporter when she learned about the women of Sew Great Detroit, AFG’s weekly commercial sewing employment training program, headed by volunteers and support staff.  Sew Great Detroit’s classes focus on teaching women valuable sewing skills, like machine sewing and hand finishing techniques, understanding the characteristics of fabric, fabric cutting techniques, and beginning design concepts. The women receive a stipend during their training, which is supported through contracted projects. Finally, the members of Sew Great Detroit also create life goals, for which they receive coaching from the team of volunteers.

Gail loved the excellent quality of the sewing demonstrated in Sew Great Detroit’s canvas market style tote bags so much, that she decided to contract them to make some for her store!  She purchased the bags and silk screened them with an original Corktown graphic designed by her son James.  Thanks to Gail, the Sew Great Detroit market style tote bags are now available to purchase at ARTIFACTRY!

The training stipends the women in Sew Great Detroit receive make an impact for them and their families. They are so excited for the opportunity to sell their handmade goods at ARTIFACTRY! Stop by ARTIFACTRY now and pick up an original Sew Great Detroit made tote bag. They would make a great gift this holiday season!

Thank you to Gail Kwiatkowski and ARTIFACTRY for supporting the Sew Great Detroit training program and Alternatives For Girls!

Sew Great Detroit’s Unexpected Outcome: One woman passes along her love and skill of sewing to her teenage daughter

Aug. 5 2016 | Tags: , ,

“I love these people,” Yolanda smiles. “I love Sew Great Detroit. Everyone is so nice and always in good spirits. I look forward to going each day.” Yolanda joined Sew Great Detroit (SGD), Alternatives For Girls’ weekly commercial sewing employment training program headed by volunteers and support staff, in March. Yolanda has been in AFG’s New Choices Program since August of 2015 and decided to apply for the SGD program because she likes to try new things and loves arts and crafts.

Learning to Sew

Since she entered the program, Yolanda has learned valuable sewing skills. She has learned machine sewing and hand finishing techniques, the characteristics of fabric, fabric cutting techniques, and design concepts. “My mom started sewing when I was about 8 and she would make curtains. I would look over her shoulder and ask her to show me. She showed me how to thread [the sewing machine]. So, when Ms. Janet showed me how to thread the machine, I thought ‘I remember this’,” Yolanda reflects.

After meeting specific sewing skill and job performance goals, Yolanda earned her own sewing machine. The machine, which was generously donated by an AFG donor, has allowed her to start working on her own sewing projects at home. “I’ve made pillow cases and I want to make an apron! I’m working on getting more professional tools at home so I can make more,” Yolanda shares.

An Unexpected Outcome

Yolanda has also started teaching her daughter how to sew! “I showed her the purses we made and she wanted to learn how to do it,” Yolanda smiles. Now her daughter works on her own projects and Yolanda says her daughter is keeping up with her! “It’s something we do together. Right now, it’s just a hobby for her, but I want to encourage her to show her friends and do more with it,” Yolanda shares.

One day, Yolanda hopes to start a business of her own. “Once I get the hang of it and I can expand it more, I think I could make and sell stuff. It’s fun and relaxing! But I have to push myself to keep going,” she dreams.

AFG’s Sew Great Detroit Teaches Profitable Skills

May. 4 2016 | Tags: , , ,

Sew Great Detroit has recruited four new women to participate in the weekly commercial sewing employment training program, headed by volunteers and support staff. Last September, four women from the first class of Sew Great Detroit graduated from the program. Since their graduation, all have continued sewing and some have earned income from their new skills!

The classes focus on teaching women valuable sewing skills, like machine sewing and hand finishing techniques, understanding characteristics of fabric, fabric cutting techniques, and beginning design concepts. The women earn a stipend based upon their time sewing, which is supported through contracted projects.

Sew Great Detroit hired to create baby items for special initiative

Their newest project is for Robbi Lindeman, owner of Salt Lab of Detroit, a Detroit-area work studio creating small-batch, map-inspired home products. Robbi has hired Sew Great Detroit to sew bibs and burp cloths, which will be used as incentive gifts for those who donate to Rotary International’s Construction Training Program for local villagers in Nepal. The program will teach villagers the skills they need to participate in rebuilding their village, which was devastated by earthquakes one year ago.

Through contracting Sew Great Detroit to create these gifts, Robbi hopes to support skilled training for people in both Detroit and Nepal. The stipend the women in Sew Great Detroit receive will make a big impact for them and their families and they are so happy to be helping with this important project!

Since the new class started in the beginning of March, the women have made a very fast start on the project. Some of the women had never used a sewing machine before, yet, they have already completed 50 burp cloths and are hard at work to complete 50 bibs in early May! “I knew how to sew by hand, but I didn’t know how to use the machine. But I learned pretty quickly!” Naisha, a former resident in AFG’s Shelter, says.

Donated sewing machines allow for creativity and practice 

Thanks to AFG’s generous supporters who have donated used sewing machines, each member is able to receive their own reconditioned sewing machine because of their exemplary attendance and sustained focus on their work. So far, all four women have received their very own sewing machines for their home! This allows Naisha and the other three Sew Great Detroit members to work on their own projects, sewing things for themselves, family, and friends.

Do you have a sewing machine you would like to donate? Don’t let the age of the machine stop you! We love machines that were built in the 1970s and 1980s because they are both reliable and well made. Contact Niki Grabowski, Development Coordinator, at 313-361-4000 x273 or to find out how to donate!

Sew Great! Group Celebrates Major Success

Oct. 31 2014 | Tags: , , , , ,

On October 23rd, the women from the Sew Great! Program were joined by AFG staff and volunteers to celebrate their completion of a 100 bag order for the Art’s My Bag project. For the past five weeks, the women have been hard at work completing the order for Art’s My Bag, which is a project that will donate bags filled with art supplies to kindergartners in Detroit to promote creativity and participation in the arts. Roughly six weeks ago, Art’s My Bag creator, Lois Cohn, recruited AFG to produce 100 canvas bags. The order allowed the group to purchase supplies to produce the bags and to supply the women in the group with a weekly stipend. Additionally, she provided a donation to launch Sew Great!, a weekly commercial sewing employment training program headed by volunteers and support staff.

The order of 100 bags was Phase 1 of a pilot program that grew from exploring ideas for a social enterprise at AFG so that girls and women can learn valuable employment skills and create goods they can sell to support themselves and their families. “I don’t really have an income, so getting something that can help me pay my bills is great,” Tina, a Sew Great! member shares. “I had just gotten a shut off notice a week before we started, for my lights and gas, and I was able to pay it down with the money I got from Sew Great!”
During the celebration, the women of Sew Great! held a fashion show to give the staff and volunteers a sneak peek on their next venture, making scarves for an upcoming craft show in Dearborn Heights and others around metro Detroit. The women proudly showed off the fleece scarves they plan to sell, in a variety of colors and prints. This will begin Phase 2 of the pilot training project.
After they each received certificates of achievement, the women shared what being a part of Sew Great! and its most recent project has meant to them. Click here to read more. “Sew Great! has improved my self-confidence, which was very low, because now I feel like I can do anything I put my mind to,” shared one woman. The women have also learned a lot during the classes and throughout this project that will help them in their future endeavors. “Something I’ve learned that I will use in the future is patience, because it takes a lot of patience to sew. That is something I didn’t have before I started Sew Great!,” April, another Sew Great member, shared.
There were some more difficult aspects to the project as well. “Working with the other women was challenging because I stay to myself a lot. So, it was a great experience being around other women, especially ones from other cultures,” April shared. Tina agreed and further explained, “Learning to communicate [with the other participants] was challenging, because of the language difference. But we listened to Spanish CDs and had Spanish translations written down to help us communicate.” During Sew Great! meetings, AFG staff members, Leonor, Berta, Gabriella, and Marta, took turns and joined the group to translate important information to the group’s Spanish speaking members to greater improve communication.
At the end of the celebration, all five women sat together, eating lunch and laughing. It was clear that through accomplishing this goal together, they had also grown closer together despite any challenges. For the women, working on this project and exploring their creative side while sewing apparel has had a lasting effect, “Sew Great! has helped me support myself and feel good about myself,” Tina bragged.
AFG would like to thank the volunteers who have dedicated their time to teaching and overseeing the sewing classes and those who donated sewing machines and fabric. If you are interested in supporting the Sew Great! women, they will be selling their scarves on November 7th and 8th at the craft show being held at the Eton Senior Center in Dearborn Heights from 9:00 AM- 4:00 PM.

Peer Educators Sew Hats for Children’s Hospital

Apr. 24 2014 | Tags: , ,

This winter, youth in AFG’s Outreach and Education Services Peer Education program expressed to AFG staff that they wanted to do a volunteer service project for the Children’s Hospital of Michigan. After considering a few different options, they decided to make fleece hats for the children at the hospital. With the help of one of our fantastic volunteers, the Peer Educators learned to sew the hats. They used a variety of colorful fleece, which provided joy and, most importantly, warmth during those frigid winter temperatures we experienced in Detroit this year.

The first meeting the Peer Educators (PE’s) had was a preparation meeting, where they learned how to cut out the pieces of fleece based on the size of hat they were making. Next, they spent about 5 hours one afternoon, learning to sew and completing their hats. After they learned how to create the hats, the Peer Educators had to teach the whole process to one of their program coordinators. The purpose of this exercise was to help the PE’s fully learn and retain their new skills.

Peer Educator, Tiana, spoke about why the project was important to her, “Making the hats for the children was very heart warming and it feels good to help other people, if I’m capable of doing it. I hope they all loved the hats.”

In total, the youth made 23 hats! A group of the Peer Educators met with Lindsay Heering, the Manager of Child Life Services at Children’s Hospital, to deliver the complete hats. Lindsay gave the group a tour and told them about all the programs at the hospital. The young women in AFG’s Peer Education program were so inspired by the project that they would like to do another project later this year to make fleece blankets for the children at the hospital.

The Peer Educators are hoping to collect donations of new fleece in order to have enough supplies to complete a blanket project. If you’d like to support the cause with a fabric donation, please contact Alex Hayes at or (313) 361-4000 x223.