Customers come into the shop and ask if this business was always my dream. I answer that it probably was, but I didn’t even know it until it came to be.
I was a school social worker in Michigan for more than twenty years. Retiring from that position without a plan, I was determined to appreciate the open path in front of me, hoping and praying to have the vision to recognize the opportunities that I was confident would appear.
My next two years were spent working in a pregnancy center with young adult women, helping them to recognize and build on their strengths, supporting positive life decisions. With the satisfaction that experience brought me, I set out to find a setting that would allow me to do more of that on my own. I thought I might be looking for a coffee shop where I could also do workshops in a casual setting. Confident I would know the right thing when I found it, along with encouragement and inspiration from a dear mentor/friend, I stumbled across the perfect setting for the work I believed I was supposed to do next. I rented the tiny building, and dove in to transform it into a bright, hopeful, happy place.
Using experiences, concepts, activities, and knowledge gained from my work in schools and at the pregnancy center I began to map out a Girl emPower workshop series. That series currently includes activities and discussion with small groups of girls and young women, designed to help them identify their strengths and to build the confidence to use those strengths, empowering each to be her own person, among the pressures from peers, the media, and the world.
During that time, I had a random encounter with an angry young woman who was struggling with her world. Recognizing the sad, hurt little girl inside, I felt led to help those girls and women who aren’t feeling beautiful or loved on the inside, to find a way to “wear” or reflect the beauty that each of us is born with. Sometimes when you are struggling, you can start by making the inside feel better. Other times you can start by treating yourself well on the outside, building and internalizing confidence from there. With that in mind, I set out to find unique, beautiful, handmade items that reflected something meaningful and also offered hope and positivity to girls and women to sell in my boutique. The variety and quality of merchandise continues to grow, including pieces from local and non-local artisans, as well as a collection of my own hand-painted signs that make a perfect wall of words of hope and inspiration in the shop.
The final piece of the business was really the first piece. Working as a school social worker, I was constantly engaging with students who encountered challenges beyond belief in their daily lives – at home, and yes, at school. I was inspired by their courage and resilience, and really just wanted to develop some tools that could be placed in classrooms that might help make their environment more supportive and positive for them. I wanted the posters to be visual and effective, and also user-friendly for busy teachers. That led me to write extensive lesson plans to be printed on the back of the posters, to help teachers teach behavioral and relationship skills, just as they teach reading and math skills. With the posters and the accompanying discussion questions and experiential activities, the kids learn from the visuals, the teachers benefit from assistance with classroom management, and all benefit from a more positive classroom environment.
This journey has allowed me to combine many passions and many of my own strengths as I have built my business. At this time in my life, I can’t imagine doing anything else.
I humbly hope that something that I offer through karefish is able to impact a life here or there. I continue to be inspired by the people I meet: the customers in my shop, talented artisans and vendors who create the beautiful merchandise, the brave girls who participate in my empower groups, their parents who recognize the opportunity to support their daughters in this tough world, my therapy clients that I still see a few hours a week, as well as students and clients from my past.
I carry a worn, folded, faded note in my wallet from a former client that reminds me to be open to being where I am supposed to be when I am supposed to be there:
“Karen.. ….you see girls go through everyday life situations and see them before and after. You make such an impact on our lives, it’s something that will forever be remembered. I know, by me anyways! Your class made me come alive and realize I am Worth It! So yeah thank you for believing in me…..”