A Tribute to Elaine Garris

Last Wednesday volunteers, students, artisans and friends gathered to honor Elaine Garris who has been the Executive Director of Artisans for Hope for the past two years. Under Elaine's leadership, much has been accomplished. 

 Elaine committed two years of service as the Executive Director and that time is up. Now it is time for her to take some time for herself. She will be back in September as a volunteer. 



If you will ask anyone who has worked with Elaine, they will say it is her calm friendly presence which will be missed the most and has been a tremendous asset to the organization. 

The following is her last report to the executive committee. It gives us a glance at what she has accomplished the past two years.


"Artisans For Hope truly is a volunteer-run organization. We have thirty-one instructors. A recent marketing graduate designs event flyers and other marketing materials, runs our Etsy shop, and designed our new brochure.   Others get out and speak to groups about AFH. Our volunteer bookkeeper takes care of reports, filing income and sales taxes, and other related tasks. Sewing machine maintenance, monthly work to calculate and record artisans’ sales amounts, classroom project planning and teaching, and visiting agencies to inform them about our work; all of these tasks and so many more are done by volunteers.

When I began working with refugees I took a class from Steven Rainey, director of Boise’s English Language Center. He emphasized the importance of recognizing that refugees, in order to put their trauma behind them, must find meaning and purpose in their new lives. They are here because they possess the intelligence and tenacity to persevere through endless bureaucratic procedures. Once in the U.S., they must hone their ability to adapt and accept entering society from the bottom. It’s a long, slow slog for most.

  AFH offers a friendly, welcoming place to learn new skills or practice existing ones, to think about color and design, make new friends, and have the opportunity to make and sell products. Those sales bring in a little money but each sale also reassures the artisans that someone in America is drawn enough to their creation to pay them for it. Sales validate the value of their efforts. The AFH experience as a whole provides a respite from the hard work of assimilating.

 AFH volunteers also seek meaning and purpose when they walk in our door. For the most part, we attract smart, skilled people who enjoy the company of others. Our volunteers tend to stay with us for many years. To continue that pattern we must never slide into the mistake of micro-managing people. Of course, when someone offers to perform a needed job we must give them clear guidelines, but then we need to trust them to do it with creativity and intelligence. Endless nitpicking takes all the fun and energy out of anything and we’ll end up with no workers. There are plenty of jobs to go around. There is no need to hoard either tasks or credit.

Our traveling Story Quilt Project, This Is My Home Now, was exhibited in Twin Falls, Lewiston, Moscow, Pullman, WA, and Ketchum. Volunteers and Story Quilt makers made presentations at each stop. It left Soda Springs a couple of weeks ago and headed to Caldwell. The National Oregon/California Trail Center at Montpelier, ID is on the schedule for early summer.

In the last year, two sewing graduates started in-home sewing businesses with high quality sewing machines that had been donated to Artisans For Hope. Bahija Karim, one of the first students, is developing her business. She also brings in new students.

As we mature, more local businesses contact us to contract our sewing services. An example is a company that sells bridal accessories. One of the artisans receives cut fabric, sews it together on a piece rate basis, and returns the finished goods, netting about $30 an hour.

 Our program manager Veronique Giwe Tongbi’s incredible sewing skills and her beautifully made products set a high standard for quality which the student artisans do their best to achieve. Her use of English has improved in this environment. We have two volunteers who practice their French with her while helping her with English and she is feeling more confident about teaching. Veronique demonstrates methods by sitting down at the sewing machine and showing. The instructors can help her by encouraging this method that cuts across language barriers.

Sales increased by 25% in 2016 and reached $85,000 to date earned by refugees from sales of their products.

We supplied Amiri Osman, a refugee who is a batik artist from the Dem. Rep. of Congo, with cotton fabric and donated dyes and an AFH volunteer helped him get acquainted with other artists in the Boise area. Amiri sold many batik pieces at our events and recently had his work shown at Flying M Coffee in downtown Boise.

We continued a work study position for a BSU student who is majoring in both English and nonprofit management. This gave us an opportunity to introduce the student to nonprofit work and make use of her excellent office skills at a fraction of the cost of employing a worker for the same time period."

A fun potluck celebration was held at Artisans For Hope last Wednesday. We're thinking we need to make a cookbooks

full of all the wonderful ethnic food.