Jennifer Riendeau, AHS ’13, has always been an activist. As a high school student, she was a member of Invisible Children, SADD, Rocket to Rocket, the Outdoors Club, she volunteered for the Special Olympics and held a part time job at the Hallmark Store in Webster Square. And she also managed a little schoolwork, completing several advanced placement courses and graduating with high honors.
A first year student at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, Riendeau wasted little time in continuing her activist ways. She heard about the on-campus organization, Enactus, through a friend. “I attended my first meeting and fell in love.” Riendeau says.
Enactus is an international organization that brings together students, along with their advisor and business leaders to empower and improve the living standards of people in need. As a member of Enactus, they share the goal of creating and implementing their own community empowerment projects. The Enactus group at UMass Dartmouth currently has seven active projects.
Last year, the UMass Dartmouth Enactus team sent a group to Santo Domingo, Jalapa, Guatemala to work with impoverished people. The Enactus group taught health, business, and entrepreneurial skills, and gave free health checkups during this trip. This trip was the initiation, as well as the first big stepping stone of something the Enactus team dreamed to make much larger.
This year, the Enactus Guatemala group has created a business for many of the women they worked with during their trip last year. They had a desire to give them a better life, and that is what they are doing. They have provided them with lessons in Guatemala where they have learned to hand-make scarves. Enactus has imported the scarves to the U.S., and will be selling them here. The profit goes back to the women who made them, allowing them to live self-sustainable lifestyles.
This year, a number of new students – including Reindeau – have decided to return to Santo Domingo on their own. “There is more work we want to do” says Julia Rayberg, a junior at UMass-Dartmouth and the Enactus Guatemala Project leader. Rayberg made it clear that this year’s trip would not be through Enactus, “It will be trip we go on as individuals,” she stated.
Rayberg traveled to Guatemala last year and was struck by the impact the students’ work had on the community there. “We visited orphanages, we had doctors with us who conducted over 100 physicals, and we worked with people and taught them the simplest things, like profit, basic things they do not know about.” adds Rayberg.
“We are not doing this as part of Enactus this year” says Riendeau. “So, we need to fundraise our own transportation costs, and the rest of our expenses will be out of our own pocket” she says. The Enactus Guatemala Project this year, consists of only the scarf project, and getting these people out of poverty.
The trip, scheduled for March 15-24, 2014, will cost about $600. Riendeau set up a GoFundMe page to reach out to friends, relatives, and even strangers who are willing to help out. “I set the goal at $2,000, but any money over the $600 I need to pay my way to Guatemala will be used for supplies for the Santo Domingo community.” The group has contacts from their previous trip that is arranging for lodging.
While the group is traveling independently this year, they are bringing additional supplies. “We have 10 wheelchairs that were donated by Goddard House Assisted Living, and another 200 walkers that were donated. These are being shipped to Guatemala and we’ll help distribute them in the community.” says Rayberg.
The students plan to present the business plan they have developed to the women who make the scarves. The student group has come up with the name WorthWear to brand the scarves and any additional products added down the road. The WorthWear tagline states ‘Fashion Fighting Poverty…Now That’s Worth Wearing.’ “It takes the women about one day per scarf. They are entirely made by hand. We hope that we can market these well enough to lift them out of poverty, that is our primary goal.” says Rayberg.
The group plans to eventually offer WorthWear through a web site and other outlets, such as boutiques, UMass campus store, and specialty shops. The students are in the process of collecting sales data to find what sells best, at which outlets and at what price points. As they refine the marketing process, they will look to expand to other products.
In addition to the entrepreneurial side of the trip, Riendeau also plans to continue her focus on helping children. “I want to help at local orphanages and work with other disadvantaged children.” Riendeau says. “This is something you have to have passion about.”
Jennifer asks that anyone interested in helping to fund her transportation to Guatemala, or donate to the supplies she will be bringing to the community, visit her GoFundMe web site. You can also send donations to Jen Riendeau, 59 Sylvan St., Worcester, MA 01603. Checks can be made out directly to Jen Riendeau.