LAKEWOOD, Ohio — Local jewelry designer and Lakewood native Jennifer Stringer has been named as one of 15 finalists in the Amazon Handmade small business awards competition — the only Ohioan to make the list.
The competition was announced in early August by Amazon to celebrate its Handmade platform’s fifth anniversary. Five winners each will receive a $15,000 grant to small businesses that sell on the platform.
“Makers” were invited to apply for the awards, and a panel of judges picked finalists based on “the most inspiring stories, customer-centric products and compelling plans for the winnings.”
The public can vote until tomorrow (Sept. 9) to decide which five finalists will win. Votes can be cast at amazon.com/handmade. The five winners will be announced on Sept. 21.
Stringer makes original handcrafted, wire-wrapped jewelry using semi-precious gemstones, beach glass and metal. She sells her jewelry products online, in local galleries and at art festivals, including BAYarts, Etsy and Amazon Handmade.
Among the festivals she’s participated in are The Hooley at Kamm’s Corners, Clifton Arts Festival, Medina’s Art in the Park, Tremont Art Festival and the Kent Wine and Art Festival.
“With the current COVID-19 pandemic, that source of income has been completely wiped out. Sales from online platforms are more important to me now than they’ve ever been,” Stringer said.
“By creating a store on Amazon Handmade, I’ve been able to sell my jewelry to more people all over the United States. I’m able to make a (modest) living as an artist, selling my original, hand-crafted jewelry designs.
“Because so many people shop on Amazon, and the fact that it’s one of the biggest search engines on the planet, I can potentially reach millions of people, specifically those who don’t already know who am. It opens the door to a huge marketplace. It frees me from limitations,” she said.
Stringer started her business, Eyespire Designs, in 2015 after a major turning point in her life. One morning in 2014, Stringer woke up and was blind.
Stringer had been a graphic designer for more than 20 years. She attended Cleveland State University on an art scholarship, and her student work in drawing and printmaking was recognized when she was named an “artist to watch” by The Plain Dealer.
She was in her 40s and a single, working mom — the sole breadwinner for her family — when blindness struck — and her livelihood was gone.
It turned out that her blindness was caused by a rare reaction to a medication. At first, she lost all vision. Since then, about 20 percent of her sight has returned, although she is still legally blind and cannot see most colors.
“I let myself wallow and grieve my loss for about five months, and then I thought to myself, this is how things are going to be from this point on. You need to move forward and find new ways of doing things,” she said.
“I decided it was time to accept my new reality and use my skills as a graphic artist to creatively move forward. So, I sought a new medium, one I had never previously tried, one that wouldn’t allow me to compare what I was trying to how I was before.”
One day, sitting on her front porch, she started playing with some beach glass and a spool of wire. She remembered how much she enjoyed making her father a miniature bicycle out of wire when she was about 9 years old and thought it would be fun to try something with wire again.
Gradually, using her sense of touch and internal creative vision, Stringer learned how to create jewelry from wire she had on hand and some beach glass friends and family had gathered from the shores of Lake Erie. Her father saw her creations and suggested she try selling them at a local art fair.
Stringer took his advice and sold everything in that first show.
“That was my big ‘ah-ha’ moment,” she said. “I realized that I’d found the way to rebuild my life.”
Eyespire Designs was born. The name came from combining her problem with its solution: Eye from the blindness issue and spire because she aspired to create again — just in a new way.
“I’m inspired by the act of creation itself, and by the natural beauty and variety of the materials I use — semi-precious gemstones, beach glass and wire. I believe in letting the uniqueness of each stone be the focus of every piece of jewelry I create,” Stringer said.
She enjoys learning and trying new techniques to feature the beauty of the materials.
She is able to create her jewelry with the help of special (bright) lighting and magnifying equipment designed for the visually impaired. She also gets assistance from friends and family to do things like identifying and sorting stones by type, size and color, and with more administrative tasks like photography, marketing and online listings.
In addition, she uses an app called “Be My Eyes.” She recently was featured on their website and social media in a story that talks about how it has helped her business.
If she wins, Stringer said she’d like to hire an assistant to help her get more products online and a studio assistant to help with things such as purchasing materials, shipping and other administrative tasks, which would give her more time to create jewelry.
Successful sale: Organizers of last weekend’s FUNdraiser at Olmsted Unitarian Universalist Congregation in North Olmsted said the event was a big success.
“We had a great turnout and our very full tables were emptied fast,” said Dana Morgan. She said there were a variety of items for sale, including a popular bake sale and pass-along plants.
The congregation is planning another sale from 1t o 5 p.m. Dec. 6 — just in time for the holidays.
The historic church is at 5050 Porter Road, North Olmsted.
Coronavirus casualty: The 2020 Heroes Run, which would have taken place later this month in Cleveland’s West Park neighborhood, has been canceled because of the ongoing health crisis.
However, organizers are encouraging people to mark their calendars for Sept. 19, 2021, when next year’s event will take place.
The event, which includes a 5-mile run or a 2-mile run/walk through West Park and a Littlest Heroes fun run for children, raises funds for educational scholarships to assist the children and grandchildren of Cleveland police and firefighters.
It also helps to maintain the West Park Cleveland Police and Firefighters Memorial, which honors safety force members who lived in West Park and lost their lives in the line of duty or who were killed in the line of duty while working in West Park.
The memorial is on Rocky River Drive near the Lakewood border.
Aiding needy children: Members of the Rotary Club of Lakewood and Rocky River joined Rotarians across the country Aug. 26 by participating in an international service project known as “Children of the Dump.”
Shoe boxes for the Children of the Dump in Chinandega, Nicaragua, were filled with personal care items, clothing, school supplies and age-appropriate games or toys.
Club members also donated money, shopped and purchased needed supplies for the children, as well as preparing and filling the boxes for shipment. Club member Vicki Foster led this year’s initiative. She was supported by 22 club members.
Fifteen shoes boxes were filled for young boys and 20 for young girls. They contained items like shampoo, soap, toothpaste, toothbrush, hairbrush, comb, underwear, flip flops, one outfit of top and pants for girls or an outfit of shirt and pants or shorts for boys, a baseball cap, a doll and toys for girls and toys such as a yo-yo and matchbox cars for boys, card games, coloring book with crayons and markers, notebook, three pencils, pencil sharpener and a pocket folder.
Each year, Rotarians travel to Nicaragua to witness and participate in the work being done there, as well as to help deliver supplies to the children. The recently filled shoe boxes will be delivered to an area collection facility, where they will be picked up and transported with other clubs’ boxes to Nicaragua.
The shoe boxes are used as incentive for children to remain in school. In order to receive one of the boxes, the child must be attending school on a regular basis and earning satisfactory grades. The goal is to break the cycle of poverty by providing food, education and programs to encourage good health. Rotarians said the ultimate goal is to relocate the children from the dump to a life of dignity.
They estimate that there are 800 children 5 or younger in Chinandega who are fending for themselves, often competing with dogs, cattle and goats for food.
Young men climb aboard the trucks and wagons loaded with overflowing garbage headed for the dump hoping to find items of value, such as plastic bottles, aluminum cans or even food. Women rake the sides of the loads with sticks fitted with hooks, pulling the debris loose and onto the ground. At that point, the rotten mess comes in reach of the young children.
The Chinandega dump began in 1998 in the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch, which dropped more than 60 inches of rain on the area. A 30-foot wall of water flowed down the volcano, picking up trees and boulders before smashing into a village, destroying everything in its path. Before the mudslide, the town had about 4,500 residents. Twenty-eight hundred remain buried from the disaster.
Nicaragua is the poorest nation In the Western Hemisphere, second only to Haiti. About the size of Alabama, it has a population of 5.3 million with about 4 million living in poverty. There is a 33 percent illiteracy rate among adults; 50 percent of the children drop out of school before completing fifth grade, usually because their parents cannot afford the needed school supplies.
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