Pebbles, polar dips, Star Wars and Taekwondo. There have been all kinds of creative fundraisers at IJM Canada, but just when we thought we’d seen it all, we met Jenn Gerlitz. Jenn is an independent consultant for custom accessory company, Thirty-One Gifts. In this interview, she shares how you can use her (stunning!) bags to bring rescue and start the conversation about justice.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself
Well, I’m a middle-aged woman - I just turned 45. My husband and I are getting ready to celebrate 24 years of blissful marriage. We’ve got two adult kids who I’m super proud of and absolutely adore. I live a blessed life and I’m a pretty lucky girl. I grew up here in Calgary, born and raised. I met my husband when we were super young and we got married and had babies.
At the end of the day, aside from my family, the most important thing to know about me is that my desire in everything that I do - whether it be a conversation and looking for a laugh, or gestures and actions - I want to make sure I leave everybody in a better place than they were before I got there. I believe as human beings we all have an obligation to leave the world a better place than when we found it.
That’s very much the driving force in everything that I’ve done, whether it be raising my children, dealing with stuff in my marriage and relationships, business ventures, and those kinds of things. I think that plays very much into motherly instinct. As mothers, we want to nurture, we want to make things better for other people. That’s all really super important to me. It was never about a big fancy career or those kinds of things. It was about making a difference.
Ohhh yes, and I have a puppy who I adore. Little Miss Bella, she’s the best! She’s such a sweet baby.
What is Thirty-One Gifts and how did you get involved?
There are a couple of things that I think are important to know about Thirty-One Gifts. It’s a direct sales company started by a woman named Cindy Monroe in the US, from her basement 13 years ago. She wanted to be able to offer a personalized product, so she started the business in her basement and came up with the name Thirty-One Gifts.
It’s based on Proverbs 31, which talks about a woman who - in a nutshell - is all things to all people and she deserves to be rewarded, encouraged and celebrated. That's really the mission behind Thirty-One - to celebrate, encourage and reward women. So everything we do is very female empowering.
[The company has] been in Ontario for the last four years. I have a girlfriend that was from Ontario who said, "Oh my goodness, I wish Thirty-One gifts was [in Alberta], you would be amazing at it!”
And I said, "Well I have no idea what it is and it’s not here, so it doesn’t matter.” I was in another network marketing company [at the time] and the day that I called my up line, and said, "I just wanted you to know that I’m done, I appreciate the opportunity.” My girlfriend called me two hours later saying, "You’re not even gonna believe this, but Thirty-One is coming to Alberta.” And I said "Oh! Okay.”
Well clearly now I care because, apparently, the universe wants me to pay attention. So I joined the day that we opened Alberta, and shortly thereafter they opened the rest of the country up.
It’s been two years and it’s so much fun.
How did you learn about IJM?
Staples was doing an International Women’s Day business fair. They had invited local women with businesses to come in and share about what they do and Phil [Calvert] happened to be there that day. He stopped and asked , "Do you make bags?” And I said, "No, I do not have even close to that much talent”.
We talked for a little bit and because I had spent some time in India - the conversation we had really tugged at my heartstrings. Having seen what impoverished women look like and the things they go through when I was in India, when we started talking about the sex trade and property grabbing and those kinds of things, it was a good connect for me and was something that very much spoke to my heart. He asked me if there was anything that we could do together.
It’s kind of an odd partnership - I’m an independent consultant for a direct marketing company. It wasn't a partnership match made in heaven but I think there was a lot of determination on both parties sides to just make something happen. They are both amazing causes and are headed in the right direction so for them to be able to work together is amazing.
Why are you so determined to use Thirty-One Gifts for the work of IJM?
I live a very, very blessed life. There is absolutely no question about it. I have everything I could ever want. I don’t live in a million dollar house or have a vacation home, but I have the things that matter and I’ve always had those things.
It’s heartbreaking to me that there are families, and women and children that don't have even just the basics. And when I say 'the basics' I used to mean, you know, a house and a car.
But I understand now that 'the basics' means things like dignity.
I feel that we are just so blessed in so many ways and it’s important to do what we can do to provide a safe environment for those children to grow up in. A place where those parents are not making decisions based on the fact that they can’t provide for their children. So it was important to me to be able to give something back. I was just so touched by the work that IJM does, that failure was not an option.
Come hell or high water, I was going to figure out a way for us to work together and try to do some good.
So how specifically are you using Thirty-One Gifts and your connections there to bring rescue to the most vulnerable?
There are a couple of things. I think that obviously there is the money side of things and providing funding for IJM to do the things on the ground that they need to do to rescue victims. The big thing with Thirty-One is that because we are so much about empowering women and looking after girls and that kind of thing, it really is a company that’s very much about starting a conversation. And that’s the culture of the company but it’s also very much in the nature of the product.
We know that you can buy a bag anywhere. We know that Michael Kors is happy to take your money and so is Walmart. But what makes our bags at Thirty-One special, is that we have the ability to personalize them and a lot of the time it's just something fun and cute. It’s your name, or your last name, it's your favourite team and those kinds of things. But we are able to bring some attention and bring some light to the work that IJM is doing with something as simple as - well you know I have a grocery bag that I take the the grocery store and people stop me and say, "Your bag’s really great what does it say?” And it’s a conversation starter. So it’s helping to bring awareness and spread the word about the work and hopefully bring some additional resources to IJM so that they’re able to just continue to the work that needs to be done already done.
I would love to raise a ton of funds and bring the awareness and talk with my clientele about the work that IJM is doing. The more people that know, the more people have the ability to do something. I think it’s important to have the option to do gifting with a conscience. You know, if you want to do something sweet for your mom, I can’t think of anything better to do. I mean, she gets a great bag out of the deal, she’ll maybe start some conversation and bring some awareness, and there’s some funding that goes towards doing really important work.
So for those who are interested in getting a purse or accessory, how would they go about getting that product through you?
The easiest way is probably for them to either email or they can definitely text me, those are probably the easiest ways. They can order through my website at YourCrazyBagLady.com. I also have a Facebook Group - Your Crazy Bag Lady. It’s totally awesome!
Mother’s Day is coming up, what are your top gift picks from the Thirty-One line?
My number one pick would probably be the Large Utility Tote. It’s so versatile, you can use it for everything from grocery shopping at Costco to taking stuff to the beach if you happen to live somewhere near a beach [laughs]. You can certainly take it out to sports events and tailgating and camping and all of those kinds fun of things. It’s something that’s fully personalizable. It’s a great bag.
Fun question - Describe your perfect holiday.
My perfect holiday? That’s easy. Somewhere beautiful and tropical with my husband and my two kids, just making memories. Once in a lifetime opportunities and experiences.
Or, you know, a rock and roll concert! I’m a huge rock and roll girl!
Is there anything else that you want our readers to know?
As an individual, you have the ability to make a difference. You’re not just one person. You have the ability to impact so many people, you have no idea. You don’t know who’s watching, you don’t know who’s listening. And not in a creepy big brother kind of way, moreso a ripples in the pond kind of way.
I think we get so caught up in ourselves in our own little worlds that we don’t realize the ripple effect that we have. So I think it’s important for people to understand that you do have a voice and you do make a difference.
You can stand up and fight.