Nonprofit helps metro Detroit women rebuild their lives with reused auto parts
It was a couple years ago, before the pandemic, when I first came across Mend on the Move while shopping in a local store. It was the aesthetics that first caught my eye: jewelry that was modern and somewhat industrial. It turns out it was much more industrial than I could have guessed. In tiny letters at the bottom of the packaging a message read, “jewelry created from auto parts by abuse survivors in Detroit.”
While the jewelry got my attention, it was this statement that held my attention. I bought some pieces for close friends who I knew would appreciate not only the design, but also the cause: “helping victims become survivors.”
Mend on the Move founder Joanne Ewald started the 501(c)(3) nonprofit in 2015 in order to help others find a new path after abuse, just as she did. Ewald says it wasn’t until her 30s that she was able to really confront her story of abuse.
“Shame and insecurities kept me quiet,” she explains. “And, also because I learned it was best not to discuss such things. I needed to forget and just move on. But when I had children of my own, my heart was struck by their vulnerability. The thought of someone abusing them grieved me and forced me to face my own truth.”
Out of this insight came Mend on the Move, which is dedicated to helping survivors of abuse in metro Detroit by teaching them a craft, and providing them with an income while in recovery and resources toward a path forward.
“While we do sell jewelry, that’s just the vehicle we use to do our real work — helping our makers feel valued, gain confidence, find independence, and grow toward healing in a caring and safe work space,” Ewald says.
Sam Seelhoff runs Mend on the Move’s “More Mending” program, a two-year program that starts when a survivor is hired by the nonprofit. Initially, survivors meet with Seelhoff to make plans for their life while they are in the program, and after their time with Mend on the Move is complete. These goals could relate to “living situations, employment, furthering education, and getting involved in therapy services,” says Seelhoff.
Mend also provides access to a relief fund that assists the survivors with “emergency medical costs, gas for driving to and from work or therapy services, moving costs, legal services, furthering education, and much more.” There is also a Sister Circle, a biweekly support group providing a forum for the women to “discuss what is on their minds, bond, and gain support from one another.”
After two years, each survivor chooses to step into a supervisory role with Mend on the Move if one is available, or graduate from the program to make room for a new member.
A survivor who asked that their name be withheld for privacy says that Mend on the Move has made a positive change in her life.
“It has always been on my heart since I was a young adult to help and serve other women in need,” she tells Metro Times . “Mend has supported me emotionally, psychologically and financially as well. I can now count on a regular paycheck, whereas my last job was unreliable and sporadic. The bonus from healing myself is to help and watch others grow and heal, as well.”
The survivor says it can often be hard for people to escape abusive relationships. “[It] can be hard to walk away or even know you’re in one,” she says. “It can also be scary depending on the circumstances and usually means starting your life over. Letting go of security, family members, and [facing] the stigma of being weak is not an easy thing to do. Many women don’t ask for help or are embarrassed to share what has happened to them.”
The survivor says she found out about the program through a chance meeting with Ewald.
“I met Joanne, the founder of Mend before it came to be, at a church art show called Free Spirit,” she says. “We became friends at a time when both of our lives were transitioning. I soon learned of her abuse and her desire to do more in helping other survivors overcome their victimhood. This is where we discovered we had similar experiences and goals.”
Eventually, the survivor started working for Mend on the Move, and says she enjoyed the artistic process.
“The creative process at Mend can be as simple or more complicated as you’d like it to be,” she says. “We often use power tools, like drills, saws, and dremels. Overcoming the fear of using these tools can be liberating and metaphorically empowering. For me, repurposing unusual auto parts that would normally be thrown out gets my creative juices flowing. Looking at shapes, combining parts or manipulating objects can be exciting.”
She says she is most proud of watching the organization develop over the years.
“Since I was privileged to watch Mend grow from a seed, I walked and learned right alongside Joanne and many other women survivors,” she says. “There are many things I am proud of at Mend like seeing people change and overcome their fears, making positive changes in their life, and fulfilling their life dreams. For me personally it has given me self-worth. I have dealt with insecurities most of my life and I have gained more self confidence over the last couple years.”
An unlikely diamond in the rough
Automakers like General Motors, Ford, Lear’s Eagle Ottawa Leather, and other companies donate automotive scrap and leather to the group. In the Motor City, it couldn’t really be anything other than automotive scraps that would help to tell this story. But it takes more than hustle to pull this off. It takes true creativity.
Mend on the Move’s catalog includes earrings and bracelets made from powertrain shims, bushing material, brass washers, aluminum discs, and flattened car seat component scrap. There are also bracelets made from windshield washer tubing and copper brake line, as well as purses, throw pillows, table runners, dog leashes, wallets, and key chains all made from salvaged car seat leather. The group has also collaborated with Detroit’s College for Creative Studies.
As Mend on the Move notes on its website, items are sustainably handcrafted by abuse survivors, and 100% of proceeds support the nonprofit, “providing fair wages, safe work environment, empowerment, [and] healing.” Every piece tells a story about the parts it was made from and bears the signature of the maker on its packaging. This kind of intention permeates the organization and the pieces that its makers create. At a time of year when we’re surrounded by box store shelves piled high with mass-produced items, this perspective is refreshing. Instead, these works are intentional, handmade, and personal.
More information is available at mendonthemove.org , where people can purchase products, find local stores that carry them, learn how to host a “Mending Party” event, or donate to the organization.
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