We’ve said it many times, mostly because we are still in awe, but 2016 was an incredible year for our organization. This coming April, we’ll celebrate 3 years of introducing and launching this idea to our community. I look back on that launch day in April 2014 and still can’t believe all the support that was given.
We had nothing to show in terms of proof this was going to work, yet people showed up and supported our vision. It’s almost been 3 years to the date that I sat down with 2 of my best friends in our local Panera and shared the words and ideas that had been swirling in my head and heart. I was reluctant to share, mainly because I thought they were going to think my idea was crazy, but it was the complete opposite. They jumped in immediately with their own ideas and thoughts. Thoughts about how it could work and even some “big ideas” for what it may look like one day. Both became two of our founding Board Members and to this day, look at our organization with the same hopes and dreams we first all discussed in that booth- a lot of them having come to fruition this past year.
In the hustle and bustle of growing an organization, I don’t always have the time to sit down and write/share as much as I would like so I’m highlighting some things that happened last year (2015) that correlate with this year’s achievements….
We wrapped up last year- 2015- in a workspace/office we were able to start renting in January of that same year. We started the first 2 women in our program and forged ahead into the New Year excited about what God had in store. We continued to trust God for His provision and wisdom as we started serving these women. We saw a huge answer to pray as we were able to start growing our business exponentially in July, due to the hiring of Joanna Ivey.
Joanna is an incredible local designer and seamstress that I did not know until some mutual friends suggested I reach out to her. (Side note: We sold Valentine Bouquets in a local coffee shop in February 2015 as a fundraiser and her husband, Tim, happened to be there that day and bought a bouquet. When I explained what our organization was all about, he mentioned his wife sewed. When he told me her name, I was shocked because I just had a friend tell me I needed to meet Joanna.)
All to say, God prompted me to reach out to her and have coffee with her, not really knowing why or what I was reaching out to her about. Long story short…If you’ve been following our story, you know Joanna’s business, Ivey Expressions and Project: Free 2 Fly basically married each other in July 2015 and it’s a partnership only God could have orchestrated. We both spent many months in prayer and conversation before we moved forward and all I can say is she’s one of our organization’s greatest blessings.
Our Board was confident that God was bringing her to work alongside our organization and it was an incredible thing for all of us to witness. Through Joanna’s dedication and hard work, we have been able to not only grow the business side of our organization, but because of that growth, triple the amount of women we have been able to serve this year! Joanna not only teaches women in our program to sew and create with their hands, but she speaks love and encouragement into their lives day after day. We closed the door on 2015 with so much momentum and accomplishment- it was full of stories that only the Lord could have written.
Heading into 2016, I had been a part of Joanna and her family’s adoption journey for a few months and witnessed their anticipation & waiting. They had been walking through the process for a couple of years and heading into the New Year they had immeasurable faith that 2016 was the year they would receive their baby. We were able to make preparations on our end that would allow Joanna to welcome her baby home when it was time.
Through much prayer and our Board’s counsel, we decided to add an assistant to become her right hand. This assistant would be able to work with our women, teach the designs and keep things moving when Joanna went on maternity leave. As always, God’s timing is perfection. In early Spring, God answered our prayers for help for Joanna by providing Mason Hunt. In early Summer, God answered Tim & Joanna’s prayers for a sweet baby. If you haven’t heard their adoption story, it’s one that grew my faith tremendously and I challenge you to listen to it and let it grow your faith too. I’m linking the podcast at the bottom of this post where Joanna shared this sweet story- a story that once again, only God could have written.
As we continued growing and trusting God for our next steps, He ordained a new relationship with another local non-profit that serves women. In May, I met and started conversations with Women at the Well about how we could partner with their organization. I immediately loved their Director, their program and how they love and serve women. We already had established partnerships with Family Promise & Foundation House, but have always trusted God would add to our list of referral organizations as we grow. We desire to serve women from all walks of life and circumstances and this new added partnership was a perfect fit.
As we added to the number of women we were serving, we quickly realized just how much we were running out of space. We not only had several women in our program, but we had several faithful volunteers that came every week. We continued to trust that God would provide for our needs and did the best we could to continue working diligently in our now very full workspace and office.
Having a storefront to display our products has always been a dream. We knew it would be another way to financially support our organization, but also a big commitment/step. For over a year, I had looked at empty storefront spaces around town, dreaming of what a storefront might look like. I would even occasionally inquire about the cost- just to get an idea. Every time, the financial weight of what that would look like deterred any additional dreaming. I continued to just trust God and knew, like everything else so far, it would be in HIS timing. Was it easy? No. But is it always worth it? Yes. I can tell you time after time, God’s timing and ways are ALWAYS better than ours.
We started talking with our landlord about renting additional office spaces across the hall from where we were and while it would allot more space, it would add to our rent costs. Our office/workspace was located on the second floor of a building downtown and while we loved being downtown, the idea of having separate workspaces didn’t seem ideal. BUT we were willing to move forward if that’s the solution the Lord had for us. In between talks about the additional space, costs and getting a new lease drawn up, I noticed one day that a business on the street corner (downstairs of the same building where we were upstairs) looked like it was moving. I immediately called our landlord. Was that space going to be up for Rent? Yes. Was it very reasonable in price compared to what we were going to be paying for all our offices upstairs? Yes. Would it allow for us to have a new workspace AND storefront? Yes. Fast forward through lots of prayer and a Board meeting… and down the stairs and down the sidewalk we went. Once again, a story that only God could have written.
Do you notice a theme in this post?!
We moved into our new workspace the end of July so everyone could continue working. We took some time to get the storefront part ready and held our Grand Opening on September 1st. We were once again overwhelmed by our community showing up and supporting us. Not only were they able to shop our products, but they could now also see right where the women they were supporting actually created these products.
Our 3rd annual fundraising event, ‘bird & barn’ was held on October 27th. This event is not only fun to organize and bring to life each year, but it is our main fundraiser for our organization. It also gives us the opportunity to spotlight and support other local, small businesses in our area. We love that several of the women in our program volunteered at the event this year and were able to beam with pride as they witnessed people ooh and aah over our products- products that their hands created. A big THANK YOU to everyone who volunteered, shopped and participated in this event this year.
We have always seen God’s hand leading and guiding our organization. In this last quarter of the year, it is still evident He continues to unfold our journey and story in His timing and in His perfect way. We head into the New Year giving thanks for all He has done. We are blessed with a local community (Cleveland, TN) and an online community (all over the United States AND in Canada) that support our organization by purchasing our products, giving financially, serving faithfully and continually praying for us and the women we serve. This past year, we were able to triple the number of women we are able to serve and I wholeheartedly believe those numbers will continue to increase. We look forward to the ways in which we can better serve each woman in our program and we are always seeking the Lord’s guidance in these areas. We know we have a lot of work before us for this next year. We are not only continually figuring out how we can better help each woman meet their short-term and long-term goals, but also how to best support, nurture and empower them along the way.
Some of my favorites from this past year (from our Instagram)
Thank you for allowing us to do this work within our community. Cheers to a New Year full of new stories that only our great God could write.
Much Love, Hailey Johnston
Below are the links to the most recent featured podcasts where I share my journey with Free 2 Fly and where Joanna also shares her story. (click on picture to access podcast link)