The Value of Exchange of Service

The Value of Exchange of Service

Liberia’s deteriorating economy made 2019 a difficult and trying year. As inflation increased, may businesses and nonprofits folded due to rising costs. People went to work and have not been paid for months. Banks ran out of money causing international organizations like the Peace Corp to withdraw their people from the country

Throughout the year, Kelvin Fomba, Co-Founder & Director, found ways to keep things afloat by using his skills as a master mechanic. He often donates his income to support daily operations. He also uses his skills for exchange services to further our cause.

On October 30, he and another person agreed to trade deal in lieu of cash. This person wanted to help UDS but didn’t have the means. However, he had a jeep that needed major engine repairs. Kelvin had the parts needed for the job and completed the work with his mechanical students in a few days.

Uniting Distant Stars Auto Mechanic students doing major engine repair.

UDS Hair Salon

Upon completing the work, the person offered UDS his shop within a five-minute walk from our center. We moved our cosmetology department to the new location. Our team painted the exterior walls with our colors, built shelves and workstations, and purchased hair and other products. Through Kelvin’s efforts, UDS now has a hair salon as part of our social enterprise initiative. The sales from hair and products will provide an additional revenue stream. 

Uniting Distant Stars moved our cosmetology department to a shop near our center. This will be a hair salon as well to help generate funds.

As you can see in a cash-strapped economy, the barter system plays a pivotal role in helping people sustain themselves during a crisis. In this case, Kelvin provided $1,000 of work this equated to $1,800 in rent of the shop ($100 monthly rent).

In close, this gave us the means to start this small enterprise. And we hope to receive additional support to build more workstations, buy sinks for hair washing and hair dryers, and other material to make it a full salon.

Announcing our 2020 Leadership Team

Announcing our 2020 Leadership Team

On December 14, 2019, we held our annual board meeting and elected the new officers. We are excited to announce Philip Kaleewoun will continue as the board chair for their year; Yakasah Wehyee will assume the secretary position; and Diane Anastos will continue her role as treasurer for the fourth year. Furthermore, Beyan Gonowolo became the new fundraising team chair. Also, please click on their names to read their bios and learn more about our incredible leaders.

2020 Uniting Distant Stars Leadership Team

Finally, our leadership team will focus on executing our strategic plan to include cultivating partnerships, securing more volunteers, and building our capacity to establish social businesses in Liberia.

Please join me in congratulating our 2020 Leadership Team! 

Looking ahead to 2019

Looking ahead to 2019

On Saturday, December 8, Uniting Distant Stars held their annual board meeting to elect officers and start planning for 2019. First, we like to announce the re-appointment of our officers (Philip Kaleewoun IIAdam Pederson, and Diane Anastosfor another year. Congrats to our 2019 Board Officers!

Fundraising Team

Second, we like to share that three of our board members (Rita ApalooAdam Pederson, and Beyan Gonowolo) agreed to collaborate on our fundraising efforts for 2019. Specifically, this tremendous trio will be looking at various events, outreach to businesses and organizations, and other creative ways to fundraise. Thus, this supports Liberian Youth seeking to learn a skill and achieve self-reliance.

Strategic Plan

Third, we discussed the implementation of our strategic plan initiated in June 2018. With this intention, we plan to diversify our revenue streams to meet our main objective of financial stability. For example, the establishment of four social enterprises coupled with our courses as follows:

  1. Tailoring Shop: sew custom uniforms & clothes or repair clothing.
  2. Hair Salon: offer services for hair, face, and nails.
  3. Auto Repair Shop: provide regular maintenance service and repairs.
  4. Contracted Electrician and Plumbing Services: bid for contracts to build homes, schools, etc.
With this intention, a social enterprise or business allows us to reinvest the profits back into the program and beneficiaries. Also, we have envisioned a social business since we started working in Liberia. Because these small businesses provide the revenue stream to run the day-to-day operations and hire our graduates for permanent jobs.Consequently, Liberia’s economy continues to remain in a slump and this limits any job creation opportunities. Our Liberian Team established some small businesses since we opened our center. So as to generate funds to cover some of the needs. Including selling water and renting out our great hall for events or workshops. In order to expand into these other areas, a list of additional equipments and tools  will be compiled by our team to determine the next steps. Ultimately, by transforming our facility into a multi-purpose center, we can achieve our strategic goal of financial stability.

We will keep you posted as we move forward with our plans for 2019. Thank you for your generous support in 2018!

Young Leaders Series: Taking an ordinary career and making it extraordinary.

Young Leaders Series: Taking an ordinary career and making it extraordinary.

This summer we will be focusing on three amazing young leaders and
what they have done to make this a better world. We are excited to start
this series with one of our STAR leaders, who is Gradieh
Wreh. She wears many hats with Uniting Distant Stars by serving as a
founding board member, donor and volunteer along with bringing the
millennial perspective to our organization. She was an instrumental
member of our project team for
the 2013 Youth Leadership Workshop in Liberia both as a planner and
presenter, which she shared her expertise as an entrepreneur. 

Gradieh–whose name means surprise–is a very focused and self-determined young women who has built her
successful cosmetology business–Hair by Gradieh–from the ground up.
She has unleashed her passion to promote healthy natural hair through
her work as a stylist and teacher. She offers several types of styles along with her own design of “U Part” wigs. Her most recent endeavor was
launching her own product line for hair and skin using natural
ingredients that are abundant in her native home of Liberia. She
named her product line–Bindu’s Organics–after her Mom, who has been a huge help with this venture.

Gradieh with her Mom Bindu selling Bindu’s Organics and U Part wigs at a show. Photo courtesy of Gradieh Wreh.
I met Gradieh shortly before she married her
husband Elijah in August
2010. Elijah and I connected two months earlier about our shared
passion in helping the young Liberian people access resources to
improve their quality of education. It has been an honor to be immersed
in the lives of this enterprising young couple that forged a lasting
relationship that is both personal and professional.
Gradieh with Elijah. Photos courtesy of Gradieh Wreh.
During that same year in 2010, I became a client of Gradieh’s and really
appreciate the personalized service she delivers. Most importantly as I
have sat in her chair the last four years, I have been able to witness
how she has realized her dreams one bold initiative at a time. She has
grown her thriving business by taking some risks and mixing her talents
as an artist and scientist. One moment she is sculpting an UpDo that is
more of a work of art than a simple hairstyle. The next moment she is
sharing her next chemistry experiment on Facebook that she is conjuring up in her
brother’s kitchen for her ever growing product line.
On the left is one of Gradieh’s UpDo’s and on the right is a new batch of body butter being whipped up.                          Photos courtesy of Gradieh Wreh.
It is her strong faith in God as a Christian that has guided her in
taking this “ordinary career and making it extraordinary”–something
coined by my own Mom in describing her entrepreneurship. It is exciting
to watch her excel in her passion-aligned-profession along with being
one of the first to try out her products.
Bindu’s Organics Body Butter. Photo courtesy of Gradieh Wreh.
Gradieh follows in the footsteps of many in her
generation that have
created businesses that value both profit and people which is often
referred as a social enterprise. In providing a social benefit, she
started offering free workshops this year to
both her clients and general public about understanding the science of
hair and how to protect it from the harsh elements. In attending two of
her workshops, I can say she is a subject matter expert on hair from the
inside out.

While building her brand in Minnesota, she is also introducing it in the
New Jersey and New York markets. She and Elijah moved out east in 2013
when he landed a job in his field of regulatory science. While
establishing herself at a salon in Newark, New Jersey, she returns to Minnesota
about every six weeks to serve her long-term clients. As one of them,
I’m grateful for her making this possible.

Follow Hair by Gradieh on Facebook and Instagram

In addition to her a role has an entrepreneur, she is a student
completing her bachelor’s on entrepreneurship and a writer for various
publications for black women. She is definitely dedicated in changing
the paradigm for businesses owned by women and people of color.

Gradieh is an example of someone that pushed
past the expectations of
others to follow her own ideals in living her purpose. Though she has
been challenged by her age and race, she does not let either one hinder her from achieving her goals. Much of this could be attributed to moving to Minnesota from
Liberia at age 9 while it was embroiled in a civil war.
This caused her to be separated from her parents, but she was fortunate
to have relatives in Minnesota to live with during this transition. This
was not easy juncture in her life, because she went through her
formative years trying to preserve one cultural
while adapting to another. I believe this experience helped her gain
wisdom and strength to persevere through many trying times thus leading
to her success today.

Uniting Distant Stars is honored to have Gradieh on our team. She is a
role model for the young people we are serving in Liberia and elsewhere in the world. We wanted to ask her
four questions that would encourage young people to pursue their dreams by
sharing her experience and insight that has shaped her own.

1) When did you first discover your talents and knew this was a path you wanted to take and why?

I discovered my talent of doing hair when I was in the eighth
grade. I needed my hair done and a friend of mine stood me up. I took on the
task and I kept on going from there. I would practice on myself, friends and
family members. I started helping my cousin’s wife in her salon during her
pregnancy when I was in the ninth grade. I loved the salon experience
and I never stop going; it became my after school job.
I love interacting, educating and touching people’s lives.
These are the three things that pushed me to continue my path of doing hair and so much more.
2) What were the top three influences that supported your can-do spirit and why?
First is My faith:  Understanding that I can do all things through
Him (God) who strengthens me.
Second is Helping people: There is always a way to help someone and
there are so many rewards you get from doing so. From what I experienced, I can say the disappointment
caused by not helping others is far greater. I love being among people who are realizing
their potential while they are watching me do the same. That is why I love to
share my journey, because I just never know who I’m influencing.
Third is Modesty: I can be painfully modest at times about what I
do and how far I have come, but that pushes me to always want to do more. I have
many little notebooks and planners lying around that have goals and financial
records in them. They go back as far as 2007 (when I was in cosmetology school)
and every time I come across one of them, its an opportunity to see how far
I have come and this is followed with a few minutes of celebration. After that, I
realize how much more I have to do and how “far behind” I am.  Bottom line is that there is more to do and
regardless of how much I accomplished, I have committed my life to continue with the
work that has been driven by my passion and desire to pursue my dreams.
3) In dealing with the barriers of age and race, what are some strategies you have applied to overcome them?
Number 1 is Educate myself: Education
brings on a whole new level of confidence. I don’t believe in hanging a degree
on my wall and calling it an education. That was the example of education that
I saw growing up, so the idea of going to college was never attractive to me
until 2011. Education to me is not just formal education, but seeking new experiences and new and innovative ways to do things. 
It’s finding how many different ways I can part your hair and how many
different styles I can create and why. By educating yourself, you are equipping
yourself with something that can never be taken away.

Number 2 is Humble yourself: It allows you to grow, gain trust and
build strong relationships.
4) As someone who has found success as a young entrepreneur, what would
be your five top recommendations that you would give a rising
star that may feel hindered by any social biases?
  1. Follow your heart.
  2. Always be good to people.
  3. Educate yourself.
  4. Invest in yourself before
    expecting anyone else to.
  5. Be confident/cautious: Take
    time out to understand each step you take and why. Take time out to
    understand where you are and why you’re there. What decisions or
    circumstances are responsible for where you are and just because you come
    across a good opportunity doesn’t mean you have to take advantage of it.
We want to Thank Gradieh for allowing us to share her story to inspire
others to discover and embrace their authentic self. Also, we wish her all the best as she
continues to expand her brand as one of the top haircare specialists in the nation!!!