Maker Stories

Uncommon Impact: Counting Beads, Caramel, and the IRC

June 22, 2016

As a certified B Corporation, UncommonGoods is excited about sustainability. That means more to us than just being “green”–we strive to offer products that reflect the environmental and social best-interests of everyone. So, when our makers are as concerned with sustainability as we are, we’re always eager to learn more about their process and the positive impact they’re having on the world.

While many of our makers rely on sustainable practices at one point or another in their process, we’re especially excited about those who place the wider world at the forefront of their craft–those who are making an uncommon impact.

IRC | Uncommon Impact | UncommonGoods

The International Rescue Committee is providing cash support to women-led households with the greatest need. Here, IRC staff ask a Syrian refugee about how effective she thinks the program is and whether it can be improved. | Photo: Ned Colt/IRC


Thanks to the omniscient power of the world wide web, working with the “wider world” in mind seems more accessible than ever before. Whether or not it’s for the greater good, no one can argue the impact of the social media grapevine and its incredible potential to speak to millions of humans in mere seconds. But when it comes to genuinely gracing the “wider world,” truly leaving a life-changing impact through all corners of our globe, it’s hard to compare to the remarkable scale achieved by the International Rescue Committee (IRC) our newest Better to Give partner.

International Rescue Committee |Better to Give | UncommonGoods

Earlier this week, we were honored to officially launch our partnership with the IRC on World Refugee Day. Based out of New York City, the IRC is an organization that “responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic wellbeing, and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. Founded in 1933 at the call of Albert Einstein, the IRC is at work in over 40 countries and 26 U.S. cities helping people to survive, reclaim control of their future, and strengthen their communities.” (A look at the IRC’s impact in 2015 alone is amazing!)

IRC | World Map

IRC is at work in over 40 countries and 26 U.S. cities helping people to survive, reclaim control of their future and strengthen their communities. | Photo: IRC

In preparation for our official launch, we decided to learn more about the IRC’s relationship with our artist family. It turns out that we didn’t have to look far to find makers who have made an uncommon impact through the IRC. In fact, we only had to look a few miles outside of our Brooklyn headquarters!

We’re always on the lookout for designs that serve a purpose, solve a problem, stun us with their beauty, or make us wonder why no one thought of it before. So it was no surprise that our team fell head-over-heels for the Counting Beads Necklace. We’re all about eye-catching beads that can be interchangeable worn as a wrap bracelet or necklace, and we were even more excited when we learned that 25 percent of profits from this handmade piece go directly to the IRC.

Counting Beads | UncommonGoods

Counting Beads Necklace | UncommonGoods

But what really gave this piece an exceptional first impression was its design story. Based out of New Jersey, Chavez for Charity creates fashion accessories created for the purpose of raising money and awareness for charitable organizations, like the IRC. The IRC worked closely with designer Julie Marie Chavez to create a special gift for the organization’s annual fundraiser. Together, they conceptualized a piece to be modeled after the counting beads that health workers use to take toddlers’ vitals in remote parts of the world. In remote communities, IRC-trained health workers use counting beads to diagnose pneumonia, the leading cause of death in children under five. As a timer counts 60 seconds, the health worker counts one bead per breath. If more than 49 beads are counted, the child is breathing too fast– a red flag for pneumonia.

Counting Beads | IRC | Chavez for Charity

Counting beads in the field | Photo: IRC, Courtesy of Chavez for Charity

After witnessing how well the counting beads jewelry was received at the fundraiser, Chavez for Charity decided to introduce the Counting Beads Necklace to the public.

“The Counting Beads Necklace is very special,” said Sharon Hitchcock, UncommonGoods’ Jewelry and Accessories Buyer. “Not only is it a lovely piece of jewelry, but there is significance in its design.  In countries where access to healthcare can be scare, health workers use counting beads to identify children with pneumonia, and start life-saving treatment if needed.  That something so simple can be so impactful very much touches my heart.”

Counting Beads | UncommonGoods

Counting Beads Necklace | UncommonGoods

On our side of the Brooklyn Bridge, we were lucky to have the opportunity to see the IRC’s vocational training in action. As you may have seen in our latest studio tour, caramel maker Michelle Lewis makes her Brooklyn-based business hum with the help of her employees Haron Mohammed and Lwin Lwin, a refugee couple from Myanmar (Burma). Since September 2015, Lwin and Haron have been essential in Michelle’s kitchen, creating, labeling and packaging handmade confectioneries.

“Their willingness to learn and their flexibility was inspiring, especially in light of how much personal difficulty they each have gone through.” said Michelle.

Caramel Sampler - Set of 6 | UncommonGoods

Haron Mohammed and Lwin Lwin packing caramel sauce in Michelle Lewis‘s kitchen

According to Michelle, Lwin and Haron were given refugee status because of anti-Muslim persecution in their home country. About a year before working in Michelle’s kitchen, the IRC helped Lwin and Haron get settled in Queens, NY.

Michelle first learned about the IRC through an email promoting its New Roots program, which helps resettled refugees to become self-sufficient and contribute to their new home in the United States through community gardening, nutrition education and small-business farming. She reached out in response to hiring through the organization and invited the IRC team to visit her space in March 2015.

“What I most appreciate about the IRC is how much one-on-one work is done with the people they are helping. This is not a vast organization that hands out money or advice with little personal contact,” Michelle says. “This is an organization whose employees are extremely dedicated to the well-being of the individuals in their care. They understand the difficulties of displacement on a day-to-day level. They understand the cultural challenges of being dropped into a huge American city like New York. I think they really do get what it’s like to be a refugee and they assist with that sensitivity.”

Spoonable Studio Tour | UncommonGoods

Looking to make an uncommon impact? To donate directly to the International Rescue Committee, or to learn more about volunteer opportunities, visit http://www.rescue.org/how-you-can-help.

To celebrate the official launch of our partnership, we’re doubling our donations to IRC (contributing $2 for every customer that selects the organization) through June 26, 2016.

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