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Local high schoolers’ dream becomes nonprofit reality

Akello Welsy Olara will share her story through a video presentation at the Krochet Kids fundraiser at the Bing.
Akello Welsy Olara will share her story through a video presentation at the Krochet Kids fundraiser at the Bing.

Fundraiser showcases global crochet business

A business model that began with three Mt. Spokane High School students wanting cool hats to wear on the ski slopes has gone global – first to Uganda and now Peru.

Krochet Kids International (KKi) is expanding its operations to Lima, Peru. Executive director Kohl Crecelius said, “We’re so excited to implement our unique model of empowerment in a new region of the world.”

On May 4, founders Crecelius, Travis Hartanov and Stewart Ramsey will host “La Aventura del Amor” (Love is the Adventure), Krochet Kids International’s third annual gala. The event’s focus will be a celebration of the success in Uganda as well as a benefit to launch the new program in Peru.

The founders of KKi are thrilled to announce that the program in Uganda is now completely sustainable.

The idea for the organization emerged in 2003 when Crecelius and his friends learned to crochet over winter break during their junior year in high school. They had so much fun creating the caps that they made far more than they could wear. So, when classes resumed, Crecelius said, “We took the surplus to school – instant success!”

After graduation, they put their hooks and yarn away for a few years. However, when Ramsey returned from a trip to Uganda, he brought with him a passion to help the impoverished families he’d met there. That passion proved contagious. He brainstormed with his buddies. They asked each other, “What if we teach the women to crochet, pay them a decent wage and sell the products in the states?”

In 2007, Krochet Kids received nonprofit status, and that summer a group of 10 traveled to Uganda and taught 10 women to crochet. What happened next amazed them all.

Over the last three years, KKi has generated over $1 million in revenue to support and grow economic development programs in Uganda. More than 70 percent of the proceeds have been generated through the sale of crocheted headgear and accessories. This success has rendered the Uganda program self-sustaining – no longer reliant on outside donations.

“We don’t know of any other nonprofit that’s able to support itself solely through product sales,” said Crecelius. “That hat does so much. It gives the lady who makes it a job and creates a continuing income cycle.”

Recently, KKi advisory board member Mark Hubbard returned from Uganda. He said, “I spent two days at the Krochet Kids compound and spent a lot of time with the ladies and their mentors.”

A banker by profession, he came away impressed by both the efficiency of the operation and the job satisfaction of the 87 women involved. Hubbard said this organization has made the health and well-being of its employees paramount. “That shows in their smiles and the joy you feel when you’re on the compound,” he said. “It also shows in their amazing productivity.”

Hubbard said when he explained the popularity and tremendous sales growth of KKi products to the workers, the women were delighted, because “each woman supports an average of eight family members,” he said. “The women are the breadwinners. They’ve even formed their own savings and loan!”

Having achieved sustainability in Uganda, Crecelius said the time is right to expand to Peru. He said the economic climate of Lima makes it a great place to implement their business model. The city has been overwhelmed by an influx of rural people with little education or work experience, creating poverty and despair. “Since knitting and textiles have long been staples of Peruvian culture, we plan to leverage this.”

Crecelius envisions a product line exclusively from Peru. “It will be fully integrated,” he said. “We’ll involve alpaca farmers, local spinners to make the yarn – it could all happen within our model of caring.”

The homecoming gala is a way for the three young men to show their appreciation to the community. “It’s due to the support from Spokane that we’ve been able to launch this nonprofit,” said Crecelius.

The name of the event, “La Aventura del Amor,” expresses the heart behind KKi. “For us, love is the adventure,” Crecelius said. “To work alongside the women of Uganda and Peru – to hear their stories – that’s how we get to be an extension of love to them.”

One of those women, Akello Welsy Olara, will share her story through a video presentation at the gala.

As Crecelius said, “Hats really can change the world.”