By Megan Falk
Following decades of distress, Detroit has been dubbed the comeback city. To make that reputation a reality for some residents, it’s needed people like Joanne Ewald, the 56-year-old from West Bloomfield who founded Mend on the Move. Twice a week, the nonprofit travels to Detroit’s Samaritas House-Heartline, a facility for women who are homeless or are leaving the correctional system. With a mission to empower women survivors of physical and sexual abuse, many of whom form addictions to cope with their struggles, Mend on the Move employs select residents at Samaritas to create necklaces, earrings, and bracelets from upcycled car seat leather and donated auto parts. The pieces are sold on the organization’s website and by metro Detroit retailers, with some proceeds providing an income to the workers at the facility. Crafting and selling jewelry isn’t just a way for the women to earn some cash. For those like Ewald, jewelry making is a part of the healing process.
Beginning at age 4, Ewald was sexually assaulted by a family member. This abuse continued for nine years. While she says she was always drawn to the creative process, it wasn’t until later in life that she realized art could help her discover herself. She took classes at the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center, and by 2007, at age 45, she was designing jewelry and selling her pieces to local art fairs and galleries. She began donating some of her proceeds to nonprofits that work with children and the homeless, and eventually, helping others offered more gratification than making the jewelry itself. By 2015, Mend on the Move launched with a fundraising event, during which Ewald publicly shared her story for the first time. “I had a lot of difficulties growing up and made a lot of poor decisions because of it. I didn’t become an addict, but I had issues that I didn’t deal with until I was an adult,” she says. “You can’t heal unless you start talking about it.”
Aside from helping Mend on the Move employees gather strength to share their own stories, the nonprofit creates an environment for survivors to build confidence. Because women may be living at Samaritas for just 90 days, the pieces are simple enough for them to master quickly; employees can make earrings the day they start. “That is so empowering to think that you’re making something that someone can purchase and that’s really taking a stand against abuse on the first day of employment,” Ewald says.
In three years, Mend on the Move has hired nearly 30 women during their recovery process, including Dawn Wood. After creating jewelry with the nonprofit last year, Wood, 46, from Eaton County, became its creative supervisor and the only woman to continue working with the nonprofit after Samaritas. Though Wood had a drug addiction for 24 years, the abuse survivor is nearing her second year of sobriety, which she credits to Ewald. “She plants the seed that you are worth something,” she says. “You have somebody believe you can do it.”
With community support, Mend on the Move will be able to set even more survivors on the path toward recovery. In July, the nonprofit launched a five-week CrowdRise campaign to raise the $60,000 needed to renovate a motor home into a permanent mobile studio. After it hits the roads of metro Detroit, Ewald has bigger visions, like expanding into clothing and opening a storefront.
“I can’t think of anything that’s more important,” she says. “How to use what has happened to me, something so ugly, and turn it into something so beautiful that can lift other women — that’s the ultimate goal.”
This article originally appeared in Give Detroit, a publication of Hour Media. For more information, visit mendonthemove.org.