- Associated Press - Monday, May 18, 2015

GOSHEN, Ind. — With help from supporters near and far, Elkhart native Jenny McGee hopes to expand Starfish Project Inc. to reach far beyond its roots in China and Goshen.

Starfish Project is an organization that teaches exploited women in Asia the art of jewelry making with an emphasis on business and life skills that will help them secure a better future.

The women who work at Starfish Project create jewelry, but they are also provided shelter, counseling, access to health care, medical insurance and retirement benefits. In addition, they receive computer training and can apply to study other courses such as photography, graphic design and management.

The organization has a Goshen-based office, 118 S. Main St., and three locations in Asia. McGee now lives in Beijing, China, with her husband, Doug.

Recently, Starfish Project leaders have met with several large retailers in the United States that have expressed interest in selling the organization’s products, McGee said.

McGee said the organization has begun working internationally to help women who are victims of human trafficking and is currently working to expand shelter services to care for the needs of women and their children.

But an expansion like that comes with a hefty price tag.

McGee estimates she’ll need about $150,000 to get the infrastructure in place to help more women than ever before.

On April 21, Starfish Project leaders kicked off a 30-day Expansion Campaign aimed at spreading the word about the organization and securing donations. Supporters can donate money through online fundraising website “Crowdrise.”

More than $67,000 had been donated as of Monday morning.

“We can see a very direct correlation between the amount of jewelry sales we have and the number of women we can help. Currently we have around 65 staff at Starfish Project, but being able to get our products into major department stores and many boutiques would take the number of women we can employ into the hundreds,” McGee said. “… In order to meet the requirements of these department stores, we need to have the right infrastructure in place to fulfill large orders.”

With the help of local supporters like the Morris family, McGee said she hopes to expand sales to major department stores and boutiques, and in turn, expand the organization’s ability to help women. Len and Marci Morris first met McGee when she was a middle school student.

Jenny was just this sweet, silly seventh-grade girl, but even back then she said she wanted to be a missionary,” Marci Morris said.

Marci Morris and her husband, Len, own Stair Supplies in Goshen. Their daughter, Ellie, 7, was adopted from China when she was an infant.

After learning that McGee’s organization was in need of local support, Morris said she was happy to step up and do what she could to promote the cause.

She and her daughter, Ellie, planned two events at the Electric Brew in Goshen last week to share news about the organization and ask for support from their friends and family.

Together, they decided to set a fundraising goal of $20,000 to go toward the organization’s overall goal.

“Building awareness of the issues that these women face is so huge,” Marci Morris said.

Morris said she was proud to support the effort of McGee and her staff as they seek to improve the lives of women across Asia - and the world.

“Every girl deserves the chance to have a dream,” she said.

Source: The Goshen News, https://bit.ly/1Gd7uGd

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