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Local Group Hopes to Open Ten Thousand Villages Store

by and on September 12, 2017 5:00 AM

Sometimes one man with a good idea is all it takes to get the ball rolling for a new endeavor.

Joel Weidner thought about starting a Ten Thousand Villages Store in State College even before he retired two years ago from Penn State. Since then, he has grappled with the possibilities, gathered a team and forged ahead.

“About a year ago, a committee met at Friends School and created a non-profit, which we named ‘Ten Thousand Villages of Central PA,’” said Weidner, who is chairman of the board of the group. “In the short-term, we are looking for a space to acquire a lease to open a pop-up store for a two to three month period, perhaps over the holidays.”

Ten Thousand Villages National Organization was the brainchild of Edna Ruth Byler more than 60 years ago when she traveled with her husband to Puerto Rico. She met women in the La Plata Valley who were struggling to feed their children. The women made fine embroidery pieces, but had no market for them. With a heart for their plight, Byler bought the pieces, brought them home and began to sell them out of the trunk of her car.

The Mennonite Central Committee, an aid and relief agency, saw the value that long-term sustainable income opportunities would bring to the impoverished villages and began supporting Byler’s endeavors and travels abroad, including India and Jordan. Initially called the Overseas Needlework and Crafts Project, Byler’s effort eventually became Self-Help Crafts of the World, based in Ephrata, then in 1996, was renamed Ten Thousand Villages from a Mahatma Gandhi quote.

Locally, the University Mennonite Church for more than 25 years has held a festival each November featuring Ten Thousand Villages items. For a brief time, the church operated a small store at the Meetinghouse at 318 S. Atherton Street.

Ten Thousand Villages items are also sold on the Penn State campus through international programs and through THON, the yearly student-run philanthropy the benefits children and families battling pediatric cancer.

Other Ten Thousand Villages Stores in Pennsylvania include ones in Mechanicsburg, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

Jean Landis, vice chair of the Ten Thousand Villages of Central PA board, feels that opening a TTV store in State College would bring awareness to the group’s products and mission.

“Many of us are so blessed in North America. If only people could see some of the other cultures,” Landis said. “In Guatemala, I saw war widows trying to support themselves and their children and creating beautiful things. But they have to price them so low to sell there, that they make very little. It is important to raise awareness of others in our daily lives.”

Deb Smith was a second-grade teacher for 25 years. On a trip to Niagara Falls, N.Y., she saw her first Ten Thousand Villages Store. Thrilled with a vast array of instruments from several countries, she bought them all.

“I brought the instruments home and with them, taught music, geography and social studies,” said Smith. “I feel it is so important for children and their families to learn about other cultures,” she said.

Smith also related how the Batsirani Craft Project in Zimbabwe — made up of 140 mothers with disabled children — sew twin dolls and sell them to TTV. The income allows them to work close to home and support the needs of their families.

The artisans of the TTV practice sustainability, using natural dyes and recycled materials in their items. Their work allows them to hand down skills to the next generation while earning a living wage. The company pays the artisans up front and then places their rugs, embroidery, bowls, and other items in its stores.

The local non-profit was told that it needs approximately $100,000 in startup funds for a store in State College. The Mennonite Central Organization has a matching fund set up, and to date, the TTV of Central Pennsylvania has raised $31,000 — a good start to their dream of opening a permanent store. Although the national organization owns some stores, the non-profit and its board plan to operate the one proposed for State College

Weidner said that the group would be relying on volunteers with perhaps one paid full-time employee and one paid part-time employee in the future.

“We [also] are looking to add people to our board,” he said.

In October, the Smeal College of Business of Penn State will be providing student consultants who will aid TTV of Central PA with establishing a business plan, fundraising, and identifying locations for its proposed business. The board of the TTV of Central Pennsylvania is anticipating that the students will be a great benefit to them in achieving their goal.

The group will hold a “Village Social” at Seven Mountains Wine Cellars from 6 to 9 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 15.

For  more information, visit or Or contact Joel Weidner at or (814) 777-4494.

This story was produced by the staff at the Centre County Gazette. It was re-published with permission. The Centre County Gazette is a weekly publication, available at many locations around Centre County every Thursday morning.

Connie Cousins covers Centre County for the Gazette.
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