Almost three years ago, Beth Israel-Deaconess Medical Center nurse Ruth Adomunes decided to design and make some jewelry to satisfy her creative impulses. Looking around for materials, she fashioned several pairs of bracelets, creating bright, colorful designs that match her outgoing personality.
One day, when she wore her first bracelet to work, several co-workers admired it and asked her to make one for them. The trinkets became quite popular, and soon folks were placing orders to give as gifts.
When she brought the bracelets to her regular Friday night dinner at her husband's restaurant in Adams Village, she was met with more plaudits - and many more orders for the bracelets.
She soon realized there was a real demand for the product and she decided she would donate the proceeds of the sales to a charity. When co-worker Marianne McAuliffe told her she and her husband Paul were volunteers working to help the rural poor in Haiti, under the auspices of the non-profit Haitian Health Foundation (HHF), she resolved to earmark her proceeds to that program.
Adomunes learned that the charity, described as "a charitable outreach to neighbors in need," had devised a way to build homes for needy Haitian families in the village of Jeremie for just $500 per unit. These "Happy Houses" provide safe shelter for families with 5-8 children who otherwise live in hovel-like spaces made of cardboard, rags, straw and banana leaf. With a cement floor, tin roof, windows and doors, the houses give poor families a proper home and a future of hope. So Ruth Adomunes resolved that she would designate all her sales to build a few Happy Houses.
That's how "Designs by Ruth" was born, and over the ensuing 30 months, the little home-based business has grown and the artisan has developed a following that far exceeds her immediate circle of friends. During the recent holiday season, she hosted receptions at Milton's Hoosic Club and at Gerard's Restaurant, and sold more jewelry to aid the efforts in Haiti.
Last Sunday, Jan. 25, the founder of the Haitian Health Foundation traveled to Dorchester from his home in Connecticut to meet the jewelry-maker and her friends, and to thank them for the contributions they have made to his program. Dr. Jeremiah Lowney is a Fall River-born orthodontist who made his first visit to Haiti in 1982 to provide free dental care to the poor, and after more than a quarter century he speaks proudly of the work his foundation has accomplished, much of it through the generosity of people like Ruth Adomunes.
Lowney said HHF recently completed restoring a fishing village named Testasse. With financial support from Florida real estate tycoon Frank McKinney, he targeted the village which had been devastated by hurricanes.
"He told us he would like to restore a village," Lowney said in an interview at Sunday afternoon's reception at Gerard's. " He said, 'If you can find a village, I will pay for it.'
"So we found this village where we were already building houses. We liked the priest there, he had this beat-up old school. We put the package together, we repaired the school, and built a community center, a dispensary, 60 more Happy Houses, 30 latrines, and a fishing co-op with deep freezes so they can freeze their fish and sell it at the market in Port-au-Prince." The foundation even purchased "six big fiberglass boats with motors and GPS" for the village, he said proudly. He credits the fundraising done locally for helping the village project gain traction.
"Ruth is the one who started it in this village. She built a dozen, maybe 15 Happy Houses," he said. In all, proceeds from her jewelry has helped to fund significant projects, both in Testasse and in nearby Jeremie,
"I am thrilled just to have become involved," Adomunes said this week. "I called it a marathon - the 'starfish team'. People had jewelry parties in their homes, and helped out to raise the funds." In total, she says some $20,000 was raised last year to repair the school in Testasse, and another $7,000 paid for construction of 14 Happy Houses.
Her jewelry sales also have assisted three local non-profits - DOVE, New England Medical Center Breast Clinic and the OCD Foundation - with the crafting and sale of bracelets, in an amount she estimates "has got to be in the thousands."
This year, she has pledged to add the New England Home for Little Wanderers to the list of charities she supports. "But we're going to continue supporting Haiti," she said. Dr. Lowney has invited her to visit the country and see the projects she has assisted, and she hopes to visit someday soon.
"I would like to go to Haiti, and I hope to go with my friends Marianne and Paul McAuliffe," she promised.