First Ladies of the Hillside: All about outreach |

First Ladies of the Hillside: All about outreach

Updated: July 21, 2021 05:32 PM
Created: July 21, 2021 07:23 AM

What do coffee, cleaning up, and conversations about parenting have in common? They are all projects that the First Ladies of the Hillside have poured their hearts into.

The group formed on Zoom during the pandemic, thanks to Wi-Fi connection at the Steve O'Neil apartments. They're now a strong group of mothers and leaders who are supporting each other in all ways.

One of the women is a survivor of domestic violence. Like the other First Ladies, she's an artist. And she uses many mediums. "Jewelry making is probably my favorite thing to do," she told us. She began with rosaries and dream catchers when she was a child.

We are not sharing her name, to protect her identity. But the power of her perspective still shines through. "Growing up in a toxic environment, I know what I wish could have been in my life. I really try and make sure to have that for my kids. Providing a life for them, that they don't have to recover from. And giving them the tools they need to survive."

Though she doesn't live at Steve O'Neil, she is part of the community. And the fierce First Ladies. "It's nice to talk to somebody, and listen, and have them hear you. And they say, hey, I've got an idea. I hear you're struggling. I've got an idea."

Their stories of trauma, and now triumphs, inspired her to create their logo. It's a woman, growing stronger. "This time we're getting back up, with the support of our community. And each other. Now she's grounded, rooted, and the leaves represent whole body healing."

People saw it during their pop-up art sale at the Park Point Rummage Sale in June. For the first time, they shared their passion with the public. And it's just the beginning.

"I'm giving three to the art show," Rhoda Zarbok told us. She's beading beautiful necklaces. It's an important part of her Anishinabe heritage. "I feel connected to my ancestors. This is what they used to make jewelry and everything."

Those will be combined with the art from Amber Pelfrey, Rachel Ross, and Heather Zellner. The collection will be on display at Zeitgeist in September, and then sold. Money will be re-invested in the people who live in the Hillside.

Molly Harney, community organizer and early childhood expert, told us, "The dollars will go into what the women have identified as a compassion fund. Then they can help other moms pay for things like soccer shoes, bunk beds, and snow tires." Some of the money will go towards art supplies as well. 

They've been busy on the weekends, too. "We just keep building capacity and building connections," Molly added. That includes picking up garbage around the neighborhood. The goal is to get needles off the streets, and away from the little ones. Because they know all too well, about the dangers.

"I used to be a drug addict. And the needles trigger me. But I know it will help keep our kids safe,' Heather shared.

Her youngest, baby Faith, is the littlest First Lady. And very popular at their outreach events. 

For months, they handed out coffee from the Duluth Coffee Company outside of the Damiano. It was about getting to know their neighbors. "Who better to help the community, than the people that live in the community," Rachel said.

The kids play together during these events. 

This past weekend, they helped distribute food set up by Recovery Alliance Duluth. And the ladies brought a few bags to Steve O'Neil, to hand out to families there. "There's a lot of good people living in the Hillside. They want a good community for their kids and their families," Amber added.

On Sundays, they've been having conversations about parenting and how to make things better for children who live in the building.

And on Wednesday, they met with the mayor!

It's about generating good momentum for the next generations. "I've heard a lot of people say, there's no use. Why try. Well, we decided to try, and we're going to do it,' Rachel told us.

Stay tuned for part 3 of our series, on Thursday at 5pm.

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