Spanglish 'SoloHope' microenterprise replaces job with benefits for Georgia woman

by Tobin Perry |

(Emilee Connell)Georgian Emilee Connell talks with an Honduran boy during one of her trips to the country. Connell began a ministry in 2013 to help Honduran women find sustainable income.

Tegucigalpa, Honduras (Christian Examiner)— Emilee Connell could have just stayed in her comfy, predictable job with benefits.

But then God called.

... I'd say, step out on faith knowing God has called you to do it. Even if there is a struggle—because most likely there will be—just rest in the fact that He's got your back.
- Emilee Connell

Two years ago Connell dropped everything—including a job she enjoyed—to help women in Honduras overcome poverty and find a sustainable income to help support their families. Now at least 13 women have found meaningful employment at a living wage because of Connell's step of faith.

"I'd always felt really pulled to missions and a life of purpose," Connell told the Christian Examiner. "So when I felt the Lord was really pushing me to take a risk in August of 2013, I knew He was saying to quit my job."

That step though was more than 10 years in the making. Connell took her first mission trip to Honduras as a 16-year-old in 2002. As she visited the country multiple times, she saw its deep material needs—particularly the needs of the women. According to the World Bank, nearly two-thirds of the Central American country's population live in poverty.

"I would see different nonprofit models of people trying to help, whether it was feeding programs or sponsorships, and I would meet women who had to care for their families, make sure they have food to eat and clothes to wear and were able to go to school," Connell said. "The women, in Honduras, were the ones who really took on the brunt of that responsibility. I would see that these women—after these nonprofit programs left—were back in the same situation they were in before, trying to feed their children the best they could."

(Emilee Connell)SoloHope's products are made from using available resources—like thread and pine straw—in Honduras.

Connell realized that the women didn't need handouts. They needed jobs. As she thought and prayed through this need, God gave her an idea—a microenterprise.

Her Honduran friend, Dilcia, made beautiful bracelets out of pine straw and thread, but she didn't have a market for her goods. The two began to work through the possibility of Dilcia and her longtime best friend, Maribel, producing the product while Connell created the market for selling it. Eventually, they came up with two bracelet designs to focus upon first. Later they'd add to their product line. Today, SoloHope—which is what Connell calls the endeavor—sells bracelets, earrings, scarves and more. At least 13 women have been given the opportunity at a living wage through the ministry. Others have been helped through an occasional relationship with a separate co-op in the country.

When describing the impact SoloHope is having upon the lives of these women, Connell points first to Dilcia.

"Her family was really broken," Connell said. "Her story is really about so much resiliency. All through her life, she has been through extreme poverty, where you're asking, 'How do I eat?' Even into her adulthood, she struggled. But the Lord has just gifted her with creativity. I've watched her grow so much and take on a leadership role. She helps create products now. She went from one extreme to the other, where she is now leading a team of women."

Connell notes that the past two years has been a "roller-coaster ride," as she has focused on trying to provide a market for the SoloHope projects—and provide jobs for these Honduran artisans.

"There is pressure [when you have the livelihoods of all of these women at stake]," Connell said. "But it's one of those things you just lean into the Lord about. When you know He has called you to do something, He doesn't call you then not give you the tools you need to do it."

Connell notes that the ministry's name, SoloHope, is a Spanglish reference meaning "Only Hope." That's Jesus, she says. "It's in Him we move, live and have our being."

Connell encourages others whom God has called to a task to step out in faith.

"A lot of times I believe as Christians we think if we're being led by the Lord to do something—whether it's to start a business or a ministry or try out for the football team, we think it's going to be easy," Connell said. "If God is telling me to do it, surely it's going to be easy, right? But I'd say, step out on faith knowing God has called you to do it. Even if there is a struggle—because most likely there will be—just rest in the fact that He's got your back."

Connell is heading to India in February at the invitation of a Mumbai pastor to explore the possibility of expanding the ministry there.

For more on SoloHope and the products the organization produces, visit www.solohope.org.