T31, a woman owned and operated ladies sportswear manufacturing company in Americus, recently became Peace Certified by the Mattie J.T. Stepanek Foundation. When CEO Elena Carné began reading and learning about Mattie last year, she was immediately drawn to his quote, “Unity is strength… when there is teamwork and collaboration, wonderful things can be achieved.” Elena reflected, “We are living in very tough times, there is so much fighting, so much ugliness… everybody is against each other in so many ways. To me, unity is the mosaic. We are all broken pieces, but when we all come together, we make such a beautiful and perfect mosaic. Different colors, different shapes, all part of humanity.”
When the COVID-19 crisis began, trade shows were cancelled and orders dwindled, and like so many others, Elena became worried about being able to pay the bills and provide for her family. That’s when Donnette Threats, Executive Director at Phoebe Sumter Hospice, approached her about the possibility of making face masks for their healthcare workers. Elena immediately recognized this as an opportunity to help meet the basic need of safety for these workers. Using repurposed bedsheets from the hospital, she hired several seamstresses to help meet the growing demand for face masks. Community members volunteered to assist as well, and police departments and individuals across the country began placing orders for masks. Thanks to the donations that she received, Elena was able to purchase fabric and supplies, and did not charge essential workers for the thousands of masks that T31 produced for them. When she learned of the high infection rates on the Navajo reservation in Window Rock, Arizona, T31 made and donated over 4000 masks to the Navajo Nation Police Department and Navajo elders most at risk. When she was asked to participate in a Peace Camp for the children of Phoebe Sumter healthcare workers, Elena taught the children how to attach the elastic ear loops to face masks, and after completing 75 masks, the children wrote notes of encouragement to the Navajo people that went out with the next shipment of masks to the reservation.
In a recent meeting with Laura Bauer, Executive Director of the Mattie J.T. Stepanek Foundation, Elena said, “Mattie’s message helped me to bring unity to T31. This is a neutral space, we are all equal – my seamstresses are equal to me, no one is better than or more important than anyone else. We work together peacefully. If something goes wrong, we will find a solution. I have been blessed to be able to meet the basic needs of myself and my family, and now I must help fulfill the basic needs of others, especially those who are struggling without jobs. I work to create unity with people who think differently from me, that’s how T31 has been representing peace. We create that neutral place to help others – it is a magical thing. You can’t see it but when you come into our shop, no matter how crazy the world is outside, once you enter through the door, everything is bright and happy, there’s music, and that’s how the world is supposed to be. When I read Mattie’s Heartsongs poetry, I feel like he is talking to me – directly. I believe in everything he said. We can go through the storm, but let’s learn how to dance after. Sometimes we go very slow, but then we pick it up, and dance and create our own style, in our own way. That’s true happiness.”
When presenting Elena and her staff with their Peace Certification on June 26, Jeni Stepanek said, “If everybody took their time, treasure and talent, and took their heartsong as that translates to what they do for the world through career or through business, and shared that in a way that helped somebody else that’s in need, we’d be in a much better place in our world, and there would be far more peace. Thank you for being a part of that.”