Laura Martin is up to her neck in ties.
The Atlanta woman is co-founder of a nonprofit that provides jobs for low-income women, primarily in Haiti, by using recycled neckties and T-shirts to make handbags, pillows, Christmas ornaments and dolls.
“We strongly felt that this was a way to have lasting change for people who needed change,” said Martin, the executive director of Ties That Matter, which she co-founded along with her daughter, Cameron McCord, and Elizabeth Chrane. “We felt that for the Haitian people to get back on their feet, they need jobs.”
But as the nonprofit helps women here and in Haiti, it also helps young children in the U.S. with one of its products, the “Super Hero” doll. The cuddly 12-inch cloth doll is made from T-shirt scraps and wears a cape sewn from neckties.
The dolls are stitched in Haiti and finished by women in the Haitian community in Atlanta.
Martin hopes the dolls will help youngsters feel good about themselves and provide comfort. The dolls are available only to nonprofits, and some that work with adolescents have snapped them up.
Dr. W. Edward Craighead of Emory University recently bought 100 dolls to give to young patients in the university’s child and adolescent mood program.
“We treat a fair number of kids with anxiety,” he said. “I thought some of the young people we see would like these. They’re sort of like a Linus blanket — something that’s comforting.”
Linus was a character in the comic strip “Peanuts” who always clutched a baby blanket to feel a sense of security.
But Craighead also admires the work being done to help women in Haiti.
“People are actually being paid for producing a product,” he said. “That gives them a sense of accomplishment.”
The dolls sell for $12 wholesale.
Ties That Matter actually began as a for-profit company in 2009. But as time went on, “the mission became more important than anything else,” Martin said.
So, in 2011 — roughly a year after a massive earthquake devastated Haiti — the company morphed into a nonprofit with a focus on helping women “who are the most marginalized population.”
Martin had friends who had done mission work in Haiti, so she was familiar with the situation before and after the quake that killed an estimated 300,000 people and left more than 1 million homeless.
Even now, many people still can’t find work and hundreds of thousands still live in squalid camps.
While there are areas that have experienced recovery, “people in the more remote areas were pretty much left high and dry,” she said.
“It’s really hard to imagine such poverty where people have nothing to do,” Martin said.
Ties That Matter helps fill that need for jobs there.
“There are women in Haiti who know how to sew and nothing else — literally,” said Martin, who wrote and illustrated books before shifting her focus to volunteering.
The idea of using ties to help the community came about when her husband was going to throw away some old ties. Instead, he gave them to Martin, who has always been interested in arts and crafts.
She came up with an idea to make small grocery bags out of ties and recruited volunteers to help. They made 1,000 bags that sold for about $6 each, and the proceeds were donated to the Central Outreach and Advocacy Center in Atlanta.
In Haiti, some of the money has been used to help fund education, which Martin sees an an important part of the country’s future.
One woman who has benefited is Maude Volmar, 37, a young mother who recently moved to the U.S. and now lives with a sister in Lithonia.
Volmar, who spoke through a translator, said her house in Port-au-Prince was destroyed by the earthquake and she was forced to live in one of the large tent shelters for displaced residents. Twice she was robbed, and she feared for her safety.
“She feels better here because she doesn’t have any stress and doesn’t have to worry about someone trying to rob her,” said her sister, Junie Auguste. One time she made $80 sewing dolls, which may not seem like much, “but she likes to help other people.”
“She hopes they make more dolls,” Auguste said. “The money helps her with the baby and things she needs for herself. She is happy.”
Ties That Matter will have a launch party for the dolls at 5 p.m. Sunday at Monday Night Brewing, 670 Trabert Ave. N.W.