I've spent a lifetime in mission-driven organizations. The Mother's Day Gift Shop is one of the most rewarding projects I've done.

Many of us remember making Mother's Day gifts in elementary school with simple tools: crayons, glue, maybe a pipe cleaner or finger paint. Yet, even these inexpensive items aren't always available at under-resourced schools, leaving children with few or no options for giving a Mother's Day present.

Wendy Pangburn '78 (art & art history, economics) plans to change that situation, one classroom at a time. In 2009, Pangburn, her niece and her sister, then a teacher in inner-city Atlanta, were discussing the gifts her sister's 30 students would make for their mothers or grandmothers. When her sister mentioned that construction paper was a luxury, the three began to brainstorm ways they could help provide gifts — a project that might honor the memory of Wendy's mother, Janet Geller Pangburn '54, who had passed away three years earlier.

"My niece said, ‘Aunt Wendy, you must have 30 pieces of jewelry that you don't wear anymore,' and that was it," Pangburn says. She gathered her gently worn costume jewelry - necklaces, bracelets, earrings — and displayed them for "sale" in the first Mother's Day Gift Shop in one of the city's poorest communities.

Today, Pangburn and many volunteers operate gift shops in cities across the country, including Atlanta; Washington, D.C.; Little Rock, Ark.; and Rochester, N.Y. More than 8,500 children have participated. "We focus on schools with the National School Lunch Program. If 90 percent of the kids are receiving free meals, we know we're in the right place," she says.

School administrators design the rules for shopping day. Students earn a ticket to "purchase" a gift either through steady attendance, positive attitudes or homework completion. When they arrive, some children know exactly what their caregiver will love, while others are helped by a volunteer personal shopper, Pangburn says. All gifts are wrapped in gift bags with tissue paper and a card.

"It's so easy to collect jewelry from friends and family. Now people leave bags of jewelry on my doorstep," says Pangburn, who is also president of Pangburn Partners LLC, a corporate travel consultancy, and executive vice president of the nonprofit practice at DHR International, an international executive recruiting firm.

"I've spent a lifetime in mission-driven organizations. The Mother's Day Gift Shop is one of the most rewarding projects I've done. The only thing this really takes is time," she says.

For additional information, go to JewelryShopForMom.com.

Posted May 2014