TUPELO – Wynn Howell didn’t set out to be a teenage missionary/entrepreneur. It just sort of happened.
The 16-year-old Tupelo resident first opened her grandmother’s craft jewelry box a couple of years ago just for fun.
“I had a box of my grandmother’s jewelry-making stuff. She was super crafty. I started messing around with it and it just sort of started from there,” Howell said.
Howell, who will be a junior at Tupelo High School this year, took to jewelry-making naturally, and soon started her own business – “Taproot Designs By Wynn.” She explained the origins of the name.
“I came up with the name ‘Taproot’ at my grandfather’s birthday party,” she said. “He was talking about how a family is like a tree with a deep taproot that goes way down, and as it grows the tree branches out.”
“Taproot” turned out to be an apt name for Howell’s venture – enabling her to do some branching out of her own.
Last summer, sales from “Taproot” generated enough money to buy airline tickets for Howell and her father to visit Casa de Mariposas, or The Butterfly House, – a home for abandoned infants in La Guama, Honduras. Howell’s relatives, Brian and Charity Scott, are the directors of Casa de Mariposas.
“A lot of people in Honduras are just in survival mode,” she said. “Sometimes babies get left at the hospital because the mother can’t afford to keep them, and some of them are on the streets and in bad condition.”
This summer, Howell repeated the trip on her own, again raising her own funds. This time, she stayed in the home for four weeks and shared her jewelry-making skills with eight women from La Guama who work at Casa de Mariposas as childcare providers.
“I wondered which ones would enjoy it; which ones would get it,” she said. “They all got it. They just took off and got so creative. We had a big table with all the supplies laid out, and before long they were teaching each other. It was awesome.”
Howell said the Honduran women, who each work eight-hour shifts at the home, got so enthused they didn’t want to leave.
“They’d come early and stay after their shifts were over,” she said. “They just love creating – being in control and being as creative as they want. You’d get to see them come to life.”
Howell said the women working at the home took her in and helped her adapt to her new environment.
“When I went before, I was with Americans. This time it was just me,” she said. “I learned to live intertwined with the culture.The women there welcomed me, and they were super helpful. They’d help each other try to explain things to me.”
Howell said her experiences with that group of women helped expand her ideas about her enterprise, and possibly her future.
“Getting to teach them, and them teaching me – it just sparked something in me. I think it started a little fire in me,” she said. “Before that, I stayed to myself when I made jewelry. Now I want to learn more about fair trade and international business, maybe even go to school to learn more about that.”
She said while her interests might be a bit unconventional for a 16-year-old girl, her friends don’t think too much about it.
“They just go with it,” she said.
Howell said while most of the Hondurans she met were poor by American standards, they had something most affluent people lack.
“Most of them are in survival mode, but they’re content. They’re not searching for more, but I feel like I am, and most Americans are. It helped me see how many things I take for granted,” she said. “We see them as poor, but they’re just doing the best they can.”
Howell said she plans to keep making jewelry, and to keep helping others ”come to life.”
“I wouldn’t be scared to do it again by myself,” she said. “There’s just something about Central America. I don’t know why, but there’s just something.”