All Images courtesy of The Women's Wisdom Initiative
Traveling Postcards are handmade postcards containing portraits of love and words of solidarity. They are created to share wisdom with and facilitate healing for those women who are survivors of violence and abuse around the world.
Join Petaluma newcomer Caroline Lovell, Founding Director of non-profit The Women's Wisdom Initiative for an extraordinary afternoon of art making and social change on April 12th at the Petaluma Art Center from 1pm to 3pm.
Traveling Postcards are created by anyone with a desire to reach out to other women, a desire to enact change, empower women and girls and help battle oppression.
No artistic experience is needed! You must be 12 or older to participate. Men are welcome and are encouraged to create cards in memory or celebration of key women in their lives.
All of the postcards created in Petaluma on April 12th will be delivered to Verity, Sonoma County's sole rape crisis center.
I sat down with Caroline over breakfast at Della Fattoria's downtown Petaluma cafe on a Monday morning this spring to find out more about The Women's Wisdom Initiative, Traveling Postcards and Traveling Heart Hospital Bags.
We first met through a mutual friend at dinner downtown, a few months after Caroline moved to Petaluma from the East Bay
Caroline commutes to Berkeley to run The Women's Wisdom Initiative, a global force that operates through gentle strength, creativity and support. Seeking a simpler, more peaceful home life, this inspiring and gifted visionary artist and her husband (also an artist) chose to settle here in Southern Sonoma County now that their three children are grown.
The fact that someone as innovative, warm and wise as Caroline picked this community in which to nurture herself and her family, in my mind speaks volumes for this place we call home.
I couldn't wait to hear more about what it is she does and how it was she came to create Traveling Postcards program six years ago, and, in turn, its umbrella organization, The Women's Wisdom Initiative, last year.
"Traveling Postcards had grown to such an extent that it needed taking to the next level," explained Caroline, whose first career was as a professional photographer specializing in portraiture.
With a degree in psychology and art and a masters in transformative arts, Caroline's emphasis has long since been working within community using healing properties of creativity.
Yet as a photographer, she grappled with that one illusive image that would effect change.
"I was focused on the idea of a single, beautiful photograph to change the world," she said. When, at age 40, this fine art photography revelation had yet to materialize, Caroline embarked on her major in transformative arts.
Life, as it tends to do, took its twists and turns and when she needed to take a break from her studies, the mother of three launched into full time work for five years as an admissions counselor at John F. Kennedy University (located in San Jose, Pleasant Hill and Berkeley).
"It enabled me to work full time and finally to get my master's degree," she said. It allowed her to be an artist and, in her words: "coming out as an artist was a big deal".
Caroline's believing in herself as a healing artist able to make a difference in a community and in the world brought her full circle to an early adult passion for women's rights. "I grew up in the 70s, when there was a lot of change for women," she said. With a photographer's eye for vintage postcards of people in thrift and antique stores, Caroline began taking notice of the messages most often scribbled on the back.
"Each person in these postcards had a complete history," she said. I felt the connection. The essence of memory and what's left behind. I wanted to know more about them".
When a friend invited her to Africa, Caroline embarked on a soul searching journey to raise travel funds. She set up a portrait studio and long tables in a friend's house and invited others to make postcards with their pictures.
"It was like an old fashioned sewing circle," she said. "The concept being to come together as a community because someone needs something. Making something for someone else with our hands connects us to one another on a deeper level".
Caroline spoke of our busy lives, of how few people take time to spend quality with family and close friends. "Women do, though," she said. "All over the world, when women feel safe, they talk and they pass that wisdom on to sisters, friends, neighbors".
She provided all of the art materials for the first workshop with the main idea to share wisdom on a postcard that would be given to a woman the postcard maker would never meet.
"All the postcards went to Africa and more came back," she said. Though Caroline was, to her immense disappointment, ultimately unable to make the trip herself, she was bolstered by the realization that in life: "most of us don't get to go".
Rather than feel that she hadn't the power to do anything, she incorporated the intimacy of connection the first postcards had created into a dynamic new humanitarian program in an arena that not many people had been willing to talk about.
"No-one wanted to talk about domestic violence or rape," she said. "Through Traveling Postcards I was able to connect from a positive, self empowering place. I was able to say, I see you, I want to share this wisdom".
Caroline speaks passionately on "Women's Talk". So often ridiculed for its unimportance, she advocates its essential role in women's lives. "It is the most powerful thing we have to share. That wisdom — when we make a card we are choosing the colors, shapes, words, we are personally involved. No two cards ever are the same."
A 4x6 card is not very threatening. It is something handmade that can be easily stored in a backpack or a dresser. Card making has provided thousands of women in shelters across the country with the chance to speak, to share their wisdom with other women in other shelters.
"They have so much to say," said Caroline. Women in shelters have been told, many for all of their lives that they have no value, that they have nothing to say.
One of Caroline's favorite inspirations was gleaned from the words of one of the wisest — Mother Teresa: "In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love".
It struck me that Caroline's path to creating such a profoundly caring, wide-reaching non-profit was paved with the simplest of stepping stones.
In conversations with women in my life, one of the most common themes is how to shape a fulfilling, generous, giving and meaningful life.
Caroline leads by example with the development of The Women's Wisdom Initiative through an initial idea as pure and uncluttered as making cards. "Everyone loves to make and receive a card," she said.
Crisis centers around the country began asking to put a card in every hospital care bag handed to women who undergo medical examination after rape or violence trauma.
"These are cards that are from someone who cares. I care about you, they say, you are not to blame. It starts the healing process," said Caroline.
It is her and the "fantastic" board of the Women's Wisdom Initiative's goal to put a card in every single bag across the country.
Given that these care bags, containing toiletries and a change of clothes are typically plastic, The Initiative came up with the idea of the Traveling Heart Bag, sturdy on the outside and soft on the inside, like women. Each bag has a pocket for a card, clothes and toiletries, a list of resources and a subtle message "Bring Your Heart With You".
These beautiful bags are being made in Nashville, Tennessee by another heart warming non-profit named Sew For Hope. Women who are political refugees are taught to sew and given a sewing machine of their own at the end of a 10 class course.
"We never want these bags to be seen as a stigma," said Caroline, who had brought one along with her to breakfast. It was just the sort of lovely, designer-handcrafted carry-all I'd expect to see on the back of a chair in Della.
"The idea is for all of us to carry one of these bags in solidarity," she said.
I came away from our window table wondering how many people I might share this story with. I hope that you will pass a link along to everyone you know who might have a heart to sign up for the Traveling Postcards Workshop at the Petaluma Arts Center this April 12th.
Make a card, buy a bag. Enjoy the company of others. Pass your words of wisdom to a woman who needs it most.
Caroline also leads her inspirational workshops in private homes. These are vital fundraisers for The Women's Wisdom Initiative. Each workshop is asked to raise a starting point of $1,000 to, in turn, fund workshops in women's shelters across the country. Generally, everyone who attends a private workshop donates a specific amount, depending upon how many people it takes to meet the $1,000 goal.
What: Traveling Postcards Workshop
When: Sunday, April 12, 1:00pm-3:00pm
Where: Petaluma Arts Center, 230 Lakeville Street- Plenty of easy parking!
Register: $7 material fee*
Reserve your seat by clicking here!
Beverages & snacks included
NOTE: limited to 40 participant
* Scholarships available; contact us at GuidedToSafety@gmail.com
Guided to Saftey is Sonoma County’s Resource for education and information on Domestic Violence, Teen Dating Violence and Sexual Assault. The nonprofit was founded as a community effort to shed light on unpleasant subjects and demonstrate the necessity to talk about domestic, sexual, and dating violence. GTS supports Petaluma and surrounding communities without prejudice to age, race, gender or sexual preference.