A Neenah couple is changing hundreds of lives in the Philippines through a non-profit organization they created called Threads of Hope. It all started back in 1998 when Christian missionary Alex Kuhlow had a chance meeting on a beach in Puerto Galera that would change an impoverished community forever.
Pointing to a photo, he said, "This is a very common scene. You'd see young girls trying to sell to a foreigner there."
But while selling the homemade bracelets, Kuhlow said the children were targeted by sex traffickers.
"One of the girls that we knew gave in to that temptation, and we haven't seen her since."
To prevent that from happening again, Kuhlow befriended a girl on the beach named Alona.
"She was around seventeen at the time. She had to drop out of school at grade three to be selling on the beaches to help provide for her siblings and parents."
Kuhlow gave Alona $100.
"Next time I stepped foot on that beach, she gave me 1,200 bracelets. I said, 'No, this is way too many.' She said, 'No, this was a good income for my family for an entire month."
Kuhlow traveled back to Neenah. He began handing out the bracelets at Calvary Bible Church where some parishoners suggested he sell them. Kuhlow gave them to a gift shop at a bible camp in Rhinelander. They sold out in a matter of days.
"They didn't keep any money for themselves. They just handed me $1,000 and said go back and take care of that family." So, he did.
"I gave her $1,000 and her eyes got real wide. I said, 'I want you to make me $1,000 worth of bracelets.' Now, she had to get her friends and her family to help her."
This cycle continued. Kuhlow began selling the bracelets at local festivals such as the 4th of July celebration at Riverside Park in Neenah and Lifest in Oshkosh. Then, sports teams in Wisconsin and across the globe got onboard.
"We make it a risk free fundraiser. They say, 'We think we can sell 1,000.' I send them 1,000. Whatever they sell, they get to keep 50%. Whatever they don't sell, they return and that's how the vast majority of them are sold now.
Kuhlow created the non-profit organization, Threads of Hope, in 2003.
"Today we buy about, depending on the exchange rate, between $20,000 and $25,000 worth of bracelets every month from about 700 people."
Kuhlow said 100% of the proceeds go back to the village. With the funds, they've built a church, a community center with a basketball court, a high school and a birthing clinic.
"A lot of these women they give birth to their babies in their homes. Dirt floors. Awful conditions. We have a wonderful facility."
Those who buy the bracelets are also impacted. Kuhlow's wife, Chris, shared the story of a man who visited their booth at the Wisconsin State Fair. He heard about how Threads of Hope came to be.
"He started getting tears and Robin said, 'Why are you crying?' He said, 'I used to be in the military in the Philippines and I was one of those men.' He said he had since become a Christian and his life had changed," explained Chris.
Alex said the goals of Threads of Hope are simple.
"We just want to share Jesus with them."
They also want to protect children from predators and improve their education and health by providing an opportunity to earn a stable income and dignity all through some simple strands of thread.
"When you see that their life has been changed from destruction to life and hope, it's so worth it. It's totally worth it," Chris said.
In the future, the Kuhlows hope to buy a plot of land and subdivide it. They would allow squatters to make bracelets to pay off their piece of the property that would never be taken away.
Threads of Hope recently captured the attention of a filmmaker who is now considering turning the Kuhlow's story into a movie.