September of 2017, Shelby Ausband was standing in her parent’s kitchen, tears streaming down her face. She had a great job in corporate sales but her heart was far from in it, so she was using her sales skills to pitch an idea to her dad: he would hire her as a controller for his own business, providing an escape from the corporate world she was drowning in, and she would have the freedom to pursue her dream of starting a another nonprofit, as well as her own business.
Fast forward to today, and Shelby is still crunching numbers for the family business, but she is also the cofounder of Project Apoyo, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based out of Antigua, Guatemala, that exists to provide opportunities through education and employment for the community there, AND just a few months ago, she fulfilled the second half of her double-pronged dream by becoming the founder and owner of Hazlo Handmade, a leather goods and handmade product company handcrafted in Guatemala.
In other words, she is one damn good saleswoman…among other things.
Shelby’s love for Guatemala began her senior year of college, when spring break plans fell through last minute, and she ended up with family friends on a mission trip. She counted pills in a clinic for a week and knew she would be back. In true Shelby fashion, she was back in Guatemala a few months later. The girl doesn’t play around.
“After graduation from college, I moved to Guatemala with zero plans, one desire to get nursing experience, too many bags, and all the passion in the world. On day two I found myself in the local hospital giving colonoscopies and endoscopies, which continued every day for the next year.”
While the landscape of Guatemala was beautiful, the dire conditions of those surrounding her were far more striking. The poverty, lack of resources, and nonexistent opportunities for progress were impossible to ignore, so Shelby, along with her best friend, Ty, dug in her heels and started a nonprofit called pur[SHOE]ing joy. They started small, collecting shoes for children who were not allowed to attend school without proper footwear. They ended big, collecting over 22,000 pairs of shoes for children in Guatemala, so that they would be able to attend school and receive an education.
While their success was incredibly admirable, for Shelby and Ty, it wasn’t enough. Even with acceptable footwear, most of the kids were still unable to attend school due to lack of finances for tuition, which stemmed from lack of business opportunities and steady income for their parents. Thus Project Apoyo was born.
If pur[SHOE]ing joy was the feet, Project Apoyo became the hands, offering support (or “apoyo”) to the people of Guatemala through various programs. The scholarship program was created to give the invaluable gift of education to Guatemalan youth by covering a student’s tuition with a $31/month donation from an individual donor. Through the generous donations of a committed team in the United States, Project Apoyo created a nourishment program to provide breakfast for 300+ students at the local school in Manzanillo, offsetting the local government’s inadequate offering of just 1 quetzal ($0.13) per student per day. And the micro-business program was founded to create jobs for business leaders in the community and make entrepreneurial dreams a reality.
While Shelby was elbows deep in the life-changing work of Project Apoyo, her dream to start her own business continued to grow. During her off time that first year in Guatemala, she met someone who sparked a business idea in Shelby’s heart, a way she could meld her love for fashion with her heart for the people of Guatemala.
“When I wasn’t in the hospital or working on the nonprofit, I was sitting in the local market with a woman named Gladys. She is a weaving master and is 100% responsible for my love of all things textile. I have always loved fashion, but after living amongst such poverty in Guatemala, I truly felt like there was no room to love such a materialistic world like fashion. After years of wrestling with the idea, I came up with an idea to make fashion more than just an addition to your closet but instead a conversation starter about the men and women whose hands made it and the opportunities it created for them.”
Just a few months ago, during her spare time ;), Shelby was able to create a tangible representation of this idea with the launch of Hazlo Handmade, a collection of leather and handmade products crafted by the people who first instilled this sense of wonder in Shelby years ago during her early days in Guatemala.
“While Hazlo Handmade seeks to make an impact around the world, we also strive to remain grounded in our roots. This is why every piece of our collection is handcrafted in Guatemala, inspired by its people, culture, and landscape. Our logo intentionally includes a valley, symbolizing the place where we learn, and a mountaintop, symbolizing the place where we rejoice. Our mission is to join others as they carry good from place to place.”
While it appears that Shelby has shattered any and all limitations that stood in the way of her dreams, her journey, like most, has not been without trials.
“I am fulfilled by what I do, but don’t let me fool you. The challenges seem bigger than Everest a lot of days. The language barrier. The cultural barrier. Working in such a corrupt place full of brokenness. The FaceTime meetings with poor Internet. The lack of sleep. Learning when to say yes and no. Being misunderstood. Getting that question: ‘When are you going to get a real job?’ Learning the gift of rest. Being a good friend in the midst of constantly going. There are so many more, but there are has not been one challenge that has not been worth it.”
After fulfilling her dream (s) of creating two nonprofits and her own business, all in service of the people she loves in Guatemala, Shelby is lightyears away from the tears she shed in her parent’s kitchen years ago, and she has no doubt that she is exactly where she needs to be.
“This may be a bit of a Kanye West statement, but the biggest reward of my side hustles is being right where the Lord wants me. Sure I have doubts here and there, but doubt of purpose is one thing I have never let have a seat at the table with me. Sure it took time to get here, it took a few wrong jobs to get here, but I’m here now. SO if you are in a valley of figuring out your purpose, first, tell doubt of purpose to excuse itself. Second, keep on going. You are doing great.”
Thanks for the incredibly inspiring example, Shelby.
Shelby in Ten:
- Alma Mater: University of Mississippi (Hotty Toddy!)
- Feels Most Inspired: At the airport
- Original Career Path: Nursing
- Horn Toot: Shelby was named to Georgia’s Top 30 Under 30 this year!
- Celebrity Crush: Justin Beiber (she is not shy about this)
- Hometown: Atlanta, Georgia
- Dream for Hazlo: Short term: Hire a full-time weaver and leather worker in 2019. Long term: Sell in Neiman Marcus.
- Dream for Project Apoyo: Short term: Launch a second micro business in 2019. Long term: Start a school.
- Birth Rank: Middle child
- She Needs You: Click here to see the many ways you can get involved with Project Apoyo.