When sophomore Kaitlyn Redlegs started volunteering for the Vermillion branch of Sharing the Dream in Guatemala, she knew it wouldn’t be a typical retail experience.
“It’s different from all the other stores on Main Street,” Redlegs said.
Sharing the Dream in Guatemala is a non-profit organization that sells products imported from Guatemala, including coffee, jewelry and clothing items.
Profits and donations from the store are sent to Guatemala, supporting traditional artisans and funding projects, such as an elders’ center and a Meals on Sandals program. The parent organization, Friends of Sharing the Dream in Guatemala began in 1996 and the Vermillion location opened on Main Street around 2008.
Redlegs isn’t the only local student to volunteer for the organization.
After Katie Kammert graduated from the University of South Dakota in 2013, she wanted a different experience before she started graduate school or joined the workforce.
Kammert volunteered in Guatemala for three months, traveling across the country, before returning to South Dakota and beginning an internship with Sharing the Dream in Guatemala. In early September, she worked in the local store for the organization working on sales and publicity for the location.
“It really brings the entire picture full circle,” Kammert said. “When people walk in, you try to tell them what we’re about, but when you go down there, you see that Sharing the Dream is so much more than this store.”
Prior to her internship, Kammert spent four years volunteering at the store. In Guatemala, she was able to see first-hand how the sales benefited communities, striving to make the communities self-sufficient.
“That’s where you can see the change in the community,” Kammert said.
Volunteers aren’t restrained to working in the Main Street store, Michele Mechling, store manager, said.
Volunteers are also used to bring the store’s products to different communities.
“Generally what we get back is the cash, not the products,” Mechling said.
The Vermillion location orders the products from Guatemala and unsold products are shipped to different Sharing the Dream in Guatemala locations. When products are ordered, the Guatemalan artisans receive 50 percent of the profits, and the rest is sent once the product is sold.
Mechling said the store also prides itself on promoting free trade, where artisans receive a larger profit from the sale of the products.
“They get paid what they deserve rather than a whole bunch of people dipping into the dollar and taking their cut,” Mechling said.
But for student volunteers, the few hours they spend in the shop each week help add up to a rewarding experience.
“It was an escape from campus for me,” Kammert said.
Although the store stocks a variety of products, the volunteers know the local favorite.
“A lot of locals come in, you see them making a beeline for the coffee,” Kammert said. “That’s probably more popular.”
Redlegs said most of the store’s customers are regulars, many of which come in to purchase coffee.
“Who doesn’t love fresh ground Guatemalan coffee?” Redlegs said.
(Michele Mechling, the store manager of Sharing the Dream, unpacks hand made Guatemalan mugs in the store’s back room Friday. Malachi Petersen / The Volante)