Akola Project Gives Women A Second Chance to Succeed

Inside a trendy shop in Dallas' Deep Ellum neighborhood, customers browse through handmade jewelry collections made by women who needed a second chance.

In a room full of stones and string, there are stories of overcoming the odds.

"I'm a recovering addict," said Annette Bailey. "I've been in recovery for four years now."

Bailey has experienced life's lows, but now she sees promise.

"I'm able to take care of my needs and some of my wants," Bailey added.

Bailey found work and a purpose, through the Akola Project.

"They have the drive and the heart. They want to make a difference in their families and in their communities, they just needed an opportunity to do it," said owner Brittany Merrill Underwood.

Underwood launched the business after a life-changing trip to Uganda. It was the summer of 2004 when she met a woman who had sacrificed everything she had to care for 24 orphans who slept on her floor.

"I was shaken out of my complacency," Underwood said.

She then took action through the Akola Project, which means "She Works" in the Ugandan dialect.

"We started a jewelry business as a way for women to earn income," Underwood said.

The company's necklaces will soon be featured in Neiman Marcus stores across the country.

Now 100 women in North Texas are piecing together jewelry while rebuilding their lives.

"I wake up extra early sometimes because I'm so anxious to get up here to work," said Shemah Johnson.

Johnson heard about Akola when she was at the end of her rope.

"Just using drugs and not being the good, responsible person, as far as a parent," she said. "I overcame that and now I feel like there's nothing I couldn't do now."

The women all share similar stories.

And thanks to Underwood, they're still writing the final chapter.

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