“I had somehow became a part of their transformation,” Surekha Kulkarni said. “From diffident to confident, and dependent to independent.”
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — In 1986, Surekha Kulkarni and her husband, Suhas, uprooted their family of four from India to move to Kentucky.
“We did not move here for money or fame or fortune,” Surekha Kulkarni said.
She said her young son was in Kindergarten when she learned he was dyslexic and needed more educational instruction, instruction that the de Paul School in Louisville provided.
But moving from one country isn’t a simple task.
When her family arrived to the U.S, the country was in the middle of a recession, so despite all of her husband’s degrees and experience, no where would hire him.
Surekha and Suhas bought a grocery store on Oak and Swan St., which they owned an operated for years having no prior experience.
Surekha said the community welcomed their store, called the 828, with open arms, but “they could not pronounce our names.”
“So they changed it,” she said. “I became Sue, and Suhas became Sam.”
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When not working at the store, Surekha volunteered at the de Paul School’s library, which she said may have been the start of her career of giving back.
Within three years, Surekha’s family was back on track which gave her the confidence to say: “You can do whatever you want.”
Surekha went back to India for a stay and decided to take a jewelry class in her free time. “I enjoyed it so much that I haven’t stopped,” she said.
While volunteering with the Kentucky Refuge Ministries, Surekha said that she realized she loved to teach and connect people.
“It was amazing to see the transformation,” she said. “Because in the beginning, these women came from various countries, like Iraq, and the Congo. All faced terrible ravages. They were traumatized.”
That’s when Surekha made the Beaded Treasures Project a reality.
The non-profit organization trains underprivileged women in jewelry making and other home-based skills, as well as basic financial literacy, to give them financial independence and self-confidence.
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In 2019, Beaded Treasures became a part of Volunteers of America.
“This was way more that I expected. Quite amazing like, I had somehow became a part of their transformation,” Surekha said. “From diffident to confident, and dependent to independent.”
Surekha said she hopes that people remember that once you step out of your comfort zone, “there’s no stopping you.”
“I’m the perfect example of that,” she said. “We are the ones that hold ourselves back. And we can make a difference. Each one of us can make a difference. Look at me!”
Surekha said her son is doing well and now works for a corporation. Her new project, “Empowering Beads,” will be a pop-up shop this summer on the weekends at the Norton Commons.
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