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Grand Forks nonprofit supports artists through ‘Money in Your Hands’ project

‘Love in Action’ organization provides an opportunity for artists to display and sell their artwork, share their talents and earn extra money.

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Simone Tillman shows one her works being sold through Love in Action, in the Center for Community Impact at 414 University Ave.
Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald
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GRAND FORKS – On a mission trip to Mexico about six years ago, Doris Lebby met a mother of five who was living in poverty.

“The woman said she could cook, sew and do crafts,” Lebby said.

“I kept hearing, ‘the money is in her hands,’ ” she remembered. She heard it inside.

“I felt God was saying to me, 'the money is in her hands.' ”

The message was “you don’t have to rely on other people. You don’t have to live in poverty – you can have that stability for your family,” she said.

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A few years later, this encounter inspired the “Money in Your Hands” project, which Lebby launched as part of Love in Action, a nonprofit, faith-based organization housed in the Center for Community Impact at 414 University Ave. Lebby is president and a founder of Love in Action.

Right inside the entrance, a separate area is dedicated to the “Money in Your Hands” project. It is filled with items artists have made to sell, including paintings, jewelry, home decor, candles, mugs and handcrafted cards.

Imprinted T-shirts are hanging overhead and, in a nearby clear display case, various essential oil products and items decorated with Native American art are on display.

Through the Money in Your Hands project, Lebby encourages people to discover and use their talents to create items they can then sell. The full sale price of each item goes to the artist.

“We feel that everyone has a different talent that they can use to come out of poverty, make extra money, and just be a blessing to other people,” she said.

“We all have something about us – gifts and talents and skills we can offer to give to others, gifts we can all share.”

Lebby encourages homeless people, veterans and others to recognize and use those talents. Her background includes working with the homeless through a family support center while her husband was in the military. They moved to Grand Forks in 2006.

In a previous job here, she worked with veterans who were experiencing homelessness, she said. “We were housing the veterans, but they were getting lonely in their homes – but we also noticed that they were very gifted.”

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She and others started the Arts for Vets program, and encouraged veterans to get involved in the program.

“The talent that’s come out of it has surprised them,” she said. “They discover who they are and what’s in them. It’s amazing to see.”

She’s been working with the homeless for more than 10 years, she said. “Some are living on the streets. They gather together to support each other.”

The Center for Community Impact provides a comforting, welcoming place for them and others to do that.

Providing an outlet for artists

About 10 artists have work available for sale at the Center for Community Impact, Lebby said.

One of them is Simone Tillman, who, along with her husband was stationed at Grand Forks Air Force Base. They came to Grand Forks in 2013 and transitioned out of the military a couple of years ago. Tillman’s husband works on the base and they live in rural Grand Forks.

About two years ago, she was encouraged by a military friend to more seriously pursue her interest in painting. She was struggling with postpartum depression after the birth of her second child.

Delving into painting proved to be therapeutic, she said.

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Painting helped her through “a tough time,” she said. “It got me out of a funk.”

Her friend also encouraged her involvement in the Love in Action organization.

“I love it,” she said. “I’m really really grateful.”

Tillman, who creates graphite drawings and oil and acrylic paintings, said the Money in Your Hands project “gave me an awesome opportunity” to show and sell her artwork.

The mother of three children — ages 3, 18 months and 11 weeks old — said she paints “a lot of Black women,” but has branched out to other subjects, such as flowers and portraits, including pet portraits. She also does commission work.

Through the Money in Your Hands project, Tillman has sold quite a few pieces. Her work can also be found on Facebook and Instagram.

Tillman is grateful that Love in Action has helped connect her with the Grand Forks community.

“There are a lot of things I didn’t even know were going on.”

She’s attended quite a few cultural events at the center, which hosts an “open mic night,” the second Saturday evening of each month at The Ember, where anyone can share their talents, such as singing, poetry, comedy, or motivational speaking.

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Pamela Knudson is a features and arts/entertainment writer for the Grand Forks Herald.

She has worked for the Herald since 2011 and has covered a wide variety of topics, including the latest performances in the region and health topics.

Pamela can be reached at pknudson@gfherald.com or (701) 780-1107.
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