Where Your Gifts Make a Difference: Top Buttons and Take Heart
Photography by Jordan Randall and Jon Sierra
Lakeland’s charming downtown storefronts are beloved for things like locally sourced products, picturesque hometown curb appeal, and most importantly, the community that has been built between businesses and customers.
Two such shops, both located on North Kentucky Avenue, are Top Buttons and Take Heart, faith-based and people-centric organizations who have gracefully melded the nonprofit sector with successful retail offerings.
When you shop at these stores you might find the perfect gift to elate someone, and you also can experience the joy of knowing that your purchase is helping make a difference.
Top Buttons was founder Sarah Powers’ calling—it just took her a while to recognize that.
She had long been dismayed with how women were increasingly judged in the media based primarily on their physical beauty without much focus on their giftings or skills. She also recognized an increasing need in Lakeland for the empowerment of underserved young women and girls.
“As a mother of daughters, I wanted to help provide a positive fashion resource that was filtered from the commonly sexually explicit content that is associated with the fashion or media industry,” she said.
At first, she thought that passion might look like building an online fashion/positive body image magazine—and she did that, with the help of volunteers and a group of high school students—but over time it morphed into realizing her calling was helping young women right here in our community.
Initially it was funding some “shopping sprees” with young women and teaching them about modesty and body image, and in time Powers shared with anyone who would listen to her vision to provide high-quality, stylish, gently worn clothing and ongoing, Christ-centered mentorship for women.
“As a mother of daughters, I wanted to help provide a positive fashion resource that was filtered from the commonly sexually explicit content that is associated with the fashion or media industry. ’”
– Top Buttons Founder Sarah Powers
Several of her friends who were mothers of middle schoolers, especially students at Lakeland Christian School, echoed her passion and helped her obtain clothing donations.
Top Buttons first opened in Dixieland as a resource center for young women where they could be mentored, and in 2017 they opened the retail storefront in Downtown Lakeland to bring in profits through a thrift store to invest back into women of the community. Combining upscale thrift, an enviable location, and near constant exposure to a historically generous community, the 501(c)(3) bloomed.
With a commitment to expression through fashion and a core belief that clothes can be a tool to help transform lives, Top Buttons Wearing Confidence Program offers participants a potentially life-changing set of services. Young women receive salon services, brand new undergarments, one outfit of professional attire, makeup matched to skin tones, life skills coaching and more.
Top Buttons serves more than 300 local women ages 11-25 each year in partnership with organizations that include PACE Center for Girls, One More Child, Heartland for Children, New Beginnings High School and dozens more.
A local mom of a 10-year-old foster daughter said Top Buttons programming was transformative.
“She has been through a lot and struggles with many of the things that were discussed, such as anxiety, depression and negativity. Thank you for sharing the coping mechanism of gratitude and testimonies that were relatable to what the girls struggle with themselves.”
In the suite next door on North Kentucky Avenue, Plum is run by Top Buttons manager Niki Hoyle. At Plum, shoppers can purchase on-trend (and non-thrifted) women’s clothing and accessories in a boutique setting, and all proceeds help support Top Buttons Initiatives.
Expanding beyond Lakeland, two storefronts in Bartow and Winter Haven continue to touch and ignite even more young women. Top Buttons is also set to open a new location in Downtown St. Petersburg in the coming months, and is working toward being able to offer the option for people across the country to start their own affiliate store.
“I felt like I’m called to work with young people,” Powers said. “And I’ve been blessed with the best team to make it all possible.”
Lakeland location (w/Plum next store): 236 N. Kentucky Ave.
Winter Haven location: 226 W. Central Ave.
Bartow Location: 135 E. Main St.
Lakelanders Delta Ryan and Michelle Johnson did not begin their careers in ministry or in fundraising, but they have always had servant’s hearts, which is evident by the fact they spent years as an physician’s assistant in the ER and public school educator, respectively.
In October 2012, Delta traveled to a rural village in the African nation of Kenya and stayed in an orphanage of teenagers, getting to know them on a deeply personal level while observing the reality of no clean or running water, a highly patriarchal society with limited human rights for women, and cyclical poverty. On that same trip, a young widowed mother took her own life, leaving behind five orphaned children. It was an experience that would forever change Delta’s life.
“I kept thinking about the woman who had hung herself and kept thinking about what I could do to offer women hope, and make sure that they didn’t feel that was their only option,” she said.
Many trips to Kenya later, Delta’s good friend Michelle Johnson joined her. After encountering a pair of earrings with the label “fair trade” in a safari gift shop and speaking with the store’s staff about the origin and meaning of fair trade, Delta and Michelle instantly saw a way to weave charitable initiative with profit. Fair trade is defined as a global movement of artisans from developing nations who craft handmade items for a fair wage in safe working conditions to earn sustainable income.
“I kept thinking about the woman who had hunger herself and kept thinking about what I could do to offer women hope, and make sure that they didn’t feel that was their only option.”
Beginning at the local Downtown Farmers Curb Market and transitioning in 2018 to a brick and mortar storefront, Take Heart has featured work from artisans from more than 40 countries, while still highlighting Lakeland’s very own artisans. By partnering with local schools and with support from the George Jenkins Foundation, Take Heart makes it a priority to pour back into our community, while ultimately making a difference in Kenya. The nonprofit helps widows and orphans overcome poverty through education and entrepreneurship initiatives that are built on a foundation of the love of Jesus.
They provide education sponsorships for more than 100 youth and provide programming that fights the cycles of poverty, violence, suicide and forced marriage.
On the website takeheartafrica.org, it’s easy to find myriad inspiring stories of life change made possible by the nonprofit that are as beautiful as the artisan handbags, jewelry and more that you can buy to support the cause.
Currently, Take Heart is working to build a high-quality primary school in the village they serve, with the goal of providing hope and opportunities for generations to come.