** We are all inspired by something in particular. For me, it’s people who have struggled and pushed through it to emerge even stronger; the people who don’t get bitter, they get BETTER. Even more than I admire strength, I love to surround myself with people who find joy in making the lives of others brighter. Put the two together, and it’s the perfect storm for me. Joey embodies this perfect storm that I crave. When I decided to write about people that motivate me, naturally, Joey came right to mind. I hope that her story and her mission can inspire others as much as it inspires me. **
One of the first people I met when I began my initial year of teaching was a curly-haired gem named Joey. I instantly knew that her name fit her personality perfectly – she was everything you’d expect a woman named “Joey” to be: kind, bubbly and outgoing. She was also incredibly creative, which I guess you’d assume any art teacher would need to be. She was exceptionally “artsy” though – the sets for all of the kids’ concerts at our elementary school were always outstanding, and she threw together an annual art show like no other. Her energy showed in her work; it was contagious … and it still is.
Even though I haven’t taught in quite a few years, and Joey has since moved to other schools in district, we have remained in touch, mainly thanks to social media. Since the first day we introduced ourselves, I’ve watched Joey thrive in her creative career and become a remarkable mother to her (now teenaged) son, Blake. I’ve also watched her suffer incredible personal losses. She has had some intense ups and downs over the years, and she’s managed to keep her positive spirit through it all.
Joey describes herself as someone who has to keep moving. She has so much energy that it took a fractured foot to (somewhat) slow her down in 2014, but it didn’t stop her creative juices from flowing; instead, it kicked her imagination into higher gear. She couldn’t move around much, but she was still able to order some beginner’s knitting supplies off of Amazon, as she had always been interested in exploring the world of “fiber art”.
It didn’t take long before Joey was knitting hats for individuals in need and recruiting others to join her mission. In the fall of 2014, she established the community Jo-Jo’s Lids for Kids: “where fashion meets charity.” The group knits hats for children – and also adults – who cannot afford to buy them. That January, along with her son, Blake, Joey ventured to two shelters in NYC with an assortment of beautiful handmade hats to do her first “hat drop.” They personally handed the hats out to the homeless, and adorned trees and fences with them, enabling adults and children to help themselves. The tags that hang from each hat read, “If you are COLD, please take me so you can keep warm.” When we last spoke, Joey was getting ready to tag her next batch of hats, soon to be dropped off in a New Jersey inner city.
Of course, Joey shares her love of fibers with her students, too. One of the clever hashtags I’ve noticed on her social media posts is: #practicewhatyouteach. She calls this art medium “Knifitti,” and her project was featured a few years back on an episode of Classroom Close-up. Her “Knifitti” adventure goes beyond the classroom, as well. Perhaps you’ve noticed her work at the Ramsey Public Library, or maybe you’ve seen a colorful bench wrapped in yarn along the side of the road that once looked a little “sad”. Her dream, which I have no doubt she will accomplish, is to one day have her own show at the Montclair Art Museum (MAM).
When the school day is over, you’ll most likely find Joey in her home’s art studio, where a funky rack of bright spools of yarn is the focal point. In this simple yet beautifully decorated studio, Joey unwinds by making stunning pieces of jewelry. Not only are these pieces nice to look at, they can also be infused with essential oils. (For more information on how you can order her unique, handmade pieces, visit her Instagram page.)
Joey says she is “on this earth to make it a little more beautiful.” I think that even more than that, her purpose – her mission – is making the lives of all she impacts a lot brighter. I hope that after reading about Joey, you are inspired to try that “thing” you’ve always wanted to try. I hope that you don’t let anything keep you down, and even if it does for a little while, I hope you come back up even stronger. I hope that if you haven’t already done so, that you find what you love and spread it like wildfire … or even better … spread it like yarn.
Joey’s entire outfit is from the Kristin Dahl Boutique, located in Midland Park, NJ. Instagram: @kristindahlfashions (Blazer: Black Tape / Cami: Bailey44 / Jeans: Tractr)