Helping Out


From Rags to Philanthropic Riches

A lifelong passion for crafting leads Erin Carney ’15 to make an impact overseas

Laura Gehrman Rottier | Helping Out | June 23, 2020

Among the constants in University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point alumna Erin Carney’s life are creativity, a love of learning and a devotion to helping others. How fortuitous, then, that these elements have come together in the form of a fundraising venture Erin began while teaching overseas. Using repurposed fabric from worn T-shirts, she has crafted and sold upcycled rugs and personal items, donating the profits to Teachers Across Borders—an organization near and dear to her heart.

Erin got into crafting under the guidance of her mother, learning to knit, sew and crochet as a young girl. Her youthful hobbies stuck with her when she went to Beloit College to study international relations and modern languages in 2001. It was at this time that she volunteered her sewing skills to further the cause of Project Linus, a nonprofit that makes and distributes blankets to children in need. The project gave Erin an outlet for her creative side while allowing her to help others in the process.

After graduation, Erin accepted a position teaching English in Japan for two years. The experience drove home a calling to educate others, and she decided to pursue her license to teach internationally. After a bit of research, she came to the conclusion that UWSP would be a good fit for her.

“I left Japan in August of '07, and within a week I was moved into Stevens Point and enrolled at the university,” she says.

Erin spent three years on the Point campus in pursuit of her international teaching license, which she received in 2010. Later, because of the credits she had racked up, she was awarded a B.S. in education from the university in 2015.

While at UWSP, Erin also expanded on her passion for crafting by learning to spin her own wool, which she could then use in creative projects such the decorative Japanese Temari balls she had begun making. She also had picked up the art of Pysanky (Ukrainian Easter egg decoration), inspired by a demonstration she had witnessed at the Portage County Cultural Festival.

“I really value my education I received at UWSP,” she says, “and the experiences I had.”

During her third and final year on campus, Erin attended an overseas job fair that led to her accepting a teaching position with Brent International School in the Philippines in 2010. Four years later, she moved to the Côte d’Ivoire city of Abidjan to teach at the international community school there. While in Africa, she also spent a year teaching fiber arts to a group of widows through the faith-based mission project Les Femmes de foi de UEESO. Her crafting skills were put to good use as she taught the women to create rugs, potholders and bags using upcycled materials. The goods were then sold to supplement the women’s meager income.

In 2016, Erin moved to the Persian Gulf and a job teaching second-grade students at Riffa Views International School in Bahrain. During her tenure at Riffa Views, she worked toward getting her master’s in international education, receiving her M.Ed. from Massachusetts-based Endicott College in 2019.

It was also in Bahrain that she met fellow Pointer Melissa Davis ’08 (shown, right, with Erin in the image below), who introduced her to Teachers Across Borders (TAB). The nonprofit offers professional development support to teachers in “emerging countries.”

“I first learned Erin was a Pointer before she arrived in Bahrain,” says Melissa. “I feel like that gave us an instant connection. It is pretty crazy to run into someone who went to the same university when you are literally living thousands of miles away from home.”

The two worked together through TAB on a program in partnership with the Bangladesh School in Bahrain and, later, presenting workshops in Uganda.

“I had already become involved with the TAB program in Bahrain, and I was looking at how to help further,” Erin recalls.

She hit upon the idea of selling her handiwork at local winter craft fairs and donating the proceeds to TAB. She started with a small inventory of upcycled rugs, which she had made to give as gifts or simply use in her own home. “ I had all of these supplies,” she says, “and only so much floor space in my house.”

In order to best adapt to consumer demand, Erin learned to make rugs that were larger than her standard model, and created new shapes as well. Also among her unique stock of crafted goodies were versions of the Pysanky eggs and colorful Temari wool balls she had learned to make at Point, which she sold as decorative home ornaments.

“Erin is incredibly caring and generous,” Melissa says. “She is also really creative and is able to see all kinds of situations from different ways.”

Erin is still making rugs to the benefit of others, but she’s added other volunteer efforts to her philanthropic repertoire. Recently, she used her sewing talents to help combat the global COVID-19 pandemic.

“I have just completed making face masks and accepted donation for them,” she reports. “All of the donations went to TAB.”

As reported in “Gulf Weekly” community newspaper, Erin has raised more than $1,500—and counting—for TAB through sales of her crafts. This summer, she plans to keep that philanthropic momentum going when takes a job with Dalian American International School in China.

“I hope to be able to continue my crafting when I am there and find opportunities to carry on my fundraising,” she says.

Members of the Pointer family interested in donating used T-shirts to be made into rugs, or even creating a similar fundraising enterprise to support their own causes, can contact Erin via Instagram @erin.carney2 or email her at

Jeanne Nagle contributed to this story.


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