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Denisse Montalvan
2018

Denisse Montalvan

The David Chow Humanitarian 2018 Award

When Denisse Montalvan was a college student at California State University, Dominguez Hills, she made and sold jewelry to help pay for her tuition and books. Two years ago, Montalvan converted her homemade project into a non-profit called The Orphaned Earring, because she uses orphaned earrings — the earring leftover when its matching pair is lost — and makes a home for it within a beaded bracelet. She then sells the finished bracelet for $10 each.

“People always told me, ‘I have all these orphaned earrings, and I don’t know what to do with them,’” says the Costa Rica-born, Nicaragua-raised Montalvan. “I was already helping an orphanage in Nicaragua, but I was putting a lot out of my own pocket.” She says she had just graduated and didn’t have a stable job yet, so giving back was taking too much out of her finances. “I emptied everything out of my jewelry box and made my first two bracelets out of my orphaned earrings,” says Montalvan. “One day it just hit me — how many women out there are just like me who save their orphan earrings? I’m sure they would be willing to donate. They need a home.” She says she made a one-time donation of almost $700 to buy the material needed to make the bracelets such as beads, crystals and string, but since then the non-profit business has been sustaining itself. Since its inception, The Orphaned Earring has raised nearly $5,000 and helps feed about 30 kids a day in orphanages in Colombia, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Mexico.