Royal Oak, MI—Gem Legacy is a charity that has turned its founder’s love of gemstones into a positive impact on local African communities where the gems are mined. Gem Legacy supports education, vocational training, and local economies in East African mining communities, and Dery’s passion to help has spread to fellow jewelers.
“Gems have a remarkable power to change the trajectory of the lives they touch. Gems are a beacon of light for those who find them: second chances, new beginnings, and security to struggling families. It is time to raise up an army to support the husbands, wives, daughters, sons, brothers, sisters, granddaughters, and grandsons of gemstones,” says founder Roger Dery, Roger Dery Gem Design, through the website.
And Gem Legacy has changed the trajectory of lives, with the help of Dery’s wife Ginger and daughter Rachel, plus some retail jewelers who felt they got just as much out of the experience as the charity did!
Ginger, Roger, and Rachel Dery, above. Below, the children eagerly dig through the books and toys as they arrive.
“We did a book drive event,” said Laurie Kottke of Laurie Kottke Fine Jewelers, Minneapolis, MN. “I began collecting books in June at our Gem Tasting Event with Roger Dery, and continued through my trip with him to Africa in August. I put a sign in the window next to an open suitcase and began to collect. I even spoke to my Rotary group about it during an educational talk about gems. Everyone donated. Some days I’d come to work and find books by the door. All total, it was about 150 pounds of books! Some people donated money and we used that to buy books that were more culturally diverse to take to Africa.”
Kottke’s best memories from the trip were actually seeing the orphanage where the books were going, and seeing how the children reacted to them. “Here in America, kids have everything. I was amazed how special the books were to the kids. I remember vividly seeing the kids from the neighborhoods taking the books home, walking down the street, being so excited and happy. I will never forget that.”
Holly Schafer of Waterfall Jewelers, Waterford, MI had a similar experience, working with Dery and also traveling to Africa. “Seeing firsthand what the charity is doing is the best part,” she said. “It hit home to me when I saw where the money we raised and the books were going. The children in the orphanages didn’t have a place for their books. They were piled on the floor. So one night our travel group (10 people, not counting the Derys) brainstormed about what they could do for the kids. In the end, along with the donated books, we funded 28 lockers for them. It was like an auction. We all committed to a number and then we did a bit more to make it happen for all 28.” When Schafer returned home, she passed along the needs to her customers, many of whom donated the money to fund one.
“Customers were saying, ‘I’ll take a locker’ and donating – it was wonderful!”
The best part for Schafer is seeing the progress in the orphanage. “The Derys go over there so often, they see the progress and share it with us. It’s ongoing. Whatever they need, we want to help.”
Gina Hawkins of Cline Jewelers, Edmonds, WA had a great experience as well.
“We had so many people donate books and some of them were not customers yet! We talked with the Edmonds Bookshop located a few doors down from us about what we were doing, and they loved it so much they offered our customers a discount on the children's books they purchased for the drive. Overall, we had a great opportunity to interact with the Edmonds community, share why I was going to Africa, and where the books were going.”
“It was a dream come true to go on this trip! I had the opportunity to give back to community that has dedicated their lives to mining gemstones. I have loved gemstones since I was a kid, but now I got to see not only where they came from, but how they got from the earth to the gem cutter to my store. Tracing gemstone origin is a hot topic these days, but it's important not to miss the message. When you buy the gem where it is sourced you keep the dollars in that community, giving them the opportunity to improve their lives. Gem Legacy is helping mining communities with improved mining conditions as well as doing things like the book drive. At the store, this experience gave us the opportunity to talk with our community about how gemstones can change lives and gave them a chance to come in to the store to learn about us and what we do.”
And even jewelers who didn’t collect books were happy to contribute. Maggie Szekely-Lusso, Servis & Taylor, Los Angeles, CA had more books than she knew what to do with. “While we have not yet travelled to Africa, we did send the Derys home with more than 50 pounds of beautiful children’s books. We donated the books and a one-year scholarship on behalf of our story and clients jointly.”
Servis and Taylor also carries handmade African souvenirs in their store that they can sell with proceeds going to Gem Legacy.
Gem Legacy supports a number of orphanages and programs in Africa. Visit their website and/or contact them to contribute. The book drive is only one way to help – there are others that can help connect gemstones sold here with the people that mine them.