In late November 2014, Catherine Zahn was interviewed by BC The Mag about her second “career” as founder of Gracie Greene, LLC. She sells tote bags and pillows made out of coffee bean sacks; proceeds go to their foundation – the Giving Three Foundation. This foundation has funded the building and opening of a school in the village of Koh Prak in the Kandal province of Cambodia, which they named the Zahn School.
Since Sydney ’17 and her sisters – Morgan ‘12, now a junior majoring in science at Franklin and Marshall, and Sydney’s twin sister Alexandra, a student at The Pennington School – are heavily involved in the organizations, as their mother says, it was time to get Sydney’s take:
- How did you come up with the names “Gracie Greene” and “The Giving Three Foundation”?
We wanted the “Greene” name to reflect recycling, and Gracie sounded good with Greene. The Giving Three Foundation is a take-off from a favorite book, “The Giving Tree”, and [since] we have three children in our family, my mother wanted to make reference to that.
- What role do you play in Gracie Greene? Your mom mentioned that you and your sisters help with the website and tote bag designs – is this still true, or have you expanded on your role?
My sisters and I do give our mother ideas on what is trending in our age group for the tote bags. I also go to some shows with my mother to sell the totes and pillows, and I still help [with] different aspects of the website.
- In the interview, your mom mentioned you would be going to Cambodia as a family last December – was this your first trip there? What was it like to see the school? What else did you get to do while you were there?
Our trip to Cambodia this past December was our first visit to Phnom Penh. The school dedication was much more than we expected. The children lined the streets as we walked down the lane to the school, and my parents were each given a large bouquet of flowers. School and government officials were at the ceremony to give speeches, and the monks were there to bless all of us. The students were so excited. The children and their parents all attended the dedication. My parents each gave a speech, which was translated to Khmer as they spoke.
Next we visited an orphanage and an upper school for some of the brightest students. There is great poverty there, and the students were so happy to receive the small gifts we brought. We spoke with the headmaster and made a list of the most-needed items for the school, which will be our priority as we collect money from our pillow and tote sales.
We visited a shop called Daughters of Cambodia, run by young girls trying to make a better life for themselves. We also visited several outdoor markets, which are very different than markets at home.
We also visited the Killing Fields, where three million people were murdered by the Khmer Rouge. It was very sad.
We left Phnom Penh for a few days and flew to Siem Reap, where we visited famous old temples. Angkor Wat is one of the most famous temples, built in 1300. Angelina Jolie filmed the Tomb Raider movie at another famous temple we visited.
We visited a floating village where people live in small houseboats on the river and drag their homes to different locations as the water levels change.
We went to a New Year’s Eve party at our hotel back in Phnom Penh and enjoyed some Cambodian traditions.
We hope to return in about two years to visit the school again. This was a very memorable trip!
- Gracie Greene has been around for six years now, while the school is just celebrating its first year this month. Are there any new developments in the works for Gracie Greene, the Foundation and/or the school?
We are always working to create new opportunities at the school. Currently we are using the funds from our sales for a Computer and English Language Program. Two bathrooms were recently constructed at the school. We support the Zahn School every day and try to give the students programs and supplies they need to succeed. We have developed new totes designed with burlap and genuine leather, and totes designed with vegan leather.
- What are your sisters doing now, and how are they involved in Gracie Greene/the Foundation?
My sisters are in school and offer design suggestions as well as help to publicize the Gracie Greene Company and our cause when they are home. They also promote the Foundation within their schools.