Interview: Beth Mathews
Can you start by telling the readers a little about yourself?
Hi! I’m Beth Mathews. I live in Nashville, TN with my musician husband and cute animals. During the day I spend my time as a Creative Director for an educational curriculum nonprofit company called Great Minds. In my spare time, I run a project called The Mom Bag, collect way too many hobbies, and love to travel!
You started a project called The Mom Bag. Can you tell me a little about it and why you decided to start it?
In 2016, I became friends with a Syrian woman named Asmaa who came to Nashville with her family because of the war in Syria. Together, we would do cultural orientation activities like going to the grocery store. One evening at the store, I saw her smelling the soaps and lotions. She told me that she hadn’t been able to buy these items for 4 years because she had to flee Syria. Together, we bought these self-care items and that evening she sent me a message that she felt like herself again. A light bulb when off. I thought, “what if every refugee woman that came to Nashville could receive a welcome bag with self-care items?”. I quickly used my graphic design skills to mock-up a welcome bag, created an Amazon wish list of items for refugee women and by the end of the week, I had over 1,000 donated items at my door. People jumped in to help immediately! That was the start of The Mom Bag program.
It has now turned into a monthly mentorship group for refugee women and each month it’s morphing into something better than I could imagine.
Since starting the Mom Bag what is something you've learned about your community?
I feel really lucky because I get to be on the receiving end of watching my community give so selflessly of their talents, donations and time. Every day I get to witness others caring about strangers and it’s beautiful. I have learned that if I put the ask out there in a sincere way, people respond. I think The Mom Bag is especially easy for women to connect to because it’s very easy to ask ourselves, “What if this were me? How would I want to feel empowered and what would I need?”
What has been the hardest (and most rewarding part) about working with refugee communities in Nashville?
The hardest and the most rewarding part about becoming friends with refugees is hearing their story. Some of their stories are horrors that I could never imagine living through. At the same time, it’s also one of the most rewarding aspects because I think to myself “how lucky are we are that they would trust us with their story?” Their stories are powerful, could bring any person to their knees and at the same time, are a true inspiration to me of resilience.
Another aspect of working with refugee communities that I love is how quickly the tables start to flip and you start asking “who is helping who?” For example, with our mentorship program, my friend Asmaa who was the inspiration behind The Mom Bag is now a leader in her community and helps lead the mentorship group. She now collects self-care items for other women and it’s this beautiful chain reaction.
We are never really done growing up. What do you hope to do in the future?
I have a long laundry list of travel dreams I’d like to accomplish like hiking Machu Picchu and discovering northern Canada. I also think Folgers and Subaru commercials have ruined me because all I want to do is have a beautiful cabin in Maine on the coast, drink coffee and own 5 Great Pyrenees dogs while my husband plays the piano in the foyer. To me, that is the dream.
What gets you out of bed in the morning?
Besides my alarm going off for an hour? I’m generally the kind of person that is excited about whatever the day holds. I very rarely have a day with nothing to do so after snoozing for an hour (yikes!), I like to go for a run to help with anxiety and clear my mind...walk our dog...and then head to my office to get to it! And also, the news. It’s horrifying. Every day there is work to be done.
Do you have advice for girls growing up today?
Sometimes I think back on my own childhood about how many funny interests I had. Much like now, I had a lot of hobbies and I played a lot of sports and I wasn’t the best at anyof them. And that was ok! I would like to tell girls now that the interests, talents or opinions that they may have now that seem “weird” or make you “different”...those things will serve you well in the future. You’re going to grow up to be an amazing adult that values the unique and interesting things in life and you’ll feel fulfilled and happy because of it. Keep shining rocks if it makes you happy. Keep making mud-pies in the backyard if it brings you joy. Keep drawing characters that you find funny. Keep being yourself! The world is so very lucky to have you.
Do you have any female figures that you look up to? (real or fiction)
One that comes to mind is a character from Fried Green Tomatoes named Idgie Threadgoode. As a child, I really looked up to her character and she has stuck with me my whole life. I even became a beekeeper a few years ago because of Idgie who could put her hand inside a hive and not get stung. She is powerful. T here’s a moment where she hops a train full of canned goods and starts tossing them out to those in need. That moment has always stuck with me. She has a firey spirit for things she cares about and she doesn’t let things stand in her way for better or worse.
Why do you think it is important to tell our stories?
It’s important to tell stories because it’s such a powerful way to connect with others. When someone responds back to your shared story by saying “me too,” how powerful! A bridge was just made and a wall just came down. A story can also change the hardest of hearts into one that is more compassionate and empathetic. It’s one of the few things in life that can accomplish that.
What is something in life that you are most proud of?
I’m really proud of my marriage. I know it might be silly to say but I truly like and love my husband of 11 years so much. And I’m proud of the life we’ve built together. One that is peaceful, loving and encouraging towards each other. It’s the best gift in my life and I’m so proud of that.
What is your life motto?
I’m nervous...but I’ll do it! And, if you think something nice about someone, say it!