BENTON — Volunteering at an orphanage in Tanzania during her junior year of college changed Emily LaCroix’s mind about what she wanted to do in life.

“It had never occurred to me how much one person can do,” said LaCroix, a 2011 Union College graduate who double-majored in math and economics.

“It inspired me to do more.”

For the next nine months, “more” for the 2007 Winslow High School graduate entails being a Minerva Fellow in Bagru, India.

LaCroix said Union College annually funds service projects around the world for eight or nine recent graduates.

The program, according to the college website, is Union’s “version of the Peace Corps, offering new graduates a chance to travel abroad on a fellowship for their first year out of college and perform meaningful service opportunities for those in need throughout the world.”

LaCroix, daughter of Rock and Bernadette LaCroix, will seek to directly connect handblock print artisans in Bagru with consumers around the world.

Bagru Textiles artisans create intricate designs on bolts of fabric using handblocks and vegetable-based dyes.

Historically, LaCroix said, middlemen and exporters have secured much of the profit.

She said her fellowship seeks to continue the Bagru Textiles project started a year ago by Jeremy Fritzhand, a 2010 Union College Minerva Fellow.

On LinkedIn.com, Fritzhand describes the mission: “Bagru Textiles is a nonprofit enterprise that is working to give the printers of Bagru, Jaipur the skills and expertise to manage and update an e-commerce website to directly market their beautiful hand-made products to the rest of the world, without the use of middlemen. This business model will ensure fair trade practices, while maintaining low prices for consumers and higher profits for the artisans.”

Fritzhand is staying an additional year at his own expense to continue the work he started, according to the website.

LaCroix will use her background in math and economics to establish Bagru Textiles as a nonprofit company, develop business contacts and improve the website — www.bagrutextiles.com — so people can order custom, value-added items such as headbands, bags, shirts and hoodies.

The eventual goal, she said, is for Bagru artisans to form a self-sustaining, Indian-run cooperative.

LaCroix distinguished between humanitarian work, which she described as alleviating suffering, and development work, which she said allows people to have more.

“It’s not just trying to help them out of poverty,” said LaCroix. “It’s trying to help them succeed.”

LaCroix will be living for nine months with a host family in a standard, small cement home.

The 22-year-old said she would be expected to dress “modestly,” meaning a full skirt or pants and shirts that cover her shoulders.

She anticipated her schedule would consist of eight or 10 hours per day at a factory learning the business, building trust with artisans, and occasional trips to larger cities to purchase bolts of fabric.

Travel is also part of the fellowship, and LaCroix said she is interested in visiting Nepal.

People who wish to read more about LaCroix’s experiences can read her blog at www.emilylacroix.tumblr.com.

Beth Staples — 861-9252

[email protected]

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