Photography by J. Alan Paul Photography & Hillary Ehlen
We like to think of the Fargo business community as a giant puzzle and the people who comprise it as the different but equally essential pieces. Take one person, one company, or one industry away, and the picture becomes incomplete. Faces of Fargo Business is our chance to piece that puzzle together each month and celebrate the countless people who make this such a great place to work.
Co-founder & Executive Director, Unseen
“We just had a three-year-old rescued in the Philippines. He was dropped over a fence with a note on his back that said, ‘We can’t take care of this little boy anymore.’ And he was found wandering the street, crying by himself.”
As Than Baardson tells the story of this young boy, he says it’s hard not to imagine one of his own kids in the middle of that Philippine road.
“If you have a child around that age,” says Baardson, co-founder and executive director of Unseen, a Fargo-based nonprofit that works around the world to fight human trafficking and its root causes, “then you know the absolute helplessness of a three-year-old put in a situation like that.”
Baardson, a Moorhead native and 13-year veteran of the North Dakota Air National Guard, was first exposed to the issue of human trafficking while working on documentary films with the Air Guard. As he began to understand the scope of the problem—it’s currently estimated that worldwide there are more than 30 million people living in slavery of some form and more than 150 million kids living as orphans—he was looking for a way to help.
“What we identified was that there are people who have given their entire existence to rescue as many kids and families as possible,” says Baardson, who launched Unseen with his co-founder, Tanya Martineau, in 2011. “They are so good at what they do but are lacking some critical pieces to the equation to help as many people as possible. Essentially, we’re here to help great groups be even better.”
Through partnerships with 25 human-trafficking-related organizations in 17 different countries, Unseen was involved with nearly 70 projects last year that provided fundraising training and media-marketing assets to nearly 120,000 kids and their families, and their mission and reach only continue to expand.
“For me, as someone living in the wealthiest country on earth, the reality is that we can play a pretty significant role in this effort, and a lot is expected of us,” Baardson says. “It’s easy to start feeling helpless and think, ‘What can I do? How can I ever intervene in that situation?’ But the incredible gift we’ve been given at Unseen is that we actually can help in those situations.
“I’ve walked the streets of New Delhi (India) and seen kids starving to death while standing next to one of the only people who could ever feed them, rescue them or rehabilitate them. And I’ve seen the people who aren’t able to reach those kids because they have no funds. At Unseen, we’re able to actually get funds to the people who know exactly where money needs to go, who know exactly how to use it and who know how to do the most damage with it.”
If you’re interested in hearing directly from one of Unseen’s rescue partners, please consider attending “Unseen’s Fall Fire” from 6:30 – 8:30 p.m. on Thursday, October 26, at Sanctuary Events Center in Downtown Fargo.
Unseen | WeAreUnseen.org
President & CEO, Nordic Needle
A Fargo transplant, Ryan Evelyth started at Nordic Needle more than 10 years ago, thinking she was taking a “relatively simple clerk position” at a knitting shop.
“Those who know of Nordic Needle know there’s no such thing as a simple clerk position, though,” Evelyth says of the long-standing needlework store in South Fargo. “When I started, store clerks were performing order fulfillment for e-commerce, phone, and mail orders, as well as doing fabric cutting.”
The position also required the memorization of nearly 20,000 products in the store—and knowing the differences between them—so that she could assist customers with any project they might want to create.
Not long after starting, Evelyth took over the previously outsourced role of e-commerce-and-database developer and has held that position for the last two and a half years.
She also took on another, even greater responsibility.
Following Nordic Needle’s 40-plus-year legacy of being majority woman-owned, Evelyth purchased the company from its long-time owners in late 2014.
In addition to her duties managing the daily operations of the store, she’s also the primary creative director and even occasionally teaches needlework-technique classes.
But despite all of Nordic Needle’s successes as a company over the decades—they have more than 50,000 customers in 150 countries—Evelyth makes it clear that it’s still the store’s cultural roots that are most important to her and Nordic’s 17 other team members.
“We see culture and heritage slowly drip away from us every day,” Evelyth says. “With the advent of cheap plastics and readily available, instant-gratification goods shipped to our doors in two days from across the world. Our noses are in our phones, where we have pseudo connectivity through social media—while at home or at work many struggle finding meaning in their interactions while making ends meet.
“Needlework is rich in heritage and culture, and that preservation can be achieved through the practice and teaching of those techniques. I hope that needlework can create meaningful connections to not only our pasts and cultures but to each other, our families and future generations. You can create something beautiful and useful while making heirlooms and memories. It’s a privilege to make available a small semblance of that type of connection and meaning for those who seek and want to practice it.”
Nordic Needle | NordicNeedle.com
Owner & Designer, Design Direction
“I feel like my servant’s heart was nurtured early on. We may not have had a lot, but if a neighbor needed help or school needed a volunteer, my mom, or all of us, were there with a hotdish, pan of brownies or to lend a hand.”
Sylvia Lunski grew up in a farm family, the second of eight kids.
“That’s where I learned the value in working hard, having responsibilities and helping others,” she says.
The passion Lunski had for working with and helping people has carried over into her professional life, with more than 30 years of design-industry experience.
“When designing, I pay close attention to the needs and preferences of my clients,” Lunski says. “We work together to create beautiful, functional spaces that reflect their personalities and lifestyles perfectly.”
Lunski worked for different types of flooring, furniture and cabinet stores over the years before deciding to open her own design business, Design Direction, a dozen years ago. The business has now grown from a small consulting firm to having four designers, a complete retail showroom and offers full interior-design services.
“In my current position—as with most small-business owners—I wear many hats and some better than others,” Lunski says. “They range from design and sales marketing to networking to customer service, HR and even driving our forklift, which I’ll admit is not my strong suit.
“I work with my clients from the early, conceptual design stages all the way through installation and to completion,” Lunski says. “I bring an understanding of the construction process, as well as trusted relationships with local contractors, trade partners and architects.”
Along with providing clients with the best possible results, giving back to the community is something Lunski strongly believes in, and she’s passionate about helping those less fortunate. This reflects not only in her personal life but also in her business.
“As a company, Design Direction gives financial support to the YWCA, Mathew’s Voice Project and Great Plains Food pantry,” Lunski says. “Serving others has become a cornerstone value that Design Direction’s success has been and will continue to be built on.”
Design Direction | DesignDirectionFargo.com