Michelle Tjelmeland founded the District 23 Boutique and the Cochlear Implant Awareness Foundation (CIAF). The Foundation helps spread awareness about hearing loss and the use of cochlear implants.
“I used to be a teacher and I loved teaching school but I went deaf when I was pregnant with my first daughter, and so I was forced to quit teaching and teaching was a true passion of mine,” Tjelmeland said.
While Tjelmeland doesn’t teach in a classroom anymore, she is still educating the public.
“I have cochlear implants. I have one on each side, and so does my daughter. But they go in and they do brain surgery so they cut you from here to here and put a computer chip in your head. So I have one on the left side and one on the right. When I have these devices off, I can really only hear on the side that I have it on,” Tjelmeland said.
Tjelmeland helps organize many fundraisers for her foundation and sales from the District 23 Boutique go to help those with hearing loss. Tjelmeland managed to give a lot of cochlear implant equipment away in 2018 to people with hearing problems that couldn’t pay for the equipment themselves.
“We gave away 1.4 million dollars worth of cochlear implant hearing equipment last year. We’re the only foundation in the world that does what we do, so I’m pretty proud of that,” Tjelmeland said.
There are many fundraisers for the CIAF but the biggest ones are usually where running is involved.
“Our biggest fundraisers in terms of turnout and community events would be our 5Ks. We’ve done two ‘stache dash 5ks and so it was moustache races everybody showed up with moustaches it was pretty fun. And then we’ve done the Watermelon 5k, we’ve done two of those. So last year we had 700 runners that showed up so a fairly decent race,” Tjelmeland said.
Through her business and her foundation, Tjelmeland also feels it’s important to support community growth and togetherness.
“We started a community event called Bites on the Boulevard. And so that is an annual event that happens four times a year. It happens annually in the summer, four times. So, anyway like May, June, July, and August. So thousands of people attend that event, and it’s kind of a food truck meet-up,” Tjelmeland said.
When it comes to her District 23 business, Tjelmeland has seen a lot of growth and change.
“We started small, it was volunteer, we were only open 20 hours a month. On every other weekend and every Tuesday from 4:30 to 6:00,” Tjelmeland said.
Now, the Springfield store has a new, larger location just off of South Grand Avenue, and she opened a store in Rochester in 2016.
Tjelmeland has found a way to bring awareness to a cause close to her heart, while building a strong business.