All of Michelle Wu's jewelry has meaning.
She cherishes a jade pendant, a gift she received at birth from her grandparents. She even has a soft spot for the coral Chewbead necklace that doubles as a teether for her young son, Blaise.
But the new Boston City Council president's favorite bauble is a necklace she bought herself from Rosie's Place. It's a reminder of her mom.
"My mom's been struggling with mental illness for a number of years now, and I see her story reflected in many of the women Rosie's Place serves," she says.
Wu, 31, bought the necklace online at the shelter's Women's Craft Cooperative after being appointed to the board of directors for the nonprofit last year. She has long had a connection to the women's shelter. Wu was a student at Harvard Law School in 2009 when she began interning in Rosie's Place's public policy program.
"I just believe they're so important in really meeting people where they're at and treating people with dignity and respect to help empower them," she says.
The necklace is officially called the Window Pane, made of Czech glass beads in a triple-strand style. There are dark red round beads in the front with rectangular aqua ones along the sides, and gold ones that meet the clasp. Wu says there were a few color combinations of that 18-inch necklace on the website, but she liked the way the deep red contrasted with the blue green shade.
"It's a nice statement piece that catches the light," the Roslindale resident says.
On a recent afternoon at the office, Wu wears the necklace against a simple black dress.
"With the black, it pops out. It's very versatile," she says. "I find that the color looks different depending on what you wear with it."
In addition to the color, Wu likes the size of the necklace, which she describes as having "a good amount of weight."
"I've never been a pearls sort of girl," she says.
The necklace turns heads, often from constituents and even passersby, and the politician responds in kind.
"People comment on it, and then I get to talk about how to support this organization," she says.
Founded in 1996, the Women's Craft Cooperative hires Rosie's Place guests to craft jewelry and gift items. The line, which is available online at www.rosiesplace.org, gives the women permanent employment and proceeds from the sales go to shelter services. A brooch, the WCC's signature item, ranges from $7-$30. Wu says her necklace cost about $50.
Wu, whose parents immigrated to the United States from Taiwan, had a modest upbringing.
"We didn't have a lot. We had clean clothes to wear, but there weren't a lot of luxury purchases," she says.
That mentality informs her own family, and Wu says she tries to attach "that same significance to everything I purchase myself."
The coral Chewbead, which is made of silicone, got lots of wear in the last year, but Blaise is just as fond of the Rosie's Place necklace, which Wu keeps atop her bedroom dresser, out of his reach.
"I don't own a lot of jewelry. Especially with a baby, it's tough," she says. "[But this] is pretty shiny and it's kid-proof."
Most importantly, Wu says she wears the necklace to honor the women she's met at the shelter and in the community she represents.
"It reminds me of what I'm there to do every day," she says.