GLENWOOD SPRINGS — A Denver-based work-training program aimed at helping refugee women build a new life in this country has forged a partnership that will also help in the effort to build homes for those in need in the Roaring Fork Valley.
Representatives from the African Community Center (ACC) of Denver’s “We Made This” program will deliver the first shipment of their handmade home decor items today to be sold at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore on Highway 82 south of Glenwood Springs.
“We feel very fortunate we could help create a double win here, for the refugees in Denver who are making a new life for themselves and for our homeowner partners in the valley,” said Scott Gilbert, executive director for Habitat for Humanity Roaring Fork Valley.
“We Made This” is an employment training initiative, sponsored by the ACC, for resettled refugee women. The 12-week program trains participants with sewing skills and teaches them to market their products, while also providing an English immersion experience.
“We started in 2009 with four ladies, and now have 11 women in our current class,” said Rachael Cox, program coordinator and designer. “The ladies learn how to sew and make goods, and it also teaches them financial literacy and gets them out into the community so they can start a new life.”
A hand up
The women in the program hand-craft a variety of products for the kitchen and home, bags and totes, accessories and items for children and babies.
Many of those products will now be available for sale at the Habitat ReStore, generating income for the women and the program while also raising money for Habitat’s local efforts to assist qualified first-time homeowners build their dream homes.
“In both cases, these are examples of Habitat providing a hand up, not a hand out, for people who are willing to work hard to help themselves improve their lot in life,” Gilbert said.
“Having products like these will be a great complement to the furniture we have in our ReStores, and right on the sweet spot of our customers,” he said. “It’s about getting great value and helping others in need.”
Some of the items will eventually be made available at Habitat’s ReStore annex, located in the Midland Center on Midland Avenue west of the Glenwood Meadows shopping center, Gilbert said.
“We Made This” is one of many programs sponsored by the ACC, which operates as a refugee resettlement agency in conjunction with Ethiopian Community Development Council, a larger refugee resettlement organization based in Washington, D.C.
All of the participants in the program have official refugee status, coming from countries including Burma, Bhutan, Somalia, Eritrea, Togo, Nepal and Iraq.
The program is “dual-sided,” program coordinator Cox explained, providing work training and social enterprise for the women.
“English is one of the biggest struggles for any refugee,” Cox said. “The language of sewing has a way of pulling everyone together, and you start to see leadership roles develop.
“Creating products that the women can sell provides that bridge into the community,” she said.
The products created by the women are sold online through Etsy Shop [www.etsy.com/shop/wemadethisdenver], and at the program’s own Safari Thrift store in Aurora, as well as at several other craft stores in the Denver area.
But the Roaring Fork Valley’s Habitat ReStore is the first outside retail store to buy the products wholesale, Cox said.
“With the other stores we sell through we have to wait until a product is actually sold before we see the money,” she said. “This will provide a more consistent stream of income, and it allows us to have a broader audience (outside the Denver metro area).”
Cox will hand-deliver the first shipment of We Made This products to the ReStore today, along with Tin Tin Pyone, a graduate of the program who now works as an assistant training teacher and artisan.
Once the women graduate from the program they can take the sewing machine they receive through the program and work from home, or they can work out of a studio at the Safari Thrift location. Artisans also have the opportunity to design their own products.
“What makes it so wonderful to have this partnership with Habitat is that it integrating two wonderful programs and providing hope and opportunity,” Cox said. “There is a real connection to what we’re trying to do.”
A visual display about the We Made This program and the ACC will also accompany the product display at the Habitat ReStore.