Each year, communities in Georgia welcome 2,500 to 3,000 new refugees. Affordable housing and industries such as food processing and manufacturing make Georgia one of the states where newly arrived refugees can successfully integrate into American society.
Several local agencies help refugees adjust upon entering the country, but a much larger group of organizations helps refugee populations move toward self-sufficiency by providing them with a source of income while they get job training and life skills.
Many of these groups have their roots in Clarkston, the Atlanta suburb known as a haven for refugees.
Here are just a few of the businesses that offer products and services with a side of social good by benefiting refugees:
Bhutan Baskets: In 2009, a group of Bhutanese refugees began using the kudzu that invaded their garden to make baskets of all shapes and sizes. You can find the baskets at craft fairs and farmers markets around the metro area. Check the Facebook page of the Bhutanese Refugee Support Group for updates on where Bhutan Baskets will be sold.
Dwell Services: Founded in 2012 by Andrew Kraft, Dwell Services is a for-profit cleaning service for residential and commercial clients. “So many refugees are reduced to $9 or $10 an hour jobs,” Kraft said. “We saw a real need for local and good-paying jobs that were flexible.”
The company started with one woman who has since helped them grow to a staff of 16 people from nine countries. Kraft emphasizes that they are first and foremost a cleaning company that happens to employee refugees. Top-notch service is a must for a company that relies on repeat business, he said. Get more information and sign up online at www.dwellservice.com.
Global Growers: With Global Growers, refugees and underserved farmers get land and agricultural support to help them develop the skills needed to farm in the Southeast. The program includes organic agricultural production, business development and food safety. Community and commercial growers participate in the program and sell their goods at the Decatur Farmers Market. Learn more at www.globalgrowers.org.
Peace of Thread: Unique bags of all styles are handmade from recycled designer fabrics by refugee women who gain life, language and business skills as they sew. The women receive training and materials to produce handbags, shoulder bags, tote bags and more using donated fabrics (mostly from the Atlanta Decorative Arts Center). The bags are available for purchase online at www.peaceofthread.com.
Presencia (formerly Refugee Beads): What began as a jewelry company to aid refugee women has since transitioned into an after-school program for immigrant youths in Chamblee.
“We still make the jewelry and sell it online and around Atlanta, but it is primarily now a mentoring opportunity for the children of immigrants. They get together on weekends and make jewelry, which then goes to benefit after-school programs,” said Ian North, director of communications for Presencia. To learn more about the organization and to shop, visit presenciaatl.org.
Refuge Coffee Co.: In October 2016, Refuge Coffee — a coffee company that provides job training for refugees and immigrants in Clarkston — began operating six days a week, 7 a.m.-6 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays, serving coffee from a mobile truck with seating space in the garage. It was another step toward the dream of becoming a true community space and opening a brick-and-mortar store in Clarkston.
“It is an exciting time for us now,” said Caleb Goodrum, director of operations. “We are hiring additional people for the training program and have also expanded our service to the community.” The yearlong training program invites refugees to work with the company while also getting job training that makes them more competitive in the marketplace. Visit Refuge Coffee at 4170 E. Ponce de Leon Ave., Clarkston, or online at www.refugecoffeeco.com.
Refugee Sewing Society: Several days a week, up to 25 refugee women chat while sewing, knitting, weaving and making jewelry as part of the Refugee Sewing Society. The fruits of their labor are sold on Etsy, at festivals around town and on the website www.refugeesewingsociety.com. Seventy percent of the sale price of any item purchased goes to the woman who made it. Along with each item, the buyer gets a personalized note with a bio of the maker.