Sewing program gives refugees new hope

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AURORA, Colo. -- The Safari Thrift store in Aurora has all the makings of an average thrift shop with items galore.  Store manager Lorie Beth Brey can easily list the departments that make up the thrifty oasis.

Amongst the clothing, electronics and furniture, sits a little boutique  of colorful items in the corner of the store.

"These are literally made with love and made with so much excitement and enthusiasm," Brey says of the handmade merchandise tucked away in the corner boutique.

The items she is referring to belong to a product line called "We Made This," which is part of an organization with the objectives of training participants, creating opportunities and improving lives.

"We Made This is to train, to improve, to create and then to provide better futures for resettled refugees that are just coming to America and learning to be Americans alongside their own culture," said Rachael Cox, program coordinator of the We Made This women's sewing initiative.

We Made This specifically assists refugees who have resettled in the United States for less than five years.

"What I love about walking into this [We Made This] classroom is that there is a welcoming element and that warming element that there is something happening here," said Cox.

The 12 week sewing program also incorporates English conversation practice sessions, as well as confidence building activities.

"We want for individuals to know that no matter where they are, no matter where they live, if they don't have the language, they can still communicate", said Cox. " It's not important to have to speak the language exactly.  You always want to try and get better, but the only way to get better is by gaining confidence to actually start speaking it."

Many of the women who join the program have no prior sewing experience.  They start the program by working with small samples, and eventually learn to create more structured pieces such as computer bags and purses.  Once they graduate from the program, the women receive their very own sewing machines and have the option of becoming an artisan for the program.

Artisans' products are sold at places such as the Safari Thrift store. When their items are sold, artisans receive more than half of the proceeds. The sale of such items is a way for women to learn financial literacy and acquire a supplemental income.

"So instead of We Made This being just a training program, where the ladies walk in and the ladies are just learning ... it's a process of learning, improving and giving back!" Cox said.

The We Made This product line includes: bags, totes, baby items, kitchen items and home items.

"We are also using fabrics that are coming from these ladies cultures," Cox explained.  "So we are trying to implement their own culture and our products.  So that everyone can understand that even if you aren't an English-speaking American, that looks American ...  you still can learn to learn to come together and become more a of product that is teaching others and also telling a story."

We Made This is connected the African Community Center in Denver.  The program receives some funding from the state of Colorado through CARES and TANF programs.  They also rely heavily on independent donors.  The organization is always in need of sewing machines, sewing materials and financial donations.

"These are some of the hardest working people I've ever met," said Brey.

"It's just so empowering to see what people have gone through, in their coming to the U.S.  I mean, those of us who are Americans, we don't think anything about that kind of struggle.  We've never had to experience any of that," said Brey. "When they master a certain stitch or when they master a certain part of the sewing process, it's so cool to see the excitement that builds."

In addition to selling items in the We Made This boutique, Safari Thrift also collects donations for new refugee homes.  The thrift store is described as a "unique local program built on the value of reciprocity."

Safari Thrift is always in need of donations of : men's clothing, children's clothing, furniture and basic housewares.

Safari Thrift will be having an open house and sale this Sunday in honor of World Refugee Awareness Month.

For more information on Safari Thrift store and We Made This check out the following links:

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