Celebrating Ten Years

Ten years ago as I began Heartfelt Tidbits, I wrote: “we face the greatest refugee crisis since World War II.”  According to the UNHCR 2008 Global Trend Report, there were some 42 million forcibly displaced people worldwide at the end of 2008. This includes 15.2 million refugees, 827,000 asylum-seekers (pending cases) and 26 million internally displaced persons (IDPs).   The latest numbers from UNHCR were published for mid-2017 and show 65.6 million people displaced worldwide.

Honestly, it’s hard for me to look at the statistics.  They become overwhelming and cause a temporary paralysis from the thought that the problem is too big for one person to solve.  Then there’s a call, text or email that pulls me back in and nudges me to make some positive impact regardless of how small and to focus on the change I can make.

When I began this work in 2008 it was to allow me to feel good about who I was as a human being.  I was working in a career where my peers and I would spend our free time in beautiful settings, sipping on fine wine, discussing who had the bigger home, nicer car, home theatre system, how to get ahead in corporate America.  While I enjoyed my career and being a mother, I began to feel as if I was a stranger to myself.

I no longer was speaking out about the wrongs of the world and had become compliant in building out a story that would look good in the local business courier or neighborhood magazine.  I spent time making sure my nails and hair were done, I served on boards and always dressed one step above the client. I carried myself into meetings as though I was the most important person in the room and relished in my success.  Despite all of this I still felt an emptiness in my heart and a yearning that I was meant to do more with my life. I discussed this feeling with my dear friend who said throw the question to the universe and see what happens. I laughed and openly said “universe what should I be doing?”  The next day I intercepted the email that forever changed my life.

Many of you reading this who have heard of Heartfelt Tidbits know the story.  I met my first refugee family Memorial Day 2008. After hearing their story I began to assist and after 5 years, left my career to make to dedicate myself to the work of welcoming and acclimating new Americans to their new homes.

I was goal driven and needed goals for this project so I decided the success factor would be the refugees themselves.  I quickly learned how long it took persons to acclimate, find jobs and become self-sufficient from nationwide resettlement agencies and set my bar higher.  I learned and explored what they found worked and didn’t work. The local social workers shared with me their past experiences with successful groups and those that struggled.  I took these best practices and implemented it into the daily work we were doing.

Within two years we were measuring newcomers were employed within 8 weeks, speaking enough English to ride a bus and navigate their new city, neighbors were more than willing to provide the long welcome, churches opened their doors, and offered to help.  Refugees were beginning to purchase their own homes, young adults were attending college and calling people began to say they felt like Cincinnati was home.

During this time I noticed that there was a population of people, the older, disabled and mothers, that felt alone and isolated.  They weren’t living in a camp and their families were too busy to spend time with them. These individuals longed for the human touch.  To address this we began what we still call today “the Friday program.” We first met at a nursing home that was combined with a convent that was owned by Mercy Health and the Franciscan Sisters.  This is when friendships began to bloom, learned about our new neighbors’ passion for gardening, learning English and excitement to feel needed and included again. Not only did the refugees’ blossom but Heartfelt Tidbits did as well.  

I felt challenged to find inclusive activities, grow our partnerships and volunteers and realized that while I had passion and drive, I wasn’t enough.  I was building a community not just merely a nonprofit organization. I met with like-minded individuals in Cincinnati, who were letting their passions lead them on the same journey to learn and brainstorm ideas.  

Persons began to ask me what was in it for me.  This is when I began to reflect on what I was getting out of this mission.  There wasn’t the six-figure income and bonus checks for goals being met that drove me in corporate America.  As I reflected I learned that my soul was being fed. Not only was I helping others but I was learning from them.  I began to become patient, started taking time to reflect on the importance of sharing a cup of tea with someone, saw the importance of life itself.  I no longer felt that I needed designer clothes, painted nails, and an egotistical stride to draw attention. I could be that empathetic, warm, gentle and funny person that loved other human beings and be just as powerful.   

Fast forward to today, ten years later.  Would I say that this has been an easy journey? Absolutely not.  There have been many days where I have cried thinking about the stories I heard that day or the frustration of fighting for the rights of refugees and immigrants in our current day administration.  The little girl part of me questions while some agencies don’t play nicely with each other and long to make it right. I question our current administration and the racism I see each and every day, along with the lack of compassion towards human beings.

On those hardest days, I do just as I did when I was in corporate America.  I sit down and write down the successes so I can remember why I do this work and the importance of it.  Here’s a part of that list:

  • Over 10 years, Heartfelt Tidbits have shared our heart a tidbit at a time with more than 40,000 refugees and immigrants.
  • We have 86 partners that help us in our journey.  I truly love our partners and feel as blessed to have met them as I feel to meet our newest neighbors.  They fill me with energy and passion each and every day. I’m proud to say that some of our oldest partners who believed in us in our infancy, The Franciscan Ministries: Franciscan’s For The Poor, Ascension Lutheran Church, Turner Farms and Seven Hills Middle School, are still with us today.
  • There are 110 active volunteers that share the love each and every day through some tidbit of activity with our newest neighbors.  Our oldest volunteers outside of my family members who some think are forced to help are Ron Fettig, Giri Sapkota, the Ghimire and Chamlagai family.
  • Many of our first refugee families now not only own their own home but rent to other new neighbors so they too can extend the long welcome.
  • We’ve witnessed many religious ceremonies, high school and college graduations, births, weddings and new home celebrations.
  • We are fortunate to have so many who have donated their time, physical items and money while taking a leap of faith that we’ll be good stewards of this.  For this, we’re forever grateful.
  • In 2017, we evolved our partnership with Wave Pool for a social enterprise, The Welcome Project.  There we mentor our newest neighbors who are aspiring entrepreneurs or owned businesses in their homeland, along with employing some of the persons who have talents to share with the city.  The location has lent itself to become a hub for artists, the community of Camp Washington, and enabled UC students and staff, to partner with us for capstone projects, friendships, and volunteer engagements.

Now I’m asking myself where do I and Heartfelt Tidbits go from here.  This is a question I’ve yet to resolve. To date, we’ve been 100% volunteer based.  The number of people we serve on a weekly basis is equal to what I served in year one.  Refugees and immigrants are coming in with difficulties and struggles that require more care and attention.  Our programs now span 7 days per week and my days have gone from a few hours per week to countless hours.

Our board recognizes to be sustainable, we’ll need to take an intentional approach and expand with paid staff.  This Fall we’ll be sharing our first Americorp employee with our partner Tikkun Farm.

We plan on taking the model we have created and sharing it with others in cities across the United States so they too can provide the long welcome.


The Impact

I’ve been hesitant to write this story. The reason is quite selfish. It’s a sad story and difficult to write without tears.

Many of us look at our lives in the USA and think what a great place to live. We have freedom, our families, and unlimited opportunities. Food is plentiful, helping hands abound, we’re not running from bomb sirens or drug lords burning down our neighborhoods.

Over the past 14 months, I’m sure many of you have felt as I do, heavy-hearted. I wake up each day focused on making and being the change I want to see in the world. Some days the news of the current politics steers me into the direction of a sadness that I’ve only felt during the death of a loved one and leaves me paralyzed.

Today was one of those days. I woke up from a week away and anxious to see everyone at The Welcome Project. When I noticed one of our Syrian students was missing I made a mental note to check on her. What I learned was that she was home and just didn’t understand why she should even bother coming to an art class.

I’ll refer to her as Ms. M. Ms. M. left Syria after witnessing her husband being bombed in front of her eyes. Can you imagine, watching the person you have lived with for 40+ years flying in the air in multiple pieces and finding their hand laying on the ground? Could you continue to live, make it across a country on foot to get to safety and what would drive you to do so? As Ms. M. explained to me she did it for her 5 adult children. They had lost one parent and she was still alive and they had each other. This is how they escaped the madness and insanity. They looked into each other’s eyes and encouraged each other to keep going.

Fast forward two years, Ms. M. is now living in a refugee camp still weeping over her loved one and reliving his death multiple times a day. Her sons come to her and inform her that they have a chance to start again in a new country, the USA. Excited they complete the application for her, her 5 children, their spouses and her grandchildren. Her youngest son and her are the first to leave the camp for their new home. Her youngest son is told his very pregnant wife can’t leave just yet but he’s assured that they’re next. So off to the USA the two of them come while the others have to wait to join them in the USA.

Ms. M. and her son are excited. They can set everything up for the remainder of their family. Then the election hit and Syrian refugees were banned, indefinably, including the pregnant mom who has now delivered her first child alone in a camp.

Ms. M. and her son are no longer excited. Now they’re fighting a system that is torturing them. They can’t leave the country and return to the refugee camp to be reunited with their family and they can’t get their family here. Despite the horrific terror they faced in Syria and the poor conditions of living in a refugee camp, they had each other. Now they’re alone.

When I met Ms. M. my goal was to provide her with as much happiness I could to keep her going each and every day. I felt this was what I could do to offset a situation that I really couldn’t control. For a while, it worked. I began to see her coming out of her shell and her tears turned to laughter; song and sometimes I could get her to dance. When her grief overtook her, I was there to hug her along with all of the other friends she had made.

She and her son applied for a green card and learned there still isn’t an update on the remainder of their family other than it wasn’t looking good. Stop and imagine this. Imagine you and your spouse being separated during the birth of your first child. Think about being the one being stuck in the camp, would you be jealous of your mother and brother for making it to the USA and not you? You might say no but imagine sitting in the same tent for 4 years and what this might do to your thoughts.

What is happening to this family is torture. Ms. M. and her son are being tortured each and every day they’re separated. If we had stolen them it’d be called kidnapping. We didn’t steal them but we did promise that they’d be reunited with their family. There are 1000’s of Ms. M.’s and Mr. M’s., living in the USA without knowing or having the hope of seeing their loved ones including children they have yet to meet.

So today I weep. I weep for Ms. M., those who have been taken into deportation, those living in paralyzing fear and those that have such anxiety they’re spending time in the hospital for the impact it’s having on their bodies. I wonder, will they survive, will I? Can they hold it together long enough to see if the citizens of this great country work to change this political climate?

So friends as you’re out and about in your neighborhoods and see someone that looks different; smile, say hello and befriend them if you can. This is a tough time for so many. Think long and hard before saying something like “you must be so happy to be here now.” This is no longer true for so many.   Speak out against this and let the politicians know this isn’t America you know or the one our Constitution is built on. If you’re religious, pray daily for our newest neighbors, send energy and love their way.

So yes, this is a sad story but I felt I’d be doing a disservice to those new neighbors that I’ve come to love, by not sharing this. Everyone deserves to see the reality and impact these bans, constant bantering over a border wall, ICE and our current leadership has on these HUMAN BEINGS.

2018 – Ways to Engage

Heartfelt Tidbits is growing and we need additional resources.  Specifically, we are looking for volunteers in the following areas:

  • Web Design
  • Transportation
    • Drive students to/from art (Monday, 9-12 pm), sewing (Tuesday, 9-12 pm) and ESL programs.
    • Drive children to/from summer camp programs.
  • ESL Volunteers
    • Thursday (7-8:30 pm) at Lutheran Church of the Resurrection in Anderson
    • Friday (9-12 pm) at Northminster Presbyterian Church in Finneytown
  • Childcare – Friday (9-12 pm) at Northminster Presbyterian Church in Finneytown
  • Have a skill in sewing or art that you’d love to teach others.  Let us know.
  • Arabic and French speakers to translate for students during our programs and make phone calls to participants to share information.
  • Writers and storytellers to create material for social media.
  • Photographers to capture classes and events.
  • Board Members – Specifically grant writers**, program manager, accounting**, secretary, and communications.  ** Requires prior experience.
  • Storytellers – capture stories during programs or events and share on social media.
  • Construction and Painting –  We have some volunteer days lined up at The Welcome Project now that the bathroom is almost done.  We would love some help.
  • Carpenters – Short term need for individuals to work with Design For America students from UC to help with the construction of shelves and a few cabinets.  Access to woodworking tools is available.

Farewell 2017, Hello 2018

As we close out 2017, I would like to say THANK YOU to all of those that extended love, joy, and hospitality to our newest neighbors! What a year it has been.

Going into 2017 we knew we would face adversity and may experience trying times. What we didn’t realize is that the hate we saw during the election intensified after. Many new Americans awoke to fresh piles of trash being emptied outside their front doors; graffiti on their doors, on a regular basis, baseball bats, and assaults as they walked to the supermarket, name calling and people yelling at them to go home. It wasn’t easy for them or us at Heartfelt Tidbits. It became clear that the feelings we have for our friends extend past that of a client relationship. Clients become an extension of our family and the hurt they felt impacted us. Speaking up and advocating on their behalf became a full-time job. Assisting with the negative impacts of trauma experienced, like this, became a reality.

What was the silver lining in the hate? It has been the new partnerships and volunteers that brought us hope, generosity and shared the love. Many of who admitted to being complacent in the past suddenly felt an urgent need to lend a hand. Heartfelt Tidbits began working with Wordplay, Cint. Children’s Choir, Cincinnati Christian Academy, Prairie Inc., Indian Hill Church, Lutheran Church of the Resurrection, STIR, and new volunteers began to sign up at a record pace.

Existing relationships with partners deepened. Working towards creating a better tomorrow for our newest neighbors became a priority.   There were many examples of partners, old and new, that went above and beyond to show love, joy and welcome.

The Welcome Project

Wave Pool Art Gallery, Executive Director, Cal Cullen, asked us to take a leap of faith with her in creating a place where the community could come together to create, build friendships and create better lives for our newest Americans. We involved the women that were currently participating in art at Wave Pool and asked them to give the place a name. They decided to call it the Welcome Project. How appropriate. The Welcome Project is part of Wave Pool that Heartfelt Tidbits members participate alongside Wave Pool to guide the direction, live and have a chance to learn, earn and participate in the community of Camp Washington.

Tikkun Farm

As Mary Laymon, executive director of Tikkun Farms, was going through some career changes of her own, a conversation evolved about taking a chance of running a children’s farming summer camp. With Mary’s expertise in healing trauma and spiritual direction, we were confident that this would be a place where refugee kids could find peace and perceptions that American kids might have, could be expanded. The camp lasted four weeks. Children had no idea they were learning peaceful techniques of problem-solving as they participated in daily rituals of yoga, meditation, drumming, and art. Friendships were made, cultural differences were exchanged, including food and love abounded.

The farm also became the site for our fundraising dinners for Welcome, our volunteer thank you dinner and a visit by Prairie, Inc., and Finneytown High School students to meet the alpacas and Bhutanese gardeners. Love and peace abound at Tikkun Farm and they truly live up to their name, Tikkun.

Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy

A simple Facebook like on Heartfelt Tidbits page led to a meeting with a teacher, Karen and a student named Jack. Jack, a senior, was concerned that our newest Americans may not feel welcomed in their new home and wanted to change this. After a few meetings to brainstorm ideas, it was decided that he would host a cooking and game night at the school. He invited the students to the school, along with staff to assist and local refugee and immigrant teens. While many were nervous and anxious about meeting each other at the beginning at the evening, they began to uncover their similarities (sports, internet sites, parents, school) while learning to make brownies and homemade applesauce and by the end of the evening people were asking Jack if they could meet weekly.

Junior Women’s Club of Wyoming

What a gift in 2017 this organization has been. After a meeting with their new member group, we were quickly encouraged to apply for their annual grant that they distribute to non-profits. The approval of their grant enabled us to run our Teen Girls Empowerment Program, purchase a kiln for Welcome and provide sewing machines to our sewing participants. In addition, the women wanted to engage. They organized an educational toy and book drive that led to over 1,000, newborn – 12th-grade kids receiving books; hundreds of kids receiving stuffed animals upon arrival and at prior to the summer break along with materials to use in our adult literacy programs. Teen girls no longer had to feel embarrassed about not having personal hygiene products because of a donation drive during their monthly meeting. Many members now drive and participate in our programs and this group is planning and organizing a 2018 fundraiser for Heartfelt Tidbits. It doesn’t get any better than this.

College Hill Presbyterian Church

After inquiring about how they could be engaged with local refugees and immigrants, it was decided they would try a multi-pronged approach. First, they held information sessions with their congregation and exposed them to the multitude of programs that were out there, learned more about the population and how to serve them and visited programs. After visiting our adult ESL and Citizenship program, one of their members, Robin Reichel, volunteered and asked to lead the program. What a Godsend she has been to the volunteer teachers and students. She quickly assessed what was needed, went back to the church and asked for funding for curriculum, gathered additional volunteers for teaching and assessments, put together teaching training and provided the organization that the program lacked. Students comment how much they’re learning.


I’m not quite sure how Libby Hunter, executive director of Wordplay, and myself had never crossed paths prior.   A meeting to discuss their summer camps quickly led to how do we do a poetry and writing class during one of our women’s programs at Welcome. Despite the challenges, we were successful in holding the program for the ladies at Welcome, the volunteers and community members from Camp Washington. The women were inspired and brought closer together, as they went through the workshops that touched deep parts of their soul, heart and brought memories they had pushed deep within.   Truly one of our most moving programs we did for adults in 2017.


Excitement and joy surrounded the mural “Camp Razzle” that ArtWorks in collaboration with Wave Pool, brought to life in Camp Washington. San Francisco based artist Christian Davies created the mural. Christian drew his inspiration after spending time in Cincinnati, working alongside our newest neighbors from six different countries at Roberts Elementary, the women of the Welcome Project and the girls that participate in the monthly art program at Wave Pool. During the implementation of the mural, there were daily chances to visit the artists who were bringing it to life, with the kids and women who helped inspire it. This led to potlucks, parties and gardening opportunities. If you haven’t visited the mural yet, add it to your bucket list for 2018.


A non-profit founded and ran by Dani Isaacsohn has given our newest neighbors a seat at the table to share their voice, alongside city, university, police, transportation, and others. These relationships have led to further discussions and friendships among the attendees.

The year elevated people’s awareness in Cincinnati to Heartfelt Tidbits. Many sent messages and commented that they didn’t realize we had been here for almost 10 years and the number of refugees supported in that timeframe exceeded 20,000. Complete disbelief that an entire population had gone unnoticed in the city in which they lived. Another reason that Christian Davies mural “Camp Razzle” was so appropriate. Google and read about Razzle Dazzle art if you’re not familiar.

We said goodbye to some of our youngest refugees in the most tragic of ways. A 14-year-old committed suicide, a 54-year-old was struck by a vehicle and a young father of a 2 and 7-year-old, died of an epileptic seizure. When we took the time and gathered our breath, the man we named the “tree whisperer” fell 10 feet out of the tree he was climbing and is recovering from the severe fall.

During all of these experiences, good and bad, love abounded. For this, we’re thankful and hopeful that 2018 will be an even brighter year. Our hope is that our government will allow refugees from Syria to come into the United States to be reunited with their spouses and parents, that officials will come together to put policies in place to allow those most vulnerable to have a path to citizenship and not fear additional raids. Those children who are in college under the Dream Act will continue on so that someday they can help America be the best it can be.

May blessings, light, and love surround you in 2018!

Creativity + Friendship = Success

For almost a year now, a group of 7-10 women have been meeting at the Wave Pool and learning art techniques from Cal Cullen and other local artists. What began as a journey of “let’s teach some art,” has led too much more. Friendships have evolved, uncontrollable laughter, an election, pink pussy hats, tears of joys and sadness, frank discussions about the human anatomy shared in each language, a beginning to a deep understanding of our inner soul and unconditional love for one another.  A community was built amongst strangers.

As two artists, a woman and her daughter in law, mourned the loss of a son and husband, they found comfort and friendship from their new friends. As a Syrian woman wept and shared through the little English she knew that each time her eyes closed she saw bombs exploding and feared for her children that she left behind in the camps in Jordan, a new picture was painted for her through art. This one was of beauty and joy, pomegranate seeds.

The most unexpected, yet exciting gift to each of these women, was the realization they were capable of creating something so beautiful. This has given them purpose and passion. This passion has led to an extra day each week on Thursday’s to share techniques with those that couldn’t make it on Monday or Tuesday, and to experiment further.

The Thursday class began at Tikkun Farms and is now hosted at the new Welcome site in Camp Washington. Thursdays are filled with laughter, children and visitors. People paint, sew, experiment and just sit idly enjoying the conversation. Around noon food starts coming out of cloth bags and lunch is casually eaten while the projects continue on. The kids relax, read, play and wave to neighbors while sitting in the window reading nook areas.

The Welcome site has provided an area for friendships and healing.  Many who attend have faced trauma that they haven’t been able to express because of language barriers.  Their art and sewing enables them to heal through the meditation and creation of the project.  Their perspectives have broadened as guest artists and volunteers teach them new skills and they visit galleries filled with various exhibits.

After a recent visit to a nature trail with artist Amber Stucke, to create herbariums, the participants commented that they would never look at greenery, weeds or flowers the same way.  After mounting their collected nature on pages to be displayed in Amber’s gallery exhibit, Emergence, at the Wave Pool, they now see not just a plant but art.

Sometimes sidewalk chalk and projects needing to dry adorn the front sidewalk. Neighbors pop in and curiously ask what’s happening today. It’s a place where all feel welcomed and comfortable. The ladies are now beginning to sell the items they’re making, teaching workshops and accepting custom orders.  If you’d like to visit our new site Welcome or learn more about it, details can be found at Welcome.

An Award

When I received a call a few weeks ago notifying me that I had been selected as one of three finalists for the 2017 Cincinnati Rotary Jefferson Award, I was honored.  I had heard of the award the past 4 years after receiving a letter saying I had been nominated but not selected as a finalist.  I wasn’t sure who nominated me but told Bill from the Rotary that I was excited and looking forward to learning more about being a finalist.  Over the next two weeks, I was contacted by Selena Reder from WKRC who was producing the videos for the finalists that would be shown at the lunch.  I thought, how exciting, I will have a video that depicts what I do.  What I didn’t realize is that in three to four minutes you can’t even cover a 24 hour period of what I or volunteers at Heartfelt Tidbits do.  You can gain an understanding of the overall mission but the work would take a few days to describe.  

You’d have to begin with getting to know the 16,000 people that have come to rely on Heartfelt Tidbits for some type of support.  To put this into perspective, in 2008, year one, we supported a hundred or so people and at the end of 2015, we were supporting 12,000.  Growth is an understatement.  This support could be English, citizenship, acculturation support, art, sewing, driving lessons, gardening, hospital visits, wedding celebrations, school assistance, assisting with a car accident, college visits, referrals to our partners for services that they provide or just a phone call to say hi.

Next, you’d have to spend time in your car visiting the partner sites where we hold programs and classes.  Trust me when I say this is the best part.  When I walk into a partner site, I tell myself that if I ever give this role up, I want to work or volunteer for each one of them.  Who are these great partners?  Wave Pool Art Center, Tikkun Farms, Northminster Presbyterian Church, Roberts Elementary, Education and Community Matters, Academy of World Language, Reading Lockland Presbyterian Church, Ascension Lutheran Church, Franciscan Community Garden, Turner Farms, Win4Work, RefugeeConnect, ArtWorks, Ohio State Extension, countless galleries, parks, etc.

Then there are the volunteers and the volunteer groups.  How many volunteers do we have?  I’m not sure of the exact number because tracking those names and number on a single spreadsheet has fallen to the bottom of my “to do” list.  For our Friday English and citizenship class we have 17 volunteers that show up every week to help 45-65 students.  We have volunteers that coordinate in neighborhoods, tutoring in libraries, driving kids and adults to the multitude of places they need to get to, adopting families, visiting hospital patients, advocating for refugee and immigrant rights, fundraising, teaching art, quilting and sewing.

When I attended the Cint. Rotary Clubs luncheon on March 2, 2017 with my family I couldn’t wait to see the video.  My husband asked why, I said “I want to see how Selena managed to take the 25 minutes or so of me talking and then reducing it to a 5 minute or less video to tell my story about Heartfelt Tidbits.”  When I saw the video, it brought me to tears.  Selena did a fantastic job in condensing a story that’s larger than life, so many moving pieces and parts and at times quite overwhelming, into a beautiful narrative that made sense.

While I didn’t win the local award I found myself satisfied to be considered and reminded of what brought me to this point.  One single family, with a story that moved and transformed mine and my families life forever.  For this I’ll be forever grateful.

Volunteering with Local Refugees by Carol Gates


If you asked me a year ago what I thought I’d be spending most of my time and energy on right now – my answer would have been totally wrong. But, as always, God works in mysterious ways- and as always His plan is better than our own. Harder? Maybe. But so, so much better. In light of what is going on in the U.S and around the world, I have been urged to share a bit about my experience.
Over a year ago when the Syrian crisis really hit the news, I felt that I should be doing something. I began learning about the refugee resettlement process and discovered how complicated and slow it is. First, they did not want to be refugees. They loved their homes and their countries and only left because they were in danger of being killed at the hands of the government or by the violence literally surrounding their homes. One of the families I know only left when their 3 year old was almost hit by shrapnel! They have waited for years for their chance to come. Terrorists are not sitting in refugee camps waiting for their turn. My Syrian friends waited for 3 years. My Bhutanese friends waited for 20 years !!! Our vetting process works. Not one person in the US has been killed by a refugee. (Compared to 27 people each day dying by a drunk driver.) Continue reading “Volunteering with Local Refugees by Carol Gates”

2016 Reflection

What a year it’s been for Heartfelt Tidbits. We experienced a great deal of antagonism towards our agency and the clients that we support along with an outpouring of love. To say it was an easy year would be lying. As the executive director, it was one of the toughest we’ve experienced and yet the most fulfilling. Continue reading “2016 Reflection”

Art – The Universal Language

A few months ago I received an email from Calcagno (Cal) Cullen asking to meet with me to discuss refugees living in Cincinnati. She stated that she was an artist, art teacher, and owner of the Wave Pool Art Gallery. She had recently finished a collaborative project with refugees living in a camp in Southern Italy. She did several art projects related to their hopes, dreams, and memories and worked to turn some of their art into a wallpaper design that now benefits the UNHCR (read more here: http://www.telephoneheart.com/#/wearehere/). We arranged a meeting in late March and the creative adventure began.

Many resettled refugee adults and youth are natural artists and spent their days drawing and creating art to pass the time in refugee camps. Upon arriving in America, art falls to back burner while they try to manage and acclimate to their new life. We noticed their passion for creating and were using art as a way to expand their vocabulary and friendships along with feeding their soul. After meeting Cal there was a new excitement.

Ram Rai’s acrylic painting depicting life in the refugee camp.

I wondered what could we create when led by a true artist? Little did I know that creating art with her would be the tip of the iceberg. The relationship blossomed into so much more. Continue reading “Art – The Universal Language”


During my recent road trip out west with my family I was able to share many childhood memories with my kids. As we were driving towards Illinois, I shared the multiple visits I made to my great-grandmother’s home along the same highway while being cramped in the back of a ’63 Barracuda with my brother and uncle. While in Mt. Rainier National Park, I asked my children if the mountain landscape reminded them of our visit to Nepal and the Himalayan mountains they had seen there. Over the course of 7,000 miles in the car we had ample opportunity to share stories about my childhood memories and theirs.

After arriving in Seattle my mother inquired if we had seen a newscast where they had highlighted a local community garden filled with refugees, called the Namaste Community Garden:


I told her that I hadn’t but while we were there we had to visit. I wanted to compare it to the community garden that we have locally, The Franciscan Ministries Community Garden at 110 Compton Rd.

We planned the visit during a day we would be sightseeing in the area. I looked up the address for the Namaste Community Garden. We drove through a suburb and found it nestled neatly at the end of a road on the property of St. Thomas Catholic Church. Upon arriving, the entrance opened up to a large green area, with the garden being on the left and a brick building and parking lot further up the road. The kids asked if I was sure this was place, since there wasn’t a sign. I quickly replied, “Of course, see the sticks?” The sticks used for trellising are a signature technique for Bhutanese gardeners.

We entered the gate and were quickly greeted by an elderly Bhutanese man, Jit, the garden caretaker and shed key holder. He couldn’t speak English but was able to share information about it with my husband who speaks Nepali. He was so excited, as were the other gardeners that we stopped to visit. Everyone shared their gardens and offered us produce.

Jit went and summoned Paul Hardin, a part of the St. Thomas ministry, to meet us. As Paul and I were discussing both community gardens and our work with refugees, I realized how similar the issues and benefits were. We both recognized that the garden is what reminds refugees of home. Many refugees from Bhutan, Africa, Burma, and Laos were avid gardeners. Working in the soil, growing the food that they are familiar with, participating with their neighbors and harvesting with their family are their memories from home that they can share. Gardening becomes their social event, a mental connection to memories they left behind and a way to share with the community one of the many gifts they brought with them. Paul shared that they had expanded to add 30 more crops to their garden this year. I laughed and said yes, we could have 5 acres tilled and it still wouldn’t be enough.

I spoke with other gardeners about their experience in the U.S. and Seattle in particular, and asked if they knew anyone in Cincinnati. The gardeners took the time to answer my questions related to composting, gardening and fencing techniques – and I answered theirs related to cost of living in Cincinnati. In a short hour a lasting friendship was formed. People started asking if we had a place to stay, if we needed dinner or anything else. I was amazed – strangers an hour ago and now friends, because of far away connections.

They were curious if I saw the similarities between Nepal and Washington. I explained that this was the first thing I thought of when I saw the mountain range near Mt. Rainier and the green that surrounded us. Some shared that seeing the mountain range comforted them and others said it made them sad because it was a reminder to the home they had left behind.

As I reflect on this trip and the memories that were made with my family, I pray that my children will be able to share this same journey with their families. For refugees and immigrants that have been forced to leave their homelands behind, my heartaches for them. I am glad that community gardens provide a way to fill a void in their lives that is needed.

In Cincinnati at the Franciscan Ministries Community Garden, refugees are given opportunity to participate in gardening education with Turner Farms and have become community crop plot garden leaders and members of the community garden committee. Their enthusiasm and knowledge of gardening has been instrumental in the success of the garden that coincidentally began the year that Bhutanese refugees began arriving in Cincinnati, 2008. The refugee population now makes up over 50% of the garden plots and the garden donates an average of 1000 pounds of produce to community food pantries.

Each ethnic gardener takes so much pride in the crops they produce and boast how they are able to not only feed their family but their extended families. On a rainy day you can drive by and notice an umbrella with a man or woman underneath tending to the soil. As they tell me, the dirt provides them comfort and reminds them of home. I often see their children sitting in the garden or helping them while their parents quickly speak their native tongue and I wonder if they’re sharing their childhood stories and memories with them.


Sorting and preparing the vegetables at Namaste


Namaste Community Garden in Seattle
Jit – The Garden Manager
Franciscan Community Garden
Organizing a volunteer workday at the Franciscan Community Garden
Managing paths in Cincinnati


Compost overload.
Creating a trellis for the beans.