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.
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!