The Welcome Project began as an art class. Catering to Cincinnati’s women immigrants and refugees, it was designed to be a social and therapeutic space for a culturally underserved demographic. It was a place women could get outside of their house or work, meet other women facing similar circumstances and pick up a few art and making skills.

Something the Welcome Project organizers — Heartfelt Tidbits, a refugee and immigrant support non-profit (and a 2018 Difference Maker honoree), and Wave Pool, a social-justice driven art cultivator and gallery ­— perhaps didn’t see coming is that the Welcome Project’s immigrant and refugee clients wanted more. They didn’t just want to learn how to weave, spin thread or embroider, they wanted to sell their wares. They wanted to open a store.

Cal Cullen, Wave Pool’s executive director, explained: “they were starting to get commissions to make things, and they were just very talented — so we were able to get the building next door to Wave Pool so that they could open their own store and have their own maker space.”

The Welcome Project’s clients quickly took to the space, designing the store’s layout, logo and name. Today, the Welcome Project employs nine regular refugee employees and serves 20-30 refugees from their store in Camp Washington. Welcome Project’s regular clients all use the space slightly differently. Welcome Project employees create raw materials — they spin their own yarn and thread from local llama wool — and fiber art to use and sell at the store, others use it as a place to meet clients of their own or as an office space for their own small business.

Welcome Project is growing, too. They’re finalists for an Impact 100 grant. If they win the grant, they plan to open a second storefront, a commercial training kitchen and fresh food marketplace in Camp Washington. “A lot of these women are excellent cooks,” says Cullen. “We’ve hosted a few welcome dinners where people can tell their stories, and we do a five course meal where each course is a different refugee’s experience.” They hope to use that kitchen to host regular refugee-led cooking classes and to provide a nutritional resource for Camp Washington, a food desert.

Cincinnati is home to thousands of immigrants and refugees. Over 330 refugees were settled in the city last year. Some of these refugees have experienced trauma, and all of them have undertaken difficult journeys to build a new life, in a new country and oftentimes using a new language. Despite that hardship, they still want to get out of the house and make things. It’s a universal desire – Cincinnati’s European settlers, its 19th-century immigrants, and its current residents all share it. The Welcome Project ensures that every community in Cincinnati has the tools, know-how and space they need to actualize that potential.

Welcome Project employees will be at Cincinnati Mini Maker Faire September 15-16, at the Hamilton County Fairgrounds. You can read more about Welcome Project at their website.

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