March 29, 2024

I was in my happy place as I stopped to look around the Artisan Center one Thursday night. The room was full of teenagers from Afghanistan, Eritrea, and Myanmar; MU students and CPS teachers who came to mentor and provide homework assistance at Youth Impact Night also crowded downstairs. Many of our City of Refuge teens had never visited the area where their mothers took artisan classes. That night everyone wanted to go downstairs to explore this new area! 

As the Artisan Empowerment Specialist I, get to provide opportunities for our friends to learn and grow while in a safe, artistic environment. That particular evening I was able to present ways that our teenagers could earn money by making soaps, bath salts, sugar scrubs, or other consumables. They were excited to hear about our upcoming World Refugee Day Market on June 22 and they wanted to hear about ways they could participate as vendors.

Why is our new Boutique line of soap so important? My dream is to provide a space for our friends to create products and to earn a supplemental income; for some, this will be the first income they have ever earned. Many of our teens have specific dreams and plans for the future, but they need to start working towards those dreams now. Soon, I plan to start with a small group of girls and teach them how to make each soap recipe. As our product line expands with additional varieties, more refugees can be included in the process and more families will be empowered to dream those big dreams. My adventure at Youth Impact group was to “test the waters” and see how receptive the teenagers were. The response was overwhelming and absolute.

Our Afghan girls were especially interested in making soap for our new upcoming line of soap in the Boutique. At Youth Impact night they learned how to melt the goat’s milk soap base and pour it into the molds. They were intrigued to watch me add matter root and gardenia scent to a small glass jar of base and then swirl it through the plain cream colored base. The teens took turns cutting a bar of soap from a previously made loaf of soap, pouring base into silicone molds, or swirling the scented pink soap into the soap in the molds. It was so fun to see them joke, jostle, and push their way to one of the creative stations to participate. 

The laughter and chatter filled the air that night as the teens practiced math skills to double recipes for bath salts or sugar scrubs. The room was aromatic from the scents of peppermint, lemongrass, and other essential oils as they experimented with different scents for their creations. It was humorous to watch a table of football players don gloves to hand-mix a bowl of sugar scrub because they had added far too much honey, sugar, or Aloe Vera gel. Two other tables held teens debating how to triple the ingredients for bath salts or just how many half cup measuring cups it would take to make their batch. The Artisan Center had never been more chaotic, but it had never been more fun. I had to pause to look around that night and I struggled not to cry. Not many years ago, the Artisan Center had been an area for bank employees taking breaks, but now it is an area for adventure, creativity, and entrepreneurship. 

The teens left the Artisan Center that night with sandwich bags full of bath salts, sugar scrubs, and bars of soap. They also left with the knowledge that there were things they could do and ways they could creatively save for college. I dream big dreams for our youth. I dream that this group of twenty teenagers will feel empowered to dream their own dreams. I dream that they will feel empowered to be creative and accomplished. After all, who doesn’t feel creative and accomplished while elbow deep in a bowl of sugar scrub?

Stefanie Nichols
Artisan Empowerment Specialist

On Monday, Poem-A-Thon 2.0 begins here at City of Refuge. 

🖋️Use a daily emailed prompt in April to guide your writing

📒Gather a few sponsors who will donate $1/day for your efforts($30 total/sponsor)

🩶Have an option to attend in person events to write, share and hear from others

AND if writing truly isn’t your thing, consider sponsoring a poet!  

Donate, participate, or sponsor here:

City Boutique is excited to announce their homemade soap line! In addition to a variety of scents, colors and bases, each handcrafted bar of soap produced through the Artisan Program will assist refugee Artisans with income. Stop by and find your new favorite! 

Interested in being in the know about our volunteer opportunities? Join our Volunteer Facebook Page! It is a great way to stay up-to-date on Basic Needs Items, upcoming volunteer needs, and more!

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