One of my favorite aspects of working at Place Bridge Academy (PBA) is the thriving crafts cooperative we host for refugee women. Two years ago, Goodwill Industries’ Career Connection Center at Place Bridge Academy partnered with “A Little Something”, a Denver-wide refugee women’s handcraft cooperative to create a unique branch of artisans at PBA. Through this partnership, women come together at PBA’s Welcome Center every Thursday afternoon in order to create jewelry. The group’s primary focus is making beaded jewelry, but they also foray into the sartorial arts: from knitted baby hats to intricate skirts.
On a typical Thursday afternoon, participants begin showing up well before the start time, eager to get underway. They get situated around a round table the jewelry-making begins. The Goodwill employees, a volunteer, and I support the new members in getting started and take care of logistical issues, but the participants are very self-sufficient. The members bring to the table expertise from their countries of origin as well as a commitment to detailed work and to each other. Although there is rarely a group-wide common language, (our members are often English Language Learners from countries such as Bhutan, Burma, Ethiopia, Libya, Somalia, and Sudan), they find innovative ways to communicate. During the craft sessions, I learn about intricacies of jewelry that I never even knew existed, such as the indispensability of crimp cover beads. I really enjoy watching long-standing members initiate the new members in the ways of the jewelry world.
Winter is an active season for jewelry sales, and along with the many crafts fairs at which their jewelry is showcased, the group recently sold jewelry to PBA staff in the teachers’ lounge. The participants receive seventy-five percent of the sales prices of their pieces, while twenty-five percent goes toward purchasing more materials. I believe this craft groups provides a fantastic opportunity for camaraderie, relaxation, and empowerment.