In the heart of Clarkston, just a few miles outside Atlanta, Georgia, you’ll spot a bright red truck that has become synonymous with the city itself—Refuge Coffee.
Here you’ll find all the typical fare of a café, but Refuge serves up far more than cappuccinos, teas and lattes. This community-focused organization is creating jobs, oneness, and hope in a city where approximately half of its residents are refugees rebuilding their lives here in America.
Refuge’s Community Engagement Director, Jessica Darnell, shares about their early days, “Kitty (Refuge’s founder) and I went to church together, in the same small group. Back then Refuge was just a dream and an idea she would share about. As things started to happen, we would plan block parties and pour overs and Kitty would share the vision with others.”
That vision? “A vibrant resettled refuge community… where our new neighbors are embraced and given opportunities to thrive through the business of hospitality through coffee.”
Jessica, who began as a volunteer at Refuge, was soon brought on-board as Director of Jobs Training and tasked with the responsibility of establishing a program that would teach refugees valuable skills that would help them acquire employment. About this time, Kitty and Jessica became acquainted with Chris Chancey, because of their similar work within Clarkston.
“Chris asked amazing questions we had never thought about,” Jessica shares, “‘What is the job training going to look like? What will be the material?’ Kitty and I looked at each other and thought, ‘I don’t know—we’ve never done this before!’”
Chris connected them with Jobs for Life, a faith-based organization uniting churches, businesses and community organizations to build relationships with, train and mentor the unemployed. Jessica remembers those very first days of job training classes, “It was a perfect fit. [Sometimes] Chris would come in and speak to the trainees… sharing testimony and encouragement,” she shares.
But it wasn’t long before Darnell took the reigns on another challenge: connecting with families and organizations to better understand their needs, empowering the resilient refugee community to move beyond survival and truly thrive.
“Every day is different… sometimes I’m helping organize events, being mindful and inclusive of the refugee community. Sometimes I’m [building] partnerships with other organizations.”
Ambitious and vision-driven, Jessica has helped facilitate dozens of events to benefit the community. Refuge has partnered with Samali American Community Center to help with after school programs; Refuge for Refugees to host a coat drive; and Clarkston Food Initiative to provide food mapping to newly settled immigrants, to name a few.
“We can be a helping hand to people who are already doing a good work within the community,” she says, “We help spread the word about what [resources already] exist.”
One of these valuable partnerships has been with Amplio.
“Every time we’ve had an open position [at Refuge], we’ve put it out to Chris and he gets it around to his people,” says Jessica.
Malek Almarash was recruited through Amplio in November 2016. Malek had interviewed for a trainee barista position and, aware of Malek’s boisterous persona and love for attention, Chris and Kitty devised a fun way to tell him he got the job.
“Q Commons [a leadership event] was coming up and Malek was attending with Amplio. [We] decided to hire him that morning and asked Chris, ‘What if we were to hire him on stage in front of everyone?’” Jessica remembers.
And that’s exactly what they did. Noticeably surprised and humbled, Malek accepted with a hug and a handshake. “This was a really fun way to bring him into the community. He was really excited. It is a really special memory.”
Since then, Malek has grown leaps and bounds in his English and cultural skills. Through his training and experience, he’s become more proficient and relatable within the obstinate American business world—so much so that he’s been working on growing the family catering business. He’s procured a food service license, passed the health code inspection, and even bartered with artists to produce a logo.
Refuge and Amplio’s strategic partnership has undoubtedly contributed to this self-sufficiency. “Job training shared with him the doors that would open through getting a GED. Malek will have his GED by January and will enroll in spring classes to get his associates degree at Georgia State. Seeing him dream, and knowing those dreams are a possibility, has been really awesome.”
Clarkston is a supreme example of what can happen when differing individuals and organizations work together for common good. The unemployment rate is low, and hopes are high as they take baby steps closer to seeing the vision of a thriving community become a reality.
“Refugees care about the same things we [Americans] care about. They fear the same things we fear. They love their families and put them first the same way we do,” Jessica shares, emotionally, “We can use the word ‘refugee’, but that’s not who they are. We have different languages and cultures, but we all desire to be loved and love others.”
Join with Refuge Coffee, Amplio, and others to love and support our new neighbors, who deserve more than just to survive. Amplio would love to partner with you to realize your dreams for your company through the talented and dependable refugee workforce.
Visit our website or contact us today to learn more about our services and strategic partnerships.