J. Camenisch

J. Camenisch

Before the summer of 2012, Julia knew very little about the refugee community. But a tragic car accident that left behind a widowed Burmese refugee and her six children was the catalyst for action. As Julia looked for ways to get involved, she began to meet men and women who had overcome incredible odds to reach the USA, but now faced a whole new set of struggles and challenges. These friendships were been life changing and have caused her to become an advocate for the refugee community.

Want to hear more of her story or learn some Burmese with her? Then drop her a line at julia@makewelcome.org.

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Want to Stand With Refugees? Support Sewing Classes!

Every week, women gather to laugh, to learn, to sew. These women hail from far-flung corners of the globe such as Eritrea, Burma and Congo. They speak a variety of languages, they are a wide array of ages, they practice different faiths. Yet there is one thing in common. These women are refugees.

Refugees are people that have had to flee their homes because of extreme danger. Maybe it's because of religion or political opinion or ethnicity - the reasons vary but the stories all have a common theme: home wasn't safe for them and their families any more. These women have endured great trauma and upheaval. Yet they've endured and have now found a new home, a place of welcome and safety in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Our sewing classes are designed to provide a place of fellowship for these precious women, as well as to help them practice English with our American volunteers and learn a practical skill! More advanced students have opportunities to earn income through social enterprises such as Persona Grata Goods (which sprang out of this class) and partnerships with local churches and non-profits like Elevation Church and Amahora Burundi.

Sewing Class where refugee women in Charlotte can learn and laugh together

Now here's where you come in! While we provide free classes, it's our donors and volunteers that keep the doors open. You can support these precious refugee women in one of four ways:

  • Donate through Project 658 (our non-profit sponsor) to our sewing classes. When you give your gift, make sure it's earmarked to Make Welcome Refugee Sewing School;
  • Buy items from our Amazon wishlist;  
  • Purchase items made by the ladies on the production team via the Persona Grata Goods Etsy store. As sales increase, the women are able to work more and earn more, thus providing for their families.
  • Finally, if you're a business owner who needs sewing work done, consider hiring seamstresses through us! 

Thank you for supporting us as we seek to stand with refugees, loving them as Jesus does! 


Hark Hear the Bells...it's time for Christmas!

//Photo by Stephanie Kilgast, used under Creative Commons license.//

'Tis the Season for tradition, for ornaments, for cookies, and for gifts! All of these elements are a part of our annual Make Welcome Christmas party. Ornaments are made, cookies are decorated, traditions are shared, and yes, gifts are given.

We wish you could attend the festivities with us, but alas, space is limited. Don't despair...you can still be a part of the celebration - you can give gifts! We currently have 14 families represented in our program, and need some help being Santa. So here's where you come in. We need you to:

  • Sponsor a Family's presents for $20. We'll take care of the buying and are planning on educational toys and sewing and/or home gifts for the moms. The donation button is at the end of this post. (Remember, we're not a 501(c)3, so donations are not tax deductible.)
  • Share a favorite Christmas tradition or recipe in the comments section below. We'll share these with the ladies at the Christmas party. 

Thank you for being a part of our celebration and for sharing the Christmas spirit in this way with our wonderful refugee families. 

“For it is in giving that we receive.” ― Francis of Assisi


How Many Families?


Money, Thread & Banks: This Week's Production Class

In America, money is complicated. There are many financial traps to fall into and lots of stuff that, well, it's just not very straightforward! That's why we launched a finance & business training component for the students in our Advanced Sewing class. We're holding these special sessions one Friday night each month and plan to cover budgets, debt, business accounting, etc.

For this first class, we started with discussing banks. Why this subject? Well, it all started with a conversation I had with one of the artisans who works with Journey Home. I had written her several checks for products I bought from her, and noticed none of them had been cashed. When I inquired about it, she told me that it's very hard for her to cash or deposit a check. As I talked to more of my refugee friends, this was a common refrain. The banks my friends had tried to use charged monthly fees or required minimum balances that just weren't financially viable for these ladies. 

Another issue they faced was lack of transportation and language barriers. Even if they had a bank account - which several had given up on - how were they supposed to get there? And once there, trying to communicate with a bank teller was intimidating. 

As I planned for this first class, I tried to locate banks that were geographically close, provided mobile banking options AND didn't charge monthly fees or a high minimum balance. You know how many I located? Three. All the other banks I looked at didn't provide any feasible banking options for those with very limited money. 

During class, we handed maps out (thanks, Google!) with the locations of these three banks marked. We then compared each bank and contrasted their services. 

We also started a Bible study on what God says about money, based off Crown Financial's excellent financial study curriculum. We talked about being faithful stewards of the gifts God gives us, whether that is money, time or relationships. 

But this class wasn't all about money, overdraft charges and checking accounts! There was also plenty of sewing, conversation and laughter as the ladies began working on large tote bags to hold items needed for home production. We're thankful for the volunteers that cared for the little ones so their moms could attend class, and thanful for St. John's United Methodist's generosity in letting us use their building to hold these special classes. 


Interested to learn more on the challenges surrounding banking for the poor? Here's a great article from CheatSheet on this issue. Also, if you're looking for curriculum to teach banking and financial basics in a low income setting, we highly recommend Money Smart, published by the FDIC. If you'd like to get a copy of our adapted lesson plans, send us an This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. !




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Playdoh Can Save the World (Or at Least Provide a Preschool Readiness Program)

We are gearing up for our third year of Make Welcome! Each year has brought new developments to our program as we continue to grow our outreach to the refugee community. Through the month of August, we'll be highlighting some of these new and/or redesigned initiatives.

Providing Sanity

One of the aspects of Make Welcome that we are particularly proud of is the childcare program. We’ve made it a priority to provide this. We know  that so many young refugee moms are excluded from many other programs because they aren’t able to bring their little children along and don’t have other babysitting options. Often their husbands work long hours and their apartment complexes don’t have a safe place to play - so they’re basically stuck indoors much of the day, most of the week.

At Make Welcome, these refugee moms get a morning out. Our awesome childcare volunteers watch over their precious kiddos and play games, mold playdoh, read books, blow bubbles, and rock babies. The moms get to sew, talk, laugh and generally just enjoy several hours with other adults and no kids (usually) in tow. Anyone who has been a stay at home mom to young kids knows how important such times are to your sanity!

Moving from Childcare to Preschool Readiness

This year, we’re adding a new aspect to our program. We’re going to provide a Preschool Readiness program to the 3-5 year olds, teaching them alphabet, numbers, shapes, colors and more! We’re really excited about this new initiative...but we need your help.


It takes a lot of Playdoh, markers, stickers and toys  to keep our preschoolers busy. We rely on supply donations, and we’ve got a long list this year! Do you want to help stock our new preschool class? Then head over to our Preschool Amazon wishlist and send some new markers, legos or stickers our way. Even if you  never get a chance to see the class in action, know that your supplies donation will be greatly appreciated by kids AND volunteers alike!

Shop the Make Welcome Amazon Wishlist.


Current Volunteer Openings

Sewing Class:

Assistant Sewing Teacher - The assistant sewing teacher will work with and under the direction of the lead teacher to:

  1. Train students in sewing techniques;

  2. Prep fabric & supplies;

  3. Help out lead teacher in any way needed.

  4. Most of all, love on and build friendships with our wonderful students!

Intermediate sewing skills needed.

Time commitment: The Assistant Sewing Teacher will commit to helping 1 or 2 Fridays each month for a three month period. Class is on Friday mornings from 10am till noon in the Oakhurst community (near Wendover & Monroe Road).

Preschool Readiness Program:

Preschool Assistant #1  - The Preschool Assistant will work with the Preschool Readiness Director to:

  • Help children develop both socially and academically, including teaching them numbers, alphabet, and fine/gross motor skills.

  • Move children to and from various learning stations.

  • Read books aloud.

  • Play games.

  • Assist in setup & tear down both before and after class.

  • Help the director with whatever is needed.

  • Most of all, love and invest in these precious kiddos!

Background checks required for all childcare positions.

Preschool Assistant #2  - The Preschool Assistant will work with the Preschool Readiness Director to:

  • Help children develop both socially and academically, including teaching them numbers, alphabet, and fine/gross motor skills.

  • Move children to and from various learning stations.

  • Read books aloud.

  • Play games.

  • Assist in setup & tear down both before and after class.

  • Help the director with whatever is needed.

  • Most of all, love and invest in these precious kiddos!

Nursery/Toddler Class:

Nursery Assistant - The Nursery Assistant will help watch our students’ babies & toddlers! Job duties include reading books, rolling balls, providing snacks and showing faithful love & care for these little ones.

Background checks required for all childcare positions.


Volunteers needed: Be a part of our story!

13 women trained to sew with another 7 on the waiting list. 15+ children who have been part of our childcare program. Multiple projects completed, including tote bags, coffee cozies, infinity scarves. Piles of donated fabric received and upcycled into lovely products. Yes, all of these are elements of the Make Welcome story. As our story unfolds, growth seems to be the plot line of the latest chapter, both organizationally and in impact...and we need help!

We’ve got openings for volunteers in several key position. Might you be a part of Make Welcome’s story? Here’s what we’re looking for in a volunteer:

  • Someone who loves Jesus and wants to invest in the lives of refugee women & children.

  • Someone who is flexible - almost every class time involves a change of plans, so volunteers need to be able to adapt with grace!

  • Someone who puts service above personal comfort - sometimes the classroom is really hot. Sometimes there are language barriers that are hard to get past. Sometimes a screaming baby needs to held and comforted for long stretches. Whatever the case, service isn’t always easy, so we need volunteers who will embrace that.

  • Someone who wants to come alongside to both serve AND to learn - the women we work with are amazing. They’ve endured great hardships, and have as much (or more) to teach us as we have to give to them. Volunteers need to have an attitude of humility and see their work with Make Welcome as an opportunity for personal growth.

Does this list of qualities describe you? Then take a look at our current openings, fill out the volunteer application and/or send us an This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . We’d love to talk to you about serving together!


Ready to Help Us Play? Childcare Needs at Make Welcome

The Make Welcome nursery and PreK class that we provide for our students' children is one happening place. Stickers flying, crayons coloring, rockets zooming and ribbons twirling...there's never a dull moment and rarely a quiet one! 

Our goal for the childcare at Make Welcome is to provide a safe, educational environment. To that end, we plan activities and use toys that emphasize sensory development, motor skills, and creativity. And that's where we need your help! We'd like to increase our toy cache so that we can rotate out different activities. But our budget is limited so we need some toy donations. Here's what's on our wish list:

  • Kinetic Sand (or one of its knock-offs) - we need two to three sets
  • Duplo Legos - of any style or set size!
  • Melissa & Doug Chunky Puzzles - any type
  • Volunteers - can't  buy this one at Amazon, but we could definitely use people with a heart to show the love of Christ to little ones. Background check is required. For more information, head over to our Volunteer page.

If you're interested in investing in the childcare side of our ministry, then shoot me an email at julia(at) makewelcome (dot) org. We'll be very grateful!!
Note: We're not yet a 501(c)3, so donations are not tax deductible. 


Video: Why the Church Should be Involved in Job Creation

Churches often focus their benevolence work on handing out food, clothes, rent money. But what if instead they focused on providing those seeking help the ability to help themselves? What if churches helped the poor gain job skills and training? 

We're big fans of the work done by Jobs for Life in this regard, and the mission of Make Welcome was born out of the same vision. We want to provide work and skills training so that refugee women are empowered to take care of their families. 


Photo by Wendell (https://www.flickr.com/photos/intherough/)
Used under a Creative Commons license


Life in the Refugee Camp

Excerpt from 10 Million to 1 by Jeffrey Kirk

I lived in a refugee camp for nearly a year. The camp lacked good facilities, food health care, and shelter. I was assigned a place in "barracks" made of bamboo with thatched roofs and walls.

There were many kinds of biting insects, especially mosquitoes, and there were often rats and snakes too. Many of snakes were poisonous so I was often afraid. We had to chase them into the woods near the edge of camp. 

We were given very little to eat and had to buy extra food from the local people who came to the fence of the camp to sell their stuff to us. They sold food, cigarettes, marijuana, and and alcohol. The alcohol caused many problems in the camp.

Living in the refugee camp was horrible. I would like to forget it, but know that I never will.


Photo by United Nations Photography, Creative Commons License.



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