The Village Institute
We help refugee single moms get beyond "just getting by" in a trauma-informed live/learn/work space where they can build skills & community.
Our fundraising video gives a great, brief overview of our vision and how a refugee family might interact with The Village Institute.
Our model integrates a variety of connections, tools and resources to help female-led refugee families cultivate the support network and the skills they need to build a meaningful life and career in the US.
Our vision is to open a physical space where housing, services, and job opportunities all fall under one roof. It is simultaneously a refuge and a hub for cross-cultural exchange.
What problem does the idea help to solve and how does your solution work? (2,000 characters maximum)
After fleeing their worst nightmare, tens of thousands of refugees finally reach the US each year only to land in a housing crisis. Forced to take the first menial job that arises, they never achieve their potential to contribute to the communities they will come to call home. This is amplified even more for single mother refugees. One woman, most often with limited English language competency and formal education, is expected to hit the ground running. With no transferable job history, no credit, and few social connections, she is expected to find a job, pay above-market rent, and support her children’s needs in a brand-new country. More often than not, these families ended up unstably housed, if not in a shelter.
At The Village Institute, we're working to reimagine refugee resettlement. We’ve invited some of the brightest people we know - including refugee women - to help us design a program and a space where we can take care of language classes, childcare, mental health services, job training, and housing, all under one roof. It’s convenient, it’s affordable, and it’s designed specifically for the needs of refugee single moms and their families. This housing-based community integration and job readiness program doubles as a multicultural business hub, including a childcare center, global cooking classes, and dance classes open to the surrounding community. This ensures sustainable income for the institute, while also providing trauma-informed, culturally-adaptive workforce and entrepreneurship development for newly-arrived refugees. With the time and energy refugee women save by living, learning and working at The Village Institute, they can then invest in getting beyond "just getting by", and start building a life, a career, and a dream. And their neighbors can get to know them as the bright, resourceful, driven women that they are.
Geography of focus (500 characters)
The Village Institute has chosen to start in Aurora, Colorado - part of the Denver metro area - with the goal of expanding to other regions. Aurora is an ideal location to launch our pilot because of the sizeable refugee population, the tight-knit community of refugee and immigrant services organizations, the growing focus on innovative solutions to complex social issues, and the urgency with which residents and real estate developers are working to address housing instability across the state.
Building Bridges: What bridge does your idea build between people on the move and neighbors towards a shared future of stability and promise? (500 characters)
There are few things in the world which build bridges better than food, dance, and children. Our onsite businesses build a bridge with neighboring community members by inviting them to share in the customs, cultural wisdom, and family environment created through a multicultural early childhood learning program, global dance and cooking classes. This also gives refugee families a meaningful way to contribute to their new communities while also building the skills and cultural context they need.
What human need is your idea solving for? (1,000 characters)
In short, The Village Institute solves for the need for belonging. Through a continuum of services approach, refugee families are able to gain transitional skills and services to adapt to life in the US - affordable housing, language learning, medical and mental health care, education opportunities, and financial literacy - as well as making use of skills they already have - job skills, crafts, language, cultural traditions, food culture, and intergenerational care.
The Village Institute is also convenient and accessible. Rather than spending their limited time and funds struggling to pay market-rate rent and track down services across the city, families invest in a space where they can affordably live, learn, work, and access services. This not only provides the women leading these families with a moment to breathe, adjust, and gain some of the basic skills needed to navigate Denver and Aurora, it also fosters community connections to create an inbuilt support system.
What will be different within the community of focus as a result of implementing your idea? (1,000 characters)
Refugees with all the resourcefulness, courage, and determination to flee a war zone will have the opportunity to engage fully in their new communities. Rather than limiting our vision to a perpetual focus on basic needs, we reimagine refugee resettlement in a way that opens up possibilities for long-term healing, cross-cultural learning, empowerment and ownership. By not only providing this for our participants, but also inspiring other agencies across the country to do the same, we aim to transform refugee resettlement from an assimilation-focus to a system which embraces the strengths refugees bring to the United States. Additionally, we are working towards a cooperative ownership model by year five so that refugees not only have the opportunity to prepare for the US system, they are able to invest in our community in ways that produce long-term returns for their families. This is an experience many refugees will never otherwise have, often crippled by debt from the day they arrive.
What is the inspiration behind your idea? (1,000 characters)
Over and over, as a case manager and design thinking consultant with one of Colorado’s resettlement agencies - I watched single mom refugee families struggle to make ends meet. I also saw how incredibly entrepreneurial these moms were as they navigated life in a new country. Between the frustration and the inspiration I found helping refugee single moms navigate a broken system, the Village Institute began to take shape.
When I started communicating the vision to my wider community - friends in refugee and immigrant communities, refugee services, affordable housing, social enterprise, and mental health - I began to realize this was indeed a shared vision. A close friend who moved to Colorado as a refugee from Somalia with her single mom told me I must be reading her mind. Starting from housing and family support, and building towards a meaningful career, The Village Institute is designed specifically with and for refugee single moms on their journey towards thriving. - Ellie (Founder)
Describe the dynamics of the community in which the idea is to be implemented. (1,000 characters)
The Village Institute is designed with diverse single mother refugee families at the center. This means considering the complex dynamics between mothers and their children created by differences in literacy, education and cultural identities, the difficulty single mothers often have connecting with their wider cultural communities due to stigma, and the unique cultural and spiritual backgrounds each family brings to a multicultural community. It means building trauma recovery into every stage of the process while allowing families to move forward in the ways they hope to.
We are also located in Aurora - a community with its own complex dynamics. Considered one of the most diverse cities in the US, Aurora’s cultural richness is increasingly threatened by gentrification spreading throughout the Denver metro area. The Village Institute aims to preserve a piece of Aurora’s cultural pride through businesses which celebrate the diversity of families living, learning, and working onsite.
How does your idea leverage and empower community strengths and assets to help create an environment for success? (1,000 characters)
We use Human-Centered Design to engage stakeholders in the refugee community, refugee services, affordable housing & social enterprise. This not only allows us to engage refugee single moms in the design of a program & space uniquely suited to their needs & strengths, it also allows us to innovate by bringing unlikely collaborators together. Our first design session drew 30 leaders from across sectors on a snowy Saturday morning. People are excited about our model & continue to show up in enthusiastic & meaningful ways.
We also ensure that knowledge exchange, leadership development & mental health are built into each stage
- Refugee women are engaged in design work as experts in community needs & experiences
- On-site businesses draw on refugees’ existing skills & strengths in order to promote multiculturalism as a strength rather than a barrier
- Mental health is integrated into language learning, job training & community-building to promote ongoing healing & growth
Refugee moms created artwork to express more about themselves, their identities, how they think about "home", and what support they wish they had on their journey towards thriving.
Refugee services providers contributed ideas using their experience working with many families over the years.
Young refugee women co-facilitated design sessions, serving as a bridge between their families and cultures of origin and the US culture and system, based on their experience living between two or more cultures.
Diverse stakeholders worked together to integrate their different areas of expertise and experience into designs for a holistic program and space.
What other partners or stakeholders will work alongside you in implementing the idea, if any? (1,000 characters)
We recognized early on that we actually have few true competitors. The demand far exceeds the supply of affordable housing and accessible services for refugees. This has opened the door to meaningful partnerships. Some of these partnerships include:
- The African Community Center & Tinsae Single Moms Support Organization (Ethiopian & Eritrean refugee women-led organization): partnering on programming and services for single mother refugee families;
- The Orbis Institute: providing incubator space and real estate investment;
- University of Denver’s Project X-ITE: funding and supporting our startup phase
- University of Colorado’s refugee mental health clinic: referring clients and providing services.
We have also been successful in convening refugee leaders and entrepreneurs, service providers, and affordable housing experts through our one-of-a-kind creative design series in order to build a responsive, innovative program with a self-sustaining business model.
What part of the displacement journey is your solution addressing
Arriving and settling at a destination community
Tell us how you'd describe the type of innovation you are proposing
Service: A new or enhanced service that creates value for end beneficiaries
Idea Proposal Stage
Prototype: We have done some small tests or experiments with prospective users to continue developing the idea.
Group or Organization Name
The Village Institute
Tell us more about your group or organization [or lived experience as a displaced person?] (1000 characters)
The Village Institute is a Colorado-based initiative working to reimagine refugee resettlement through a wrap-around strengths-based approach. We use Human-Centered Design to engage leaders across sectors, and to engage refugee families and agency partners within our diverse personal networks as service providers, designers, and refugees ourselves. Both through this multi-stakeholder engagement and through our wraparound housing, services and social entrepreneurship model, we stand out in our field. No-one else in the region is providing the same level of integration of services in a refugee housing space, while also offsetting costs through on-site businesses where participants get on-the-job training and experience. The physical space we propose to open as part of the Bridge Builder initiative is central to who we are as an organization and our vision for a holistic live/learn/work community.
Type of submitter
We are a For-Profit Startup or Startup Social Enterprise
Organization Headquarters: Country
United States of America
Organization Headquarters: City / State
Aurora, Colorado (Denver Metro Area)