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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.

Photo of Ellie Adelman

Written by

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

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.

Website URL:

http://www.villageinstitute.org

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)

25 comments

Join the conversation:

Comment
Photo of Sultan Hussein
Team

Hi Ellie
It looks like your idea can solve a lot of problems but I would like for you to elaborate more on your plan of action if you don't mind

Photo of Omotola williams
Team

The Village Institute is a live/learn /work incubator for refugee women. We hope to get a space where single refugee women can live at very affordable prices and work at the business ventures housed at the same venue. We intend to start with a Multicultural Childcare center where these women can work as caregivers. We hope to incorporate other services like language classes, mental health services and empowerment programs.

Photo of Sultan Hussein
Team

Ok thanks for the immediate response and yes if that plan of action can work on all those challenges you hope to go for then wish you luck.I hope this works out Let's hope for you to go through the next phase and God bless you.

Photo of Ellie Adelman
Team

Sultan Hussein it is still a work in progress, and we will definitely make many changes from the pilot stage as we expand. As Omotola williams explained so well, a lot depends upon the space, so much of our focus right now is on securing a space. That way, we can provide services in a more convenient and affordable way. It also allows us to bring in revenue from multiple sources so we don't have to rely as much on grants long term. Certainly open to feedback and ideas!

Photo of Sultan Hussein
Team

Ok,I wish you all the best and hope this be the solution for the intended challenges.God bless you.

Photo of Veronica Polinedrio
Team

Great work using HCD and service design to ensure that what you are offering is in line with your members' expectations, needs and wishes! You should check out the work of KRM (https://kyrm.org/). They are responsible for the welcoming process in the Bluegrass region of Louisville and Lexington KY. They share their success stories (stats) on their website and you can learn about the impact they make on the community.

Photo of Ellie Adelman
Team

Thanks Veronica Polinedrio for the support! HCD has been a super important piece of how we do what we do. Appreciate you sharing info about KRM. I hadn't heard of them, and it looks like they're doing great work. I particularly like their post on "Why You Should Hire A Refugee". Are you involved with the organization? I'd love to learn more about their model. We work closely with The African Community Center (acc-den.org) and Project Worthmore (projectworthmore.org) here in Denver, and it's always great to learn from other similar organizations.

Photo of Cristina  Harvey
Team

hello Ellie
these initiative touch me profoundly, I am a single mother Venezuelan refugee with a 13 year old daughter, and these is what we are waiting for at other location hosters countries, can these initiative be operative abroad out of USA limits?

Photo of Ellie Adelman
Team

Christina - I am so very moved to hear from you. Thank you for sharing your reaction to The Village Institute's work. We are always working to make sure that we are providing a space where single mom refugees feel at home and empowered, so your support is extra meaningful. We are starting in the USA in Colorado, with the hopes of expanding to other parts of the country and perhaps around the world. Even if The Village Institute doesn't open up a center where you live, though, we also hope to continue learning and partnering with communities around the world to reimagine refugee resettlement and invest in the power of refugee women! <3

Photo of Patricia
Team

Dear Ellie Adelman ,

This is such an amazing initiative!!! Congratulations on the work you've already done. I was interested in learning a bit more about your financial model, and how you hope to be sustainable.

We are constantly trying to improve our own services towards women, and would love to talk more about best practices in entrepreneurship for displaced women!

Thank you.

Photo of Ellie Adelman
Team

Hi Patricia! Thanks so much for the encouragement! Just looking at your work on Bridging Communities of Conflict-Affected Entrepreneurs in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq and it looks like an amazing initiative as well! I love the focus on mobilizing investment in refugee entrepreneurship.

Our financial model is based on diversifying revenue sources so that we never have to rely on just one source of income for The Village Institute, especially as we work towards securing a building that we can call home. In the pilot stage, we'll bring in revenue through housing rental, the childcare business, and eventually Medicaid dollars for mental health services. We hope to expand to event space rentals, global dance and cooking classes, and possibly some space rental to partner organizations who can help us achieve our holistic mission. All of this goes towards the building lease/mortgage, paying staff, and paying refugee women for their work.

Let me know if you have other questions!

Photo of Yazan Fattaleh
Team

I'm so inspired by Ellie's vision and by the powerful future that the Village Institute can create for the most vulnerable resettled refugee mamas and their families! We are lucky to have the Village Institute enriching our community here in Denver and elevating what it means to resettle refugee families.

Photo of Ellie Adelman
Team

Thanks Yazan Fattaleh ! Appreciate the support and all the connections you've helped us make here in the Denver community!

Photo of Rebecca Arno
Team

This is such an exciting project. The Village Institute offers a unique approach to refugee resettlement, starting with the strengths, skills, and needs of resilient refugee women and building from there. Refugees today face such a disjointed experience when they arrive in the US - it is thrilling to consider how their potential will be unlocked when offered a holistic work/live/learn environment to launch from.

Photo of Ellie Adelman
Team

Thanks Rebecca Arno ! Appreciate the support! We're excited to continue building so we can impact more and more refugee families!

Photo of Omotola williams
Team

Thanks for your support always Rebecca!

Photo of Ikong James
Team

Impressive how all the dots are linked and intertwined in this idea with HCD at the core of it all. This is more or less the same model and design we envision with Bold Nation Agency to serve the community holistically in an area that is least explored in the context of the idea.

As you progress in the challenge Ellie Adelman I wonder if you can look into scaling the program to reach out the single Father refugee families for purposes of inclusivity and equality.

You can also check out the evaluation criteria. Wish you all the best and thanks again for sharing this lnnovative idea.

Photo of Ellie Adelman
Team

Thanks Ikong James . I love what you're doing with Bold Nation Agency . Definitely a lot of overlap in terms of holistic design and supporting livelihood development. We are definitely hoping to scale beyond single mother-led families. We found that that group makes the most sense to start with since they often face the greatest barriers to transition due to language, literacy, and stigma issues.

Photo of Ikong James
Team

Aweosme! thats good to know that you plan to scale the project up to the single led father families that are also critically affected but often forgotten about because they dont make up significant numbers but it does hot take away the fact that they need the intervention and such services too.

We need to address the issues for every one. Wish you the best in your target for now and cant to see thet same impact on the marginalised too.

Good luck,
James

Photo of Brian Trubowitz
Team

This is a wonderful idea! Even though it is still in the process of being put together; a lot of work, time, energy, intentionality, and conversations have already gone into this project. I am excited to watch it take its next steps and hopefully develop into a model for other cities and refugees. Keep up the great work! I hope you get a space soon!

Photo of Ellie Adelman
Team

Thanks Brian Trubowitz ! It's been great to have your input along the way. We hope to have a space soon too!

Photo of Jaser Alsharhan
Team

The Village Institute has developed a real business plan and solutions for a problem that Denver-based refugees are experiencing. HCD is at the core of this nascent phase of the organization; it's great to see so many perspectives at the table as the organization develops its key programs and services.

Photo of Ellie Adelman
Team

Thanks, Jaser Alsharhan ! Glad to have your perspective at the table as well!

Photo of NDEF Cameroon
Team

Hi Ellie Adelman, welcome to the Challenge. We wish you success in your work!

Photo of Ellie Adelman
Team

Thanks NDEF Cameroon ! Same to you. I love the connection you make between agriculture, forestry, and bridge-building in Cameroon.