The Rapidian

Building community by supporting our refugee neighbors

Through textile work, community engagement, and sustainability, Treetops Collective is a valuable resource for refugee women and bridging the gap between refugees and locals to better support each other.

/Treetops Collective

To learn more about Treetops Collective and Creative Mornings:

Learn more and get involved by visiting their workspace on S.Division, donating, and supporting your refugee neighbors. You can also support through purchase of their welcome shirt. To learn more about Creative Mornings, visit their Facebook page and website for event listings. Creative Mornings events take place every last Friday morning of the month and are free and open to the public. 

/Treetops Collective

/Treetops Collective

In this time of uncertainty, it is important that we actively listen to our neighbors and grow together as a community. The Grand Rapids community is home to a number of refugees that are our friends, neighbors and business owners - people who should be continuously welcomed with open arms to our West Michigan community.

According to the Detroit News, “Since 2002, the earliest year for which U.S. officials say they have reliable state-by-state data, Michigan has resettled between about 500 and 4,500 refugees annually” and shares that “Michigan has resettled 335 Syrian refugees since the Syrian Civil War began in March, 2011 — also the most in the U.S.”

Treetops Collective, a local resource and workspace for refugee women, is committed to connecting refugee women to their community while nourishing their creativity to make it a place to call home. Their three core values include creativity, asset-based community development, and sustainability. 

Dana Doll, Executive Director of Treetops Collective, said that her passion stems from welcoming refugee siblings into her family and “continuing on through working in East Africa with displaced people and coming back and working in refugee resettlement for a couple of years here in Grand Rapids.”

Doll shared that Treetops Collective was also formed because of “important conversations she had over the course of a couple of years with some natural leaders in the refugee community―Shadia Mbabazi, their first board member, and Clementine Sikiri, teen girls leader, and Edna Mbangukira, the women’s group leader. Edna Mbangukira first came as a student before the Rwandan genocide and has been in Grand Rapids for over 23 years” and “listening to their wisdom and hearing their desire to do something to impact their community was where a lot of our activity started.”

One of our main opportunities for both refugee women and non-refugee women is Sister Circles. Sister Circles is a cross-cultural six month commitment where women meet, listen to each other's definition of success, and become allies in reaching goals. Doll said that, “most of these relationships are currently centered around English Language Learning and sharing an hour a week together to get to know each other. Refugee women benefit because of the opportunity to practice English in a friendly environment and ask other questions about their new city. Non-refugee women benefit by having their worldview expanded to new cultures, languages, food, etc.” and she “truly believes everyone wins and have experienced such positive feedback from everyone.”

Treetops Collective’s workspace is located on S.Division and partners with Public Thread and Little Orange Scooter which creates textile jobs in their creative workspace. Public Thread aims to be the highest-quality small-batch, cut & sew manufacturer of apparel & accessories in the Midwest and was founded on the principles of community and connection, people and inclusive economic development, and civic and opportunity. Little Orange Scooter is a local children’s clothing manufacturer that teaches women sewing, building relationships, bridging differences like culture and language, and showing them value and helping to provide a perspective of new hope for their future.

Through textile work, community engagement, and sustainability, Treetops Collective is a valuable resource for refugee women and bridging the gap between refugee and locals to better support each other. Better understanding our neighbors and friends through the support and conversations that Treetops Collective engages in allows Grand Rapids to better connect and nurture growth.

Tomorrow, Shadia Mbabazi, Board Vice President and Community Mobilizer at Treetops Collective will be sharing their stories at the Creative Mornings GR event: Moments. Creative Mornings is a national organization that hosts creatives every last Friday of the month with fresh themes and a light breakfast provided. Creative Mornings Grand Rapids theme for February, Moments, will showcase that we “tend to measure our lives by days or years, but what we seek in our dreams and cherish in memory are the moments that define us.” While this event is sold-out, Creative Mornings events are free and open to the public so stay tuned for the March event and more information on their Facebook.

Getting involved with our refugee community is a constant effort that will benefit you and those around you, lifting up each other and the voices in our community. Doll shares that “It's also important to note that one of the most crucial ways you can show your support for your refugee neighbors is to be smart about political advocacy and SPEAK UP.  There are some important decisions and appropriation meetings coming up that will be crucial to the success of refugees who are already here. We need to be noisy about these issues.”

Doll encourages you to ask yourself, “how would our city flourish if all of our neighbors flourished?”

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