Multicultural Refugee Coalition
Today’s #ButterflyKisses story honors the work of the Multicultural Refugee Coalition (MRC) in Austin, TX. The mission of MRC is to create livelihood opportunities for refugees resettled to Austin, TX, through skills-based education and social entrepreneurship. They have two social enterprises, the Open Arms Studio and New Leaf Agriculture. These enterprises provide fair-wage jobs for refugees in areas where they bring great skill and expertise. They provide upward economic mobility for themselves and their families and infuse the economy with skilled farmers and seamstresses, two trades which are on the decline yet are incredibly necessary.
Open Arms Studio employs 14 refugees, one immigrant and one asylee, all women. They work full-time making products for partners such as Newton Supply Co, Project RePat and Trek Light Gear and are launching a Texas organic cotton product line of Open Arms Studio sewn goods. New Leaf Agriculture employs five refugees year-round who grow organic produce for 100+ Community Supported Agriculture weekly subscribers, local chefs and the farmers’ market. Many refugees come from a background of sewing and farming and are happy to do this work in their new community.
In 2008, four unlikely partners came together with a shared desire to provide a sense of welcome and community for refugees who resettled to the Austin area. The founders included Johnson Doe and Paul Tiah, two friends, resettled from Liberia. Sarah Stranahan, who grew up in Congo, and was active with resettled Congolese refugees, and Meg Erskine, a former conservation biologist turned ESL teacher, who heard first-hand many of the desires of the refugee community. Meg is now the CEO. MRC started as a community center that offered sewing classes, resume help, children’s programs and community gardens. This community center served hundreds of refugees and planted the seeds for the work they are doing today.
The Open Arms Studio was founded by two Austin women, Leslie Beasley and Lacey Strake to employ refugee seamstresses. In 2014, they donated the Open Arms Studio social enterprise to be an income-generator for MRC. The studio’s earliest partnerships included working with IKEA to produce a line of upcycled home goods, as well as products for many local designers. In 2015, MRC went through the Mission Capital Accelerator program and the UNLTD USA Incubator programs which helped to shape the trajectory of MRC’s work today.
Through strategic planning, MRC made the decision to pivot their services and focus on the social enterprises that could provide fair-wage work and upward economic mobility for refugees. Since 2016, MRC has grown from employing five refugees to 21 refugees, asylees and immigrants today.
What’s Happening in the Future:
MRC offers virtual ESL classes for all refugee team members two times a week during the workday. They look forward to offering digital and financial literacy workshops in the future, as well as other learning opportunities to help advance refugees in their personal and professional goals. MRC is grateful for the steady partners they have at Open Arms Studio and looks forward to continuing to grow with them along with new partners. This April, the studio will launch a line of products including Texas Organic Cotton produce bags, totes, aprons and more.
New Leaf Agriculture looks forward to growing the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program to 150+ weekly members as well as participating at the Texas Farmers Market at Mueller again this year. They will be launching their Pantry Line with pickled goods from the farm, as well as the addition of eggs in the fall.
MRC believes in the potential for all refugees to support their families and contribute to their new community through dignified, fair-wage work.
Meg Erskine, CEO, says it’s a great joy and privilege to do this work and she appreciates the Iron Butterflies Project audience taking time to learn more about MRC!
To learn even more, visit us at www.mrcaustin.org and on social media channels.
“There is always light, if only we are brave enough to see it. If only we are brave enough to be it.” Amanda Gorman