There are many spaces in this world that prompt us to consider our deficits––to analyze what we lack, the things that make us feel insignificant––and leave us trying to be who we are not. But at Treetops we are passionate about welcoming each person––program member, volunteer, donor––as they are, and celebrating their strengths.
From the beginning, our work has focused on focusing on the strengths not deficits of our New American neighbors. We carve out economic opportunities for their unique gifts and abilities to shine. The marketplace is the perfect space to do just that. When the work of someone’s hands is recognized as valuable, mindsets can shift so everyone acknowledges the maker as significant and also vital to our community.
As an organization of women, we understand the complexities of providing for our families, finding affordable childcare options, the flexibility required to meet these demands––and if we’re lucky, the gift it is to do work that makes us come alive! This is a challenge for anyone, but especially women who have moved to this country with refugee status. Their skills often go unnoticed due to language barriers, perceptions around their status, the lack of social networks that land jobs.
That’s where Treetops comes in. We love to be connectors: connecting makers to meaningful production; businesses to creative employees; stores to products with a superior story; designers to an avenue to use their skills for good; conscious customers to curated products handmade by New Americans; entrepreneurial women to the marketplace. Relationships are essential to make these connections. They provide the space necessary to listen, learn, and respond.
Each year, we give the women and teens in our Sister Circles program the opportunity to work with Canopy, Treetops’ social enterprise program. There we are tasked with how to creatively respond and connect the gifts of women to their new community.
Our Canopy Teen Employment Program is a beautiful example of this work. Using our product line and platform, we equip teens with skills in sales, design, and market research so they can launch a custom product of their choosing in just 8-10 weeks. What these young women produce and the stories they tell make this one of the most rewarding parts of my role as business development director at Treetops.
What keeps me engaged and excited for the future of Treetops is remembering what it looks like for a woman to recognize that her skills matter. During a home visit, I’ve watched women go from being disengaged and downtrodden to minutes later running around with a hopeful smile, eagerly finding every scrap of evidence to show me that in their former life they had talents and passions that may have been lost on their journey of resettlement. This spark lives in all of us and is most clearly seen when our God-given creativity has a space to shine!
As I’m writing, I’m reminded about that same spark that ignited the flame that is now Treetops.
A few years back, I remember the feeling of believing the best was behind me and wondering if the things I used to be good at mattered in this new phase of my life. I wasn’t resettling, but I was––or it felt like––settling. I was settling into motherhood, my second on the way. I was looking back, wondering why God had led me where he had: to work with displaced women in Paraguay; to lead marketing campaigns that got people thinking about how their purchases created change; to pursue a new degree before a baby; why I’d become fast friends with a Congolese woman down the street. I desperately wanted to live out two desired realities simultaneously: one of work and one of presence with my child.
I was knocking on doors wondering if God was weaving something I couldn’t see. I contacted women who were sewing with refugees to see if maybe there was a way I could work cross-culturally right here in West Michigan, the place I found myself. That’s when I met a woman––Dana Doll––selling baby leggings sewn by local resettled women––the same ladies I had reached out to! I bought a pair for my baby who was coming soon and left looking up at the sky and saying a thank you that maybe, just maybe, God had a purpose for all of the very different things I had done and cared about up to that point. Maybe the best was yet to come.
And it was.
A week before I gave birth to my second, I met with Dana, bursting in wonder at how our ideas for building a community that learned from others, that stewarded strengths and resources sustainably, and that valued creativity could actually take shape. About a week postpartum, sticky notes began appearing on our Eastown dining room walls while our firstborn toddlers played.
We started hosting listening sessions with businesses, organizations, and New Americans. We asked the question: How does someone really feel a sense of belonging and plant deep roots here––roots that lead to true flourishing not just for their families but for the community that their strength and resilience will undoubtedly impact?
We listened to desires for community centered around learning English, creating cross-cultural friendships, deeper connections and tools to navigate this new home, and a shared makerspace for New American women. Then we got busy!
And now, so many more have been activated by this work. And this wider collective is keeping busy, shaping the next chapter of Treetops. We plan for this chapter to be creatively focused on belonging, to value going deeper rather than wider, to embrace the power of relationships, to understand that progress is only made if there are opportunities for deep connection, and to continue moving forward with a focus on stewardship and collaboration.
In just two years this Collective has not only created work for New Americans through our curated product line, entrepreneurship, and engaged business partners, but also ignited a movement to spread welcome.
There is opportunity everywhere to make meaningful connections. We can instigate unlikely introductions that not only create economic opportunity, but activate the community to consider how they too can create spaces of belonging through their skills, their business, their production, or as a customer.
Our hope is that the social enterprise work of Treetops continues to honor the creativity of our community and connects women to the marketplace in ways that honor where they came from, meets their economic needs, cultivates connection with their community, and creates sustainable revenue to continue our welcoming work for the long run.