Holiday Gift Guide – Any Recommendations?

Do you know of any businesses or products that should be featured in Higher’s annual holiday gift guide?  We have a great list started for this year’s guide, but it can always be better!  

Stay tuned for our annual holiday gift guide blog post. We’ll put all of your recommendations into one post to make your holiday shopping as easy as possible.  

Please submit your recommendations by commenting below or by contacting us.

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Job Readiness Success in Boise, ID

Full CircleWork brings meaningful connections, healing and income.

Full Circle Exchange in Boise, Idaho is a holistic Job Readiness Training Program.  They provide local women refugees a “pathway to empowerment” in four areas:

  • immediate transitional part time employment income,
  • job readiness skills,
  • educational growth and
  • emotional growth.

The video imbedded in this post does a great job of capturing women’s stories of their journeys and the value they find in work.

Sometimes we get too focused on the numbers that measure rapid self-sufficiency through employment.  The workplace is one of the first placed for clients to expand their social networks beyond the refugee community.

This quote from the film captures one of the added benefits of early employment that goes far beyond a paycheck.

“[The first thing they want] is a job because it means they’re moving on and starting a new life.  That things are going to change and, eventually, be ok.  That’s when the healing starts for a lot of them.”  Stacy Wiese, Project Lead



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Social Enterprise with an Extra: Home Based Employment for Refugee Women

BG from Bhutan Worn for Peace

BG, resettled in Ft. Worth from Bhutan in 2010. Photo from Worn for Peace Website.

In Ft. Worth, TX, Catholic Charities has started a home-based knitting business that helps refugee women use their skills to generate income while working from home to better fit the needs of their families.

This is a great solution to a common struggle for refugee employment around how best to help women contribute to family self-sufficiency and accommodate their family roles.

Read more in an article from a CBS news story or on the Worn for Peace website, where you can also shop their new Spring catalogue.



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Billboard Bags: Employer, Vocational Training Program and Social Enterprise

Billboard Bags is an innovative start-up social enterprise that up-cycles outdoor billboards into super cute bags that come in all shapes and sizes.  100% of their part-time employees are refugee women, who graduate from a year-long training program with stronger English, marketable hard and soft job skills and basic household financial management. Higher is entering the first 50 people to like us on Facebook in a drawing to win one of these great bags, each signed by the refugee woman who made it.  You can, too by clicking here!

bag at crabHow They Got Started

The team behind Billboard Bags in Atlanta, GA became increasingly aware of refugees’ struggle to make ends meet in their neighborhood.  “In our very own backyard, we had 3,500 refugees a year being resettled. They quickly became a part of our lives, and we knew there might be a way we could work together”, says Gisele Nelson, Execution Specialist for parent organization, Plywood People.

For a year and a half, they tested the idea of creating bags from old billboards given by a supporter glad to provide the raw material. (Blank billboards are covered with heavy printed banner material.)  They had a shed full of billboards before they knew what they were going to do with them.  In 2011, before any of the details had been solidified, an order of 5,000 bags propelled the project into high gear.

“We didn’t have a well thought out business plan or even a sewing machine”, Nelson explains.  What they did have was billboards, people to do the work, and orders to fill.  12 Burmese women and 12 sewing machines later, the first order was underway.  The learning curve was pretty sharp in the beginning.  According to Nelson, “the women we hired didn’t know how to sew.  We didn’t even know how to sew!” It took the team four months to complete 5,000 bags.

How it Looks Today

After just two years, Billboard Bags has sold over 50,000 up-cycled billboard products and has graduated 25 women from their training program.  The project has been sustainable through bag sales since the beginning and they hope to double in size by next summer.

bag woman sewing machine smallerThey currently hire 6 women, including an Iraqi manager.  They learned that new hires should be from different backgrounds, so that English is the common language that everyone can use to communicate.   They have also learned to hire in pairs (from similar backgrounds and language groups).  Each woman works 30 hours a week from 8am- 2pm each day, which is the schedule that works best for the employee trainees.


Billboard Bags is the first of four social enterprises making cool products and employing refugees that Higher will feature with a success story and product promotion for our readers in the coming months.  Like us on Facebook or check out our website to learn more and maybe get some great swag! 

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