Refugees keep this coffeeshop buzzing in suburban Atlanta
The owner Refuge Coffee Co. gives refugees a job and an opportunity to build a new life in America.
My husband, Bill, and I have four grown sons. They bring us so much joy and pride, especially these days. I can barely remember that season when I fretted over those crazy teenage boys … when I wondered if our sons would ever learn how work hard. When their adolescent entitled attitudes made me cringe. Those days are long over. Whew!
I’ve been called a “bleeding heart” on social media, which could make one think I esteem handouts and give something for nothing. But trust me, you can’t raise teenage boys and think that way!
I’m convinced work is important to the health of cultures and families. We founded Refuge Coffee Co., a coffeeshop in suburban Atlanta, on the bedrock of a solid work ethic. We believe every refugee has a right to the American Dream; we believe that right comes packaged in the opportunity to work hard.
The funny thing is, we haven’t had to teach this part of it at all. Our refugee employees actually teach us a thing or two about how important it is to rise above your circumstances on the steps of your own labor.
Two of our former trainees, Frey and Malek started small businesses on the side that they dived into full force when they finished their time with us. They both applied for the rigorous Start ME Accelerator Program, a local business-mentoring program that selected just 17 of 100 applicants. Frey and Malek were both accepted AND praised for their obvious combination of intellect and drive. Malek’s business eventually provided a path back to the college education the war in his country, Syria, forced him to put on hold. The side hustle, what could be more American Dream-y?
One day I overheard Leon Shombana, our first trainee and now the manager of our coffee shop, on the phone with one of his children who at that time still lived in the Congo with Leon’s mother. Later, he told me he was instructing his children to stay inside the house until the gunfire in their neighborhood ceased. (U.N. peacekeepers showed up to push the fighting out of his area the very next day.) Let me tell you, I would have used that traumatic conversation as a reason to take a personal day in a split second. Leon could have, too, but he stayed at work instead.
Ahmad Alzoukani, our director of catering, simply will not say “no.” We tell him that work-life balance is important, but he has a hard time turning down any opportunity to share the “Refuge love” no matter how many hours he’s worked. If at all possible, he’ll make it happen for our customers every time.
Ahmad and Leon believe in their work, they believe in our mission, and their exceptional work ethics prove it. But they also work in an organization like Refuge, one that believes you work so you can live, not the other way around. Because they have dignifying work, they’re able to live dignifying lives that enhance their families and their communities.
Rest assured that when you give to Refuge, you don’t give an empty handout; you give to a culture of hard work. You give to dignity, to thriving, and to giving back. You help our refugee neighbors shine.