“Camp 1” is a long way from Winston-Salem, but several of the Myanmar community’s former inhabitants are sharing a piece of their culture with Triad residents through The Bloom Collective, a local enterprise specializing in handmade and sustainable goods. Officially founded last fall, The Bloom Collective features the work of a group of 15 to 20 refugees who are creating and selling their wares in an effort to help support their families.

“The group of people that are part of The Collective is mostly mothers, learning English as a second language through the YMCA Literacy program,” says Allie Mangin, community outreach coordinator for The Collective. “They have an interest in selling things made with their hands for supplementary income for their families, and this cooperative model allows them to share business ownership and profits.”

Mangin explains that many of the women in The Collective have had “hard, chaotic lives” in their former countries. Most are married to husbands with full-time jobs, and to make ends meet once they moved to the U.S., some began working weekend jobs, creating a schedule where children were cared for by their parents, but the parents were rarely together.

“For example, one of our members has been here seven years, and she lived in a refugee camp her entire life,” Mangin says. “She has three kids and her husband works out of town all week so she found job opportunities on weekends, but the family unity is split. She is gifted with this wonderful geometric mind, and the cooperative has helped her get involved in the community, grow her confidence, and connect. She is now working toward stopping the weekend job so she can spend more time with her family and still earn an income.”

Many members come from agrarian backgrounds that naturally segue into one of The Bloom Collective’s recent initiatives. In addition to sewing kitchen towels, napkins, and crocheted toys, The Collective’s members also work with Crossnore School & Children’s Home on the school’s farm and gardens. Local restaurants, including Camino Bakery, Mozelle’s Fresh Southern Bistro, Willow’s Bistro, Rooster’s – A Noble Grill, Village Juice Co., and Providence Kitchen source the farm’s produce, supporting both Crossnore and The Collective membership with purchases.

“Most families in the program have farming backgrounds and know how to grow food,” Mangin says. “Now they are learning how to do it as a business.”

Moving forward into 2020, The Bloom Collective members will continue to sell their products online and at select local venues. Mangin hopes that as word spreads about the organization, more people will become involved as volunteers and “help us move it forward.” Volunteer opportunities are listed on the organization’s website and include roles like managing The Bloom Collective social media pages.

“We’re recruiting a board to help the group move forward. Additional volunteers can really help this business pivot into a successful future,” Mangin says. “It is dramatic what an extra set of income can do for these families. An extra $250 a month means so much and most of these women have never earned an income. It’s empowering.”

To learn more about The Bloom Collective, visit online at bloomcollectivenc.com.

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