DuPage County Organization Seeks to Uplift Refugee Women

Every year thousands of refugees seek asylum in the United States.

An organization in DuPage County is helping refugee women get back on their feet by teaching them how to become designers.

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Josefina Rengifo never imagined she would have to say goodbye to her life in Venezuela.

 “I needed to learn a new life. I am not young and it was hard. I didn’t know the language. When people leave for other countries, the people don’t want that, but they need to,” said Rengifo. 

Rengifo says she was forced to leave her country four years ago, having to part ways with her businesses and head to Illinois to live with her daughters.

“When I came here, I thought my life was over, why me? Here, I listened to (others’) history and said, ‘Wow, Josefina be quiet. The life for other people has been more difficult,” said Rengifo, a worker at Re:new where she met other women with similar stories.

Re:new is a faith-based nonprofit organization that serves refugee women in DuPage County.

“Our mission is to create a safe space for refugee women to thrive, and we do that by offering sewing classes and English classes in hopes that it would lead to a job either with us or with someone else,” said Kristi Zboncak, executive director of Re:new.

Rengifo was eager to learn English and was encouraged to learn sewing and became an artisan.

“The most important thing is that you learn that you can do it, and Re:new takes care of the people here,” said Rengifo. “They pay attention to what you’re feeling and what happened with your family. That gives you dignity.”

The organization began as a sewing group and slowly grew into an organization in 2009. Re:new’s executive director says more than a hundred women have participated in the program and have worked for the shop.

“We find that in sewing and in creating is definitely a healing process for the artisans, especially when they did not know how to sew. And they come here feeling alone and all of a sudden they have a friend, and they have a machine and they can start to create again,” said Zboncak. “The process in healing and there’s something powerful about taking (something) discarded and would have been thrown away, but instead we are able to turn it into something beautiful.”  

Farida Gasanova has worked for Re:new for the last eight years. She was a kindergarten teacher when she fled the country of Georgia at 47.

“I come here not speaking English, and now I know a little bit, little bit,” said Gasanova.

Now she is a designer making all kinds of things from earrings to handbags.

“Every time I pray that God helps us get customers. I’m happy, every time customers come I pray on my machine,” said Gasanova.  

All the products they sell at the store in Glen Ellyn are made from upcycled material donated from furniture stores and the community.

“A lot of our products are a little more expensive than what you would expect, but that’s because we pay a fair wage and all their wages go directly into the cost of the product,” Zboncak said.

Even though the journey hasn’t been easy, Rengifo says the organization has helped her start over.

“I’m very grateful because I have a new family here, and I’m living with my daughters and every day I say thank to this county for a new opportunity,” Rengifo said.

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