A City’s Unique Response To Refugees

The opening line on Sparrow Furniture’s website reads, “Our city is in need of action.”

The “action” Sparrow Furniture Founder Luke Glaze refers to is helping refugees who are being resettled in Salem, Oregon, with meaningful employment.

“Historically, refugees in Oregon were placed in Portland,” a video on the website claims. “However, due to rising housing costs resettlement agencies have been placing more and more refugees in Salem.”

In January 2016, Catholic Charities committed to placing 50 refugees in Salem throughout 2016, according to a statement in USA Today. Other resettlement agencies plan to follow suit in 2017.

Sparrow Furniture plans to help refugees adjust to a new city with immediate employment and investment in skills such as job training and English lessons. The business will focus on repurposing and refinishing furniture, lighting and decor.

“The business was prompted by what resources were available at Salem Alliance Church,” Glaze says of the decision to repurpose furniture.

After one to two years of job skills training and language development, Glaze says Sparrow Furniture will then help refugees move onto other employment opportunities where they can experience upward job mobility.

Sparrow Furniture’s fiscal sponsor, Salem Alliance Church, helped by providing them an abandoned warehouse space and bring great staff resources to the table to help ensure Sparrow’s success.

Glaze became acquainted with Salem Alliance Church eight years ago, and moved to Jordan six years ago with church members to help with economic development in the Middle East.

“I studied economic development in college, so it was my first opportunity to put it into practice,” Glaze says of his experience in Jordan, where he saw firsthand the Syrian refugee crisis.
To help get the organization get started and bring the warehouse space up to code, Glaze started a crowdfunding campaign on Mightycause with a goal to raise $50,000 for necessary renovations. Once they secure the necessary funds, they hope to hire 2–3 employees in the first few months.

So far, the fundraiser has raised $12,500 towards their goal. Comments have flooded their page to support the cause, with many people thanking Glaze for his idea.

“We believe in ‘Our New Neighbors’ and this transformational business … will go a long way toward building Shalom in the City of Shalom,” one commenter writes.

Glaze says refugees in the city have already responded positively by dropping off resumes and inquiring about employment.

“Ultimately our goal is to hire as many refugees as possible,” Glaze says. “Our business model shows we could hire up to 15 people in three years.”

Salem Church Alliance is also sponsoring other services for the community, such as social services, a free medical clinic and a community center. These services will help make a more comprehensive opportunity for refugees in Salem.

Another Salem business, The Northwest Hub, has expressed interest in using their business model to teach refugees to repair bikes and build their own bike for means of transportation.

Glaze serves on an interfaith response committee which focuses on welcoming the city’s new neighbors, called Salem for Refugees.

“Salem’s response to refugee resettlement has been great,” Glaze says. “The community has really wanted to help and to organize themselves to assist refugees.”

While more than two dozen state governors asked President Obama to reject Syrian refugees in 2016, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown tweeted in November 2015 that Oregon would continue to accept refugees.

“They seek safe haven and we will continue to open the doors of opportunity to them,” Brown tweeted.

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