Sheelan Shamdeen, FIN Program AssistantSheelan Shamdeen, a Kurdish-Iraqi refugee, began working with FIN as a graduate of Project Feast’s Apprenticeship Program. Also a client of StartZone at Highline College, she and her sister found support in planning their own Iraqi catering company - Soozveen. But catering is only a small part of her story. In fact, Sheelan looks at their catering company as tool to bridge her two identities as a Kursdish-Iraqi refugee and an American citizen – food is a platform for dialogue she says. “We had 24 hours to leave and weren’t sure where we were going.” Sheelan and her family fled Iraq in 1996 when Saddam Hussein announced anyone associated with the UN would be publicly hanged. They, along with countless others, spent 3 nights under a tent with no passports - their only keepsake from home a teddy bear her sister had saved. Although they were safe once they reached Turkey, they had a long unknown journey ahead of them. Arriving in Guam, many families squeezed into tight living quarters for months while official paperwork was filed to enter the US with green cards. Twenty years later Sheelan, her mother, and seven siblings are all US citizens. Many of those years have been spent teaching English to other immigrants and refugees at Highline College. Although she remembers every detail of her life in Iraq, she also embraces American culture and encourages newcomers to do the same. “Many refugees feel this is only temporary – that this is not their home. But this is the place that helped my family survive and I believe I have two homes now.” To her, she is truly accepted in America as a human being - not a Muslim or an Iraqi but as a person. Despite the things sometimes said in media and politics, she feels like she belongs here. Sheelan doesn’t want any immigrant to lose their language or culture but believes it is important to also feel at home here. In America it is possible to celebrate both patriotism and cultural diversity in the same breath. Sharing Iraqi food with people is just one way that she can start conversations about cultural identity. Over two years have passed since Sheelan was first introduced to FIN. She was part of the first group of Community Food Advocates, recently joined the first cohort FIN Entrepreneurs and, in September 2016, took a staff position as FIN’s Program Assistant. Being a refugee means Sheelan knows what it feels like to start something from nothing. She brings compassion into her work and is quick to respond in a moment of need. All she asks of those around her is to be open minded. Sheelan's advice to all people: “Ask questions before assuming you know someone’s story. Keep learning –there are so many free resources out there. And if you can’t find anything to learn then start a conversation with someone new.”
by Allison Mountjoy January 9, 2017, 10:30AM PST
From Motherhood to Social Justice ActivistaAt 31, Jaqueline Garcia is a force of nature. From empowering Latina mothers to small business advisor, it is motherhood that really fueled her ambition. Jaqueline left Mexico and a burgeoning dentistry practice when she and her husband moved to San Francisco. Intending to continue dentistry in the States, a different course began to unfold when they moved to Seattle and Jaqueline became pregnant. Although happy, she was very far away from her support system. Jaqueline explains: “this was a moment that I felt very isolated from family and depressed.” That moment was also the catalyst for her to become a community leader. (more…)
In Your Face Pie Company owner Elaine grew up in the Bronx, New York with her artist minded family. Her father made wooden toys that functionally disabled adults would sand, paint, and sell. Elaine watched her father, knowing one day she too would give back to her community. Years later, after her husband's job offer in Seattle fell through, she felt dangerously close to not being able to provide for her daughter. Before moving to Seattle Elaine had earned undergraduate degrees in Acting & Directing, Technical Theatre, and a Master’s degree in Performing Arts Management. Upon leaving NYC, it became difficult to find work as many employers felt she was overqualified for the positions available. “No one wanted to hire me. I had a child at the time and I just needed a job.” Although her husband eventually found a new job and supported them, she wanted to make something of herself. Elaine's father was the first to suggest that she begin a career in baking. Elaine fell in love with the idea and immediately enrolled in baking courses, eventually earning a certificate in Pastry and Specialty baking and learning the operations skills necessary to run food catering business. She quickly opened a chocolate company and eventually a small catering company. Eventually she closed the doors on both businesses and focused on raising her two daughters until they graduated high school. Though her passion for owning food businesses never faltered. Inspired by her father's philanthropic heart and her daughter's career in the Marines, Elaine began dreaming of a pie company. She set out to start a pie cafe where anyone who walked in the door would feel at home. In addition to her pies she would also provide employment and assistance to retired veterans. To start this new journey, Elaine enrolled in courses at Start Zone which led her to make connections with the Food Innovation Network and later Ventures. Through being tenacious and hardworking she graduated from Ventures’ Business Development Training program, received both her LLC and business license, and is working on developing the catering side of her business. Her company features over 40 varieties of sweet and 18 varieties of savory pies. What advice does Elaine have for other budding entrepreneurs? “Learn everything you can about your business and be a champion for your business. You have to want it, you have to want so bad that you can taste it. And I can really taste it.”
One of the highlights of FIN's 2015 Celebration was a presentation on refugee experiences. Floribert walked through the physical, psychological, and emotional impact of the Congo's last 20 years of war and the jarring loss of identity felt in the refugee camps. To him, this is a death and the transition to life in the US is like being reborn. Although transformative, arrival is also met with a loss of culture, lack of familiar foods, and a healthcare and social system that seems impossible to navigate. After spending only 1 year in the United States, Floribert is a leader in his local community. He currently works full time, attends school, participates as a Community Food Advocate, and in 2016 will begin co-chairing a FIN working group. What drives him? Floribert speaks of simple solutions to aid in integration and prioritizing supports for refugees to become successful citizens of the US.