When God connects people, he always has a purpose; when God blesses, he always does more than we can ask or imagine. Within BHITC, God is doing exactly that at The Hope Center – its satellite office for refugees and immigrants in West Park – which opened in February of 2015.
At The Hope Center, which sees nearly 100 refugees in just two days of operations per week, valuable connections happen for the people BHITC serves every day. For Sylvester Mugongo, a refugee from the DR Congo who arrived in the United States five years ago, The Hope Center provided the connections he needed to bring his dream of owning a business to reality!
Mugongo, with experience as a professional driver, knew he wanted to start a business and build something for himself and his family, but he needed a few valuable connections to make it happen. BHITC’s Eileen Wilson, Director of Refugee Resettlement Ministries, who leads a team of staff at The Hope Center, and Rebecca Mayhew from Economic & Community Development Institute (ECDI) Cleveland, were just the connections he needed.
Two are Better than One: BHITC and ECDI
Already partners for the refugee community, BHITC and ECDI have worked together many times in the past to help refugees start businesses and take steps forward in life. “ECDI – which provides business development, training and small start-up loans – has become an ideal partner in so many respects,” says Wilson. “Knowing ECDI understands the needs of refugees, gives them the appropriate attention they need and will lead them along step by step, is invaluable to me.”
Mugongo is the perfect example of how the partnership benefits the entire refugee community. “Eileen is always telling me transportation is a huge need in the refugee community. Both she and I already knew Sylvester, so when he came to ECDI with the idea of starting a small business, she and I discussed his people skills and customer service mindset, and knew he’d be great for a transportation business – especially considering his professional driving experience. He liked the idea right away,” says Mayhew.
Refugee Entrepreneur: New Business Meets Need and Demand
Mugongo spent a year planning his new business, Penzi Transportation, which launched in the fall of 2015 and now serves the Greater Cleveland area. He specializes in taking refugees to and from resettlement agencies, health clinics, The Hope Center, shopping establishments, their places of employment and to other locations upon request, such as a recent BHITC “field trip!”
“In the past, refugee resettlement agencies would hesitate to place refugees in first shift factory positions, solely because transportation is such an issue for them. He [Mugongo] is doing a lot of shuttling refugees to and from first shift jobs, making these factories now viable places of employment for local refugees, which is a huge benefit to them and the local economy” says Wilson. “He is also doing a lot of weddings and private parties, too.”
“I saw a huge need for a transportation service to help the many people who can’t drive due to illness, disability, age, language, lack of driver’s license or vehicle and otherwise,” says Mugongo. “My business has been a lot of work, but I am very proud of it and now I’m very hopeful for the future of myself and my family in America.”
The Hope Center: A Community and Resource Center
When BHITC opened The Hope Center just over a year ago, the staff and partners knew it would open countless opportunities for refugees, but they didn’t know just how many people it would draw! “The Hope Center has turned into not only a community center, but a real resource center for refugees,” says Mayhew. “It has become the place refugees from all over the city, regardless of who resettled them, come for any problem. Eileen and her team can connect all the people who need to be connected in a way nothing else can do for refugees, all through The Hope Center.”
Stories like that of Mugungo are true for refugees walking in the doors of The Hope Center every day. The right information and a few people to point them in the right direction can really open doors for a refugee to have a much better life.
The Hope Center is located at 15135 Triskett Road in Cleveland. For more information about The Hope Center and volunteering at The Hope Center, visit http://buildinghopeinthecity.org/cleveland/the-hope-center/.