Grant Helps Female Refugees Build A Life in New Surroundings

Havenly Treats
Havenly Treats second cohort from left to right: Mutiaa, from Syria; Siham, from Sudan; Nieda co-founder; and Mashair, from Sudan. Mutiaa works as a pharmacist, Silham works in food service at The University of New Haven, and Mashair works in childcare. Photo Credit: Malak Nasr

Nieda Abbas, head chef at Havenly Treats, is proud to teach immigrant women how to work in a commercial kitchen, to learn workplace expectations, and to develop life skills from the Havenly kitchen space in New Haven, Connecticut.

An immigrant herself, Nieda is passionate about helping other immigrants successfully grow roots in the region. At Havenly Treats Nieda says “everyone is like family. We all collaborate and provide support to each other. This creates a good work environment, but we are more than just a place of working and learning. We open up families, providing financial, spiritual, and social relief.”

A strong leadership and socialization component to the program is designed to empower refugees, says Caterina Passoni, executive director at Havenly. “Many of the women in the program have been traumatized and isolated. If you are not working the situation is very bad. There is a high number of unemployed among refugee women. This program gives women a chance to learn skills to get a job to support their children. By the end of the program the women are talking, laughing, and believing in themselves.”

Havenly Treats received $6,000 in 2021 from the Community Fund for Women & Girls (the Fund), thanks to Fund donor Cynthia Parker’s gift of stock. Given the Fund’s mission to promote the social and economic advancement of women and girls, the grant aligned with advancing women, especially women of color, who have been particularly impacted by the pandemic and need avenues to access well-paying jobs. Havenly Treats also received an additional $60,600 from The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven through its responsive grants process.

In the 2021 session, Nieda and Caterina selected nine refugees from Sudan, Syria, and Guatemala to participate in Havenly Treats’ 6 month, paid training program. Previously only six had been selected. By 2022 they intend to expand the number of participants to 15. The most popular way potential applicants learn about the program is word of mouth. The women share their experiences with friends and family, who then share the information with others. Information is also shared on social media. Havenly Treats also has partnerships with IRIS, Junta, and other organizations that serve refugees and immigrants in the region.

“Without the grant our class size would have remained at six,” said Caterina. The need is great with 50 women applying for the program this session. For the selection process, “we look for the needs of the women and the fit with the program. Those women not chosen this time are hoping to be selected for the next cohort,” said Caterina.

The program gives the women 15 hours a week in the kitchen with Nieda where they learn how a commercial kitchen works and workplace expectations. They spend one hour a day learning a variety of life skills including English, finance, computer skills, tax prep, training in CPR and First Aid, getting certified in Food Safety, and job readiness training.

The program has 12 graduates who have been successful in finding good entry-level jobs after completing the program. “One of our first graduates works as a baker for the University of New Haven. Not everyone remains in the food service industry. One works in pharmacy, and another started a Dental Assistance program. This program supports them in a variety of careers,” said Caterina.

Nieda’s dreams for Havenly Treats do not end here. Nieda says, “I hope the organization grows to 4 times the size it is now becoming a large organization with more menu items and workers to increase opportunity. Also, to be a place students from other countries can feel at home with authentic, home-style food.”

For more information about Havenly Treats, view their profile here.