Charlene and Verlaine fell in love and married inside the Malawi refugee camp where they spent nine years of their life after fleeing the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In 2016, they resettled to Salt Lake City with their baby girl, Nyla. It was February when they arrived, and soon after the family experienced their first snowfall.
“It was terrible,” laughs Verlaine, remembering the cold and the shock of the snow. A more welcome surprise was the rented house waiting for them upon arrival, filled with home goods and furniture provided by the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Salt Lake City. “What a luxury!” Verlaine says.
Before coming to the U.S., Verlaine worked in carpentry, and Charlene was a tailor and recording artist, singing in a religious choir. But it has always been a dream of Charlene’s to open a children’s home—she loves being surrounded by children. With the help of the IRC in Salt Lake City’s economic wellbeing programming, the couple is in the process of opening a daycare business out of their house in Taylorsville.
“We put kids first. No discrimination,” Verlaine says, explaining their childcare philosophy. “We take all kids equally.” Accustomed to unexpected challenges, the couple says they’re planning to start small, with five to six childcare spaces during the first year, and then possibly expand from there.
The IRC’s economic wellbeing program uses a bundled service model to help refugees—like Verlaine and Charlene—develop their own business and personal goals, whether it’s for a small business, career development, financial literacy, or a home purchase. After a lot of hard work at the IRC in Salt Lake City, the economic wellbeing program was recently awarded a grant for their Care About Childcare program, a childcare incubator for businesses like Verlaine and Charlene’s. Before opening their business, a financial literacy coach helped the couple with personal budgeting to lower their monthly bills, including the IOM loan for their initial travel to the US.
For refugee and new American entrepreneurs, economic wellbeing staff from the IRC first screen ideas and discuss their viability before helping to draw up business plans and provide seed money. Last year alone, the IRC in Salt Lake City’s small business program served 92 entrepreneurs, helping start 20 new businesses and aiding 27 existing businesses to grow and expand. Written materials and coaching in marketing, business administration, and accounting are also available. The goal is to move the refugee and new American entrepreneurs from assistance to independence. The IRC in Salt Lake City helped Verlaine and Charlene through the licensing process, even helping them draw up a floor plan for their childcare space.
Recently, the couple added a baby boy to their family, Quartus. Verlaine has been given an opportunity to continue his studies in construction management at Salt Lake Community College, and he says their greatest success so far has been improving their English and adjusting to their new life in Salt Lake City, a place they have found welcoming and friendly.
The couple’s focus now is on building a successful childcare business for Charlene to nurture and grow. They say they want to continue to support children, to help orphans and other refugee children. “We want to buy our own house to find a place for our kids, and make sure they have a good education and a peaceful life,” Verlaine says. With the help of IRC, those goals are now closer than ever before.
Learn how you can support refugee and New American entrepreneurs by becoming a business mentor with IRC in Salt Lake City. Email us at VolunteerSLC [at] rescue.org (subject: Business%20Mentor%20-%20Inquiry) .