Passport Scavenger Hunt

Passport Scavenger Hunt

Participants holding lollipop bouquet prize and passport while sporting a unique find of the day: a giant hair bow.

Last summer during a road trip, I came across an activity designed to get kids and their families out in the local shops: a passport scavenger hunt. Local shopkeepers had hidden cardboard cutouts in the shape of “Where’s Waldo” inside their stores; when the kids found the cutout, they’d would get a stamp in their passport.The game not only provided families with a fun activity for long summer days, it also boosted local business. I thought, “Why not reproduce this game in Hillman City?”

Passport Scavenger Hunt

Cutout hidden in Tin Umbrella coffee shop

I posed the idea to my community development team and a few months later we launched our own version. In place of Waldo, we had the youth from Rainier Avenue Church color children of the world cutouts.

At first, we thought it may be difficult to convey to some shopkeepers who do not speak English as a first language the objective of this activity. In fact, the first shopkeeper I posed the idea to was hesitant.

“I’ll have to check with the owner,” she told me.

However, when we returned with a model Hillman City passport and colored cardboard cutout, they were excited to participate. We printed the passports with a list of 3 questions to trigger conversations with shopkeepers because one of our main purposes for the activity was to facilitate interactions among people who may otherwise live very separate lives (a goal of community development!). We kept the questions simple:

  • What is the most popular item in your store?
  • What’s your favorite thing from this store?
  • How long has this store been here?
Passport Scavenger Hunt

El Corazon workers serve us complimentary appetizers.

On the day of the event, about 40 people participated in visiting 8 shops. Afterwards, we reconvened and gave away 3 prizes:

First one back: $10 gift card to local restaurant

Most unique item: $20 gift card to local restaurant

Best story: Hillman City tote filled with local goodies

I recommend this activity for others doing community development as well as business associations. Being the third challenge of the year that engaged with our local businesses (following “Eat in Hillman City” and “Shop Hillman City”), it added another point of contact with the shopkeepers and workers in our community.From the shopkeepers to the children, everyone seemed to dig it. Even a week later when I stopped by one of the Somalian groceries to buy a spice pack, the cashier asked me, “How was the game?”

“Great,” I replied. “Did you all enjoy it?”

His grin was telling. Yes!

Employing Refugees: Interview with Ellie McDermott

World Relief Refugee

Ellie and I were part of the same cohort in completing our Masters in International Community Development. We both shared a passion for social entrepreneurship, which Ellie now implements in her role of Employment Specialist at World Relief where she helps refugees find employment in the United States. You can contact her at Thanks so much for being willing to do this interview for A Community Entrepreneur!

1. As you help refugees find employment through your role at World Relief, you’re really developing a community of thriving, self-supportive, contributing citizens. Would you say that’s the goal of your job?  

There are many reasons why World Relief helps refugees prepare for and connect to employment. The most pressing reason is financial self-sufficiency. Refugees receive a limited amount of financial assistance during their resettlement period, so it is imperative for them to be able to support their families financially when this limited period is over.

Improving English, building a social and professional network, and gaining American work experience are other essential reasons why we help refugees find employment.

Refugees come to America to become thriving members in a new community. They come to participate, engage, and flourish. Employment is one significant method through which they can achieve this goal.

2. On the stats end, what is the number of refugees entering the US each year and where are most coming from?

The President sets a refugee admission number each year. The past few years, the President has set the maximum admission at 80,000 individuals. The primary countries that refugees are coming from are Bhutan, Burma, Iraq, and Somalia.*

3. What would you say to someone who complains that refugees are taking away jobs from unemployed Americans?

Many of the initial jobs that refugees obtain are jobs that native-born Americans do not pursue, such as entry-level hospitality and warehouse positions. In my experience, most of the refugees I have helped obtain employment have been competing with other refugees and immigrants for open positions.

4. What have been some of the most unique or surprising skill sets you’ve found refugees to possess? Have any of those skills been marketable?

Some of my clients come from urban environments; others have spent nearly their entire life living in a refugee camp with very limited opportunities. What I always remind prospective employers is that the refugee experience is incredibly diverse.

However, a privilege of my job is getting to help recently-arrived refugees identify the strengths that they bring to America. When I’m helping a newly-arrived refugee prepare their resume, sometimes it takes creative question-asking to identify the rich transferrable skills that they bring with them.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of some of my clients’ resumes is the breadth of work they have done. There must be different perspectives of work in different cultural contexts. For example, sometimes clients will tell me that they only had one job before they came to America, say, at a bakery, but when I ask follow-up questions, I learn that they also used to fix their friends’ cars, repair air conditioners, interpret, and drive a taxi!

5. Finally, now’s your chance to dream a little. If you were to start a business with the intention of employing refugees, what would it be?

A bakery! This probably stems from my love of baking, but also would provide a variety of positions suitable for various language and skill-levels, as well as opportunities for employees to share their culture through food.

Employees with very little English could successfully perform packaging or dishwashing positions because these positions require little to no English language skills. Additionally, production workers can complete tasks such as operating mixers and slicing machines.

Employees with previous experience could work as bakers. Those with higher-level English skills could work as cashiers or baristas. As employees gain experience and increase their language skills and understanding of the company, they could move into supervisory positions.

If we were a really big operation, maintenance mechanics could maintain and repair machines. Customer service representatives would manage accounts throughout the city. Delivery drivers would deliver our delicious baked goods to grocery stores and other cafes.

Of course, in my dream, the bakery would feature baked goods and beverages from around the world and would also function as a community center that features refugee art, music, English classes, and more!

6. Anything else you’d like to share? 

Our refugee neighbors bring such a rich diversity to our communities. In my work with refugees, I have learned more about the richness of hospitality, work ethic, perseverance, and generosity. I am deeply blessed to do this work every day.

Meet a refugee! Invite them over for dinner! Learn how to cook new foods! Visit new places together and experience your community through the eyes of its newest members!

I promise, you will learn more than you could imagine.

*”Presidential Memorandum – Annual Refugee Admissions Numbers”

Rainier Valley Coffee Shop

Tin Umbrella

As a visionary, idea-generator, I cultivate so many entrepreneurial dreams that I know I will never be able to live all of them out in a lifetime. Always, I am excited to see others take off with one of these creative endeavor, whether sparked by my influence or not. Awhile ago, I suggested to my community development team that a bakery in Hillman City could achieve a number of our desired goals for the neighborhood: cultivate community among diverse residents, employ recent immigrants, introduce people from diverse ethnic backgrounds to one another’s language, food and culture. Each day of the week, a delicacy from a different community represented in the neighborhood would be featured. Neighbors would come to expect Ethiopian sweet bread on Mondays and Vietnamese rolls on Tuesday, for example. The signs would be written in at least half a dozen of the most widely spoken languages in the Rainier Valley and the bakery would intentionally employ people representing these different communities to work together and teach one another how to bake their specialties. It would also have a space for community activities, or open mikes, where singing, dancing, poetry, storytelling and the arts could be performed. Another member of my team suggested the shop sell bubble tea as well (a Bubble Tea Bakery).

Although this idea hasn’t developed beyond the dream stage, I was excited to learn that a coffee shop, the Tin Umbrella, was opening in the neighborhood that’s connecting with our Ethiopian community and creating a gathering space for residents. The founder, Joya, spent some time in Ethiopia so speaks Amaharic and is sourcing the beans from farmers she personally knows there.

Attending the Grand Opening, however, I was disappointed that the crowd present did not at all represent the diversity of the Rainier Valley. I have since learned that the opening of the Tin Umbrella, as well as the Spinnaker Bay Brewing Company a block away, are sources of controversy by longer-term residents. Many feel as if these up-and-coming enterprises mirror the gentrification that occurred in Columbia City, pushing the lower-income residents, recent immigrants and diverse ethnic communities farther out of the city to be replaced by hip, young hangouts. Talking with Joya in-person, I know she has a desire to engage and celebrate the diverse communities located here, yet her business model (delivering high-end coffee to residents by bike) appeals to a select set of residents, while alienating others.If enterprises like the Tin Umbrella really want to connect with the other communities present, they will have to make the effort and do things like:

  • Sell unroasted beans to Ethiopian residents for their coffee ceremonies (in conjunction with getting the word out and marketing them at a price residents can afford)
  • Collaborate with other businesses in Hillman City to encourage cross experimentation of customers (e.g. a punch card for getting Somalian tea at the other shops in the neighborhood as well as Tin Umbrella coffee)
  • Employ baristas, roasters and staff who represent the diversity of the neighborhood

Watching establishments such as the coffee shop and brewery unfold causes me to recognize the difficulties that surround economic growth and development in conjunction with social and COMMUNITY development.It’s a tricky balance to facilitate both and I don’t know of a lot of models that have done that well. If you know of some, please share. I would love to hear about them!

Bits of Love

Bits of Love: Sweetheart bracelet crafted from paper beads in Uganda

Bits of Love: Sweetheart bracelet crafted from paper beads in Uganda

When Kallie Dovel traveled to Northern Uganda in 2007, she saw what the world knows best about the country: impacts of war, poverty and destruction. But she also discovered its many nuggets of beauty, such as women who were crafting beautiful jewelry from paper beads there. Recognizing that the women had a skill but lacked a plan for marketing and selling their creations, Dovel began 31 Bits in order to provide a market for channeling their skills. Starting with six women, the company has since grown to now work with 108 women who are simultaneously becoming part of a hope-building community and developing business skills to eventually work on their own.

As someone who’s passionate about innovation, social enterprise and community development, I consider 31 Bits to be a superb model. Four reasons I love it:

  • They approach poverty with holistic solutions
  • They’ve built sustainability into the job creation program
  • They’re scaling the business with high-quality products
  • They use social media seamlessly
31bits collage

31 Bits provides women with community, education and place to dream about their future.

Holistic Approach

Women sign a 4 year contract with 31 Bits during which time they receive an education, financial skills, business skills, vocational training, AIDS and health education and English lessons, if they so desire. All of this occurs in a supportive community with other women who are developing those skills.

31 Bits empowers women in Uganda to leave poverty

31 Bits empowers women in Uganda to leave poverty


The goal is that they will have the skills to sustain themselves after 4 years of going through the program and being part of a supportive, caring community. Not only are they able to feed their families, they have developed a career, confidence and a voice. From feeling greater respect in their homes in Uganda to being featured on their designer page, the women are given dignity and recognition. Plus the enterprise is sustainable in that the products are crafted from recycled paper and other local materials using a handicraft skill the women already knew.

31bits woman with clutch

31 Bits uses fashion and design too creatively solve problems of poverty

Upscale Jewelry

From being featured on Hallmark to spotted on celebrities, 31 Bits sells only high-end products that customers feel a sense of pride in owning. For example, browsing their online wedding shop feels like stepping into a boutique bridal shop.Beautiful clutches like the one pictured above are infused with a special touch of style.

Social Media

From a regularly updated blog, to Facebook to Pinterest to Twitter and instagram, 31 Bits is on top of it when it comes to connecting via social media. Plus they’ve integrated it seamlessly into their website and new product releases. They update each one regularly with relevant and interesting content. As you can see, I’m a huge fan!

First 13 Posts in 2013

bucket list

I keep determining that I’m going to start blogging regularly, and although I got this cool site set up with an awesome url last fall, the whole blogging part hasn’t happened yet. Yet again, one of my New Year’s Goals was to post twice a week. Well, I was discussing New Year Resolutions with a group of good friends and one of them mentioned how like over 90% of resolutions don’t make it through the year. I thought about how my friends who’ve made bucket lists for a set amount of time (e.g. 30 Things to Do When 30) tend to have a much higher completion rate. Perhaps this is because because someone with the goal of running a marathon, for example, feels more motivated to make time to run regularly than does someone with the resolution of running 2 or 3 times per week.

“I need help re-wording my blogging goal” I told them. “I keep saying I want to post twice a week, but it’s not happening.”

“Maybe you should just make it once a week,” a friend suggested.

“Maybe you should just force yourself to write every day for a month and then it’ll be a habit,” said another, the one who ran a marathon last year.

I decided instead to take the bucket list approach to blogging. Because part of my 5 Goals for the year is to create quarterly sub-goals, I’m starting by listing 12 topics I plan to blog about between now and the end of March, with #13 being this one. And, yes, I’ve reduced my aim to once per week rather than twice as it seems more achievable. So below are the topics in no particular order:

1. Tierra Nueva: an organic farm and social enterprise that empowers migrant workers in the NW

2. Street Bean Café: a Seattle coffee shop that trains and employs homeless youth to be baristas

3. The Now Habit: best ideas from book on avoiding procrastination

4. Getting Things Done: tips for getting things done (duh :))

5. Freedom Stones: a social enterprise that trains and employs trafficked women in Thailand to make beautiful jewelry

6. To Buy Can Be Better Than To Give: Why I Bought a Necklace Instead of Giving a Donation

7. 31 Bits: an upscale jewelry line that employs women in Uganda to make their traditional paper beaded wares

8. Hillman City Here We Come! Challenges my community development team is making in South Seattle

9. Community Development initiative in India (can’t think of the name right now and brochure on it is in my bedroom where the international student I’m hosting is sleeping)

10. Coffee for a Cause: interview with my friend James who does development work with coffee plantations in Kenya and other countries around the globe

11.  Surprise #1

12. Surprise #2

A Hybrid of Ideas

San Fran Mural

I love to explore. Whether hiking in the great outdoors or discovering new ways to empower trafficked women, I love to discover new places, ideas and developments.

This blog is dedicated to bringing together a fusion of the very best ideas from community development, social services, entrepreneurship and international development and fuse them into a sort of hybrid model–or at least provide a forum where they can be referred to and discussed. Hopefully the best ideas will be implemented and replicated around the globe.