Farewell 2017, Hello 2018

As we close out 2017, I would like to say THANK YOU to all of those that extended love, joy, and hospitality to our newest neighbors! What a year it has been.

Going into 2017 we knew we would face adversity and may experience trying times. What we didn’t realize is that the hate we saw during the election intensified after. Many new Americans awoke to fresh piles of trash being emptied outside their front doors; graffiti on their doors, on a regular basis, baseball bats, and assaults as they walked to the supermarket, name calling and people yelling at them to go home. It wasn’t easy for them or us at Heartfelt Tidbits. It became clear that the feelings we have for our friends extend past that of a client relationship. Clients become an extension of our family and the hurt they felt impacted us. Speaking up and advocating on their behalf became a full-time job. Assisting with the negative impacts of trauma experienced, like this, became a reality.

What was the silver lining in the hate? It has been the new partnerships and volunteers that brought us hope, generosity and shared the love. Many of who admitted to being complacent in the past suddenly felt an urgent need to lend a hand. Heartfelt Tidbits began working with Wordplay, Cint. Children’s Choir, Cincinnati Christian Academy, Prairie Inc., Indian Hill Church, Lutheran Church of the Resurrection, STIR, and new volunteers began to sign up at a record pace.

Existing relationships with partners deepened. Working towards creating a better tomorrow for our newest neighbors became a priority.   There were many examples of partners, old and new, that went above and beyond to show love, joy and welcome.

The Welcome Project

Wave Pool Art Gallery, Executive Director, Cal Cullen, asked us to take a leap of faith with her in creating a place where the community could come together to create, build friendships and create better lives for our newest Americans. We involved the women that were currently participating in art at Wave Pool and asked them to give the place a name. They decided to call it the Welcome Project. How appropriate. The Welcome Project is part of Wave Pool that Heartfelt Tidbits members participate alongside Wave Pool to guide the direction, live and have a chance to learn, earn and participate in the community of Camp Washington.

Tikkun Farm

As Mary Laymon, executive director of Tikkun Farms, was going through some career changes of her own, a conversation evolved about taking a chance of running a children’s farming summer camp. With Mary’s expertise in healing trauma and spiritual direction, we were confident that this would be a place where refugee kids could find peace and perceptions that American kids might have, could be expanded. The camp lasted four weeks. Children had no idea they were learning peaceful techniques of problem-solving as they participated in daily rituals of yoga, meditation, drumming, and art. Friendships were made, cultural differences were exchanged, including food and love abounded.

The farm also became the site for our fundraising dinners for Welcome, our volunteer thank you dinner and a visit by Prairie, Inc., and Finneytown High School students to meet the alpacas and Bhutanese gardeners. Love and peace abound at Tikkun Farm and they truly live up to their name, Tikkun.

Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy

A simple Facebook like on Heartfelt Tidbits page led to a meeting with a teacher, Karen and a student named Jack. Jack, a senior, was concerned that our newest Americans may not feel welcomed in their new home and wanted to change this. After a few meetings to brainstorm ideas, it was decided that he would host a cooking and game night at the school. He invited the students to the school, along with staff to assist and local refugee and immigrant teens. While many were nervous and anxious about meeting each other at the beginning at the evening, they began to uncover their similarities (sports, internet sites, parents, school) while learning to make brownies and homemade applesauce and by the end of the evening people were asking Jack if they could meet weekly.

Junior Women’s Club of Wyoming

What a gift in 2017 this organization has been. After a meeting with their new member group, we were quickly encouraged to apply for their annual grant that they distribute to non-profits. The approval of their grant enabled us to run our Teen Girls Empowerment Program, purchase a kiln for Welcome and provide sewing machines to our sewing participants. In addition, the women wanted to engage. They organized an educational toy and book drive that led to over 1,000, newborn – 12th-grade kids receiving books; hundreds of kids receiving stuffed animals upon arrival and at prior to the summer break along with materials to use in our adult literacy programs. Teen girls no longer had to feel embarrassed about not having personal hygiene products because of a donation drive during their monthly meeting. Many members now drive and participate in our programs and this group is planning and organizing a 2018 fundraiser for Heartfelt Tidbits. It doesn’t get any better than this.

College Hill Presbyterian Church

After inquiring about how they could be engaged with local refugees and immigrants, it was decided they would try a multi-pronged approach. First, they held information sessions with their congregation and exposed them to the multitude of programs that were out there, learned more about the population and how to serve them and visited programs. After visiting our adult ESL and Citizenship program, one of their members, Robin Reichel, volunteered and asked to lead the program. What a Godsend she has been to the volunteer teachers and students. She quickly assessed what was needed, went back to the church and asked for funding for curriculum, gathered additional volunteers for teaching and assessments, put together teaching training and provided the organization that the program lacked. Students comment how much they’re learning.


I’m not quite sure how Libby Hunter, executive director of Wordplay, and myself had never crossed paths prior.   A meeting to discuss their summer camps quickly led to how do we do a poetry and writing class during one of our women’s programs at Welcome. Despite the challenges, we were successful in holding the program for the ladies at Welcome, the volunteers and community members from Camp Washington. The women were inspired and brought closer together, as they went through the workshops that touched deep parts of their soul, heart and brought memories they had pushed deep within.   Truly one of our most moving programs we did for adults in 2017.


Excitement and joy surrounded the mural “Camp Razzle” that ArtWorks in collaboration with Wave Pool, brought to life in Camp Washington. San Francisco based artist Christian Davies created the mural. Christian drew his inspiration after spending time in Cincinnati, working alongside our newest neighbors from six different countries at Roberts Elementary, the women of the Welcome Project and the girls that participate in the monthly art program at Wave Pool. During the implementation of the mural, there were daily chances to visit the artists who were bringing it to life, with the kids and women who helped inspire it. This led to potlucks, parties and gardening opportunities. If you haven’t visited the mural yet, add it to your bucket list for 2018.


A non-profit founded and ran by Dani Isaacsohn has given our newest neighbors a seat at the table to share their voice, alongside city, university, police, transportation, and others. These relationships have led to further discussions and friendships among the attendees.

The year elevated people’s awareness in Cincinnati to Heartfelt Tidbits. Many sent messages and commented that they didn’t realize we had been here for almost 10 years and the number of refugees supported in that timeframe exceeded 20,000. Complete disbelief that an entire population had gone unnoticed in the city in which they lived. Another reason that Christian Davies mural “Camp Razzle” was so appropriate. Google and read about Razzle Dazzle art if you’re not familiar.

We said goodbye to some of our youngest refugees in the most tragic of ways. A 14-year-old committed suicide, a 54-year-old was struck by a vehicle and a young father of a 2 and 7-year-old, died of an epileptic seizure. When we took the time and gathered our breath, the man we named the “tree whisperer” fell 10 feet out of the tree he was climbing and is recovering from the severe fall.

During all of these experiences, good and bad, love abounded. For this, we’re thankful and hopeful that 2018 will be an even brighter year. Our hope is that our government will allow refugees from Syria to come into the United States to be reunited with their spouses and parents, that officials will come together to put policies in place to allow those most vulnerable to have a path to citizenship and not fear additional raids. Those children who are in college under the Dream Act will continue on so that someday they can help America be the best it can be.

May blessings, light, and love surround you in 2018!

Creativity + Friendship = Success

For almost a year now, a group of 7-10 women have been meeting at the Wave Pool and learning art techniques from Cal Cullen and other local artists. What began as a journey of “let’s teach some art,” has led too much more. Friendships have evolved, uncontrollable laughter, an election, pink pussy hats, tears of joys and sadness, frank discussions about the human anatomy shared in each language, a beginning to a deep understanding of our inner soul and unconditional love for one another.  A community was built amongst strangers.

As two artists, a woman and her daughter in law, mourned the loss of a son and husband, they found comfort and friendship from their new friends. As a Syrian woman wept and shared through the little English she knew that each time her eyes closed she saw bombs exploding and feared for her children that she left behind in the camps in Jordan, a new picture was painted for her through art. This one was of beauty and joy, pomegranate seeds.

The most unexpected, yet exciting gift to each of these women, was the realization they were capable of creating something so beautiful. This has given them purpose and passion. This passion has led to an extra day each week on Thursday’s to share techniques with those that couldn’t make it on Monday or Tuesday, and to experiment further.

The Thursday class began at Tikkun Farms and is now hosted at the new Welcome site in Camp Washington. Thursdays are filled with laughter, children and visitors. People paint, sew, experiment and just sit idly enjoying the conversation. Around noon food starts coming out of cloth bags and lunch is casually eaten while the projects continue on. The kids relax, read, play and wave to neighbors while sitting in the window reading nook areas.

The Welcome site has provided an area for friendships and healing.  Many who attend have faced trauma that they haven’t been able to express because of language barriers.  Their art and sewing enables them to heal through the meditation and creation of the project.  Their perspectives have broadened as guest artists and volunteers teach them new skills and they visit galleries filled with various exhibits.

After a recent visit to a nature trail with artist Amber Stucke, to create herbariums, the participants commented that they would never look at greenery, weeds or flowers the same way.  After mounting their collected nature on pages to be displayed in Amber’s gallery exhibit, Emergence, at the Wave Pool, they now see not just a plant but art.

Sometimes sidewalk chalk and projects needing to dry adorn the front sidewalk. Neighbors pop in and curiously ask what’s happening today. It’s a place where all feel welcomed and comfortable. The ladies are now beginning to sell the items they’re making, teaching workshops and accepting custom orders.  If you’d like to visit our new site Welcome or learn more about it, details can be found at Welcome.

Art – The Universal Language

A few months ago I received an email from Calcagno (Cal) Cullen asking to meet with me to discuss refugees living in Cincinnati. She stated that she was an artist, art teacher, and owner of the Wave Pool Art Gallery. She had recently finished a collaborative project with refugees living in a camp in Southern Italy. She did several art projects related to their hopes, dreams, and memories and worked to turn some of their art into a wallpaper design that now benefits the UNHCR (read more here: http://www.telephoneheart.com/#/wearehere/). We arranged a meeting in late March and the creative adventure began.

Many resettled refugee adults and youth are natural artists and spent their days drawing and creating art to pass the time in refugee camps. Upon arriving in America, art falls to back burner while they try to manage and acclimate to their new life. We noticed their passion for creating and were using art as a way to expand their vocabulary and friendships along with feeding their soul. After meeting Cal there was a new excitement.

Ram Rai’s acrylic painting depicting life in the refugee camp.

I wondered what could we create when led by a true artist? Little did I know that creating art with her would be the tip of the iceberg. The relationship blossomed into so much more. Continue reading “Art – The Universal Language”


During my recent road trip out west with my family I was able to share many childhood memories with my kids. As we were driving towards Illinois, I shared the multiple visits I made to my great-grandmother’s home along the same highway while being cramped in the back of a ’63 Barracuda with my brother and uncle. While in Mt. Rainier National Park, I asked my children if the mountain landscape reminded them of our visit to Nepal and the Himalayan mountains they had seen there. Over the course of 7,000 miles in the car we had ample opportunity to share stories about my childhood memories and theirs.

After arriving in Seattle my mother inquired if we had seen a newscast where they had highlighted a local community garden filled with refugees, called the Namaste Community Garden:


I told her that I hadn’t but while we were there we had to visit. I wanted to compare it to the community garden that we have locally, The Franciscan Ministries Community Garden at 110 Compton Rd.

We planned the visit during a day we would be sightseeing in the area. I looked up the address for the Namaste Community Garden. We drove through a suburb and found it nestled neatly at the end of a road on the property of St. Thomas Catholic Church. Upon arriving, the entrance opened up to a large green area, with the garden being on the left and a brick building and parking lot further up the road. The kids asked if I was sure this was place, since there wasn’t a sign. I quickly replied, “Of course, see the sticks?” The sticks used for trellising are a signature technique for Bhutanese gardeners.

We entered the gate and were quickly greeted by an elderly Bhutanese man, Jit, the garden caretaker and shed key holder. He couldn’t speak English but was able to share information about it with my husband who speaks Nepali. He was so excited, as were the other gardeners that we stopped to visit. Everyone shared their gardens and offered us produce.

Jit went and summoned Paul Hardin, a part of the St. Thomas ministry, to meet us. As Paul and I were discussing both community gardens and our work with refugees, I realized how similar the issues and benefits were. We both recognized that the garden is what reminds refugees of home. Many refugees from Bhutan, Africa, Burma, and Laos were avid gardeners. Working in the soil, growing the food that they are familiar with, participating with their neighbors and harvesting with their family are their memories from home that they can share. Gardening becomes their social event, a mental connection to memories they left behind and a way to share with the community one of the many gifts they brought with them. Paul shared that they had expanded to add 30 more crops to their garden this year. I laughed and said yes, we could have 5 acres tilled and it still wouldn’t be enough.

I spoke with other gardeners about their experience in the U.S. and Seattle in particular, and asked if they knew anyone in Cincinnati. The gardeners took the time to answer my questions related to composting, gardening and fencing techniques – and I answered theirs related to cost of living in Cincinnati. In a short hour a lasting friendship was formed. People started asking if we had a place to stay, if we needed dinner or anything else. I was amazed – strangers an hour ago and now friends, because of far away connections.

They were curious if I saw the similarities between Nepal and Washington. I explained that this was the first thing I thought of when I saw the mountain range near Mt. Rainier and the green that surrounded us. Some shared that seeing the mountain range comforted them and others said it made them sad because it was a reminder to the home they had left behind.

As I reflect on this trip and the memories that were made with my family, I pray that my children will be able to share this same journey with their families. For refugees and immigrants that have been forced to leave their homelands behind, my heartaches for them. I am glad that community gardens provide a way to fill a void in their lives that is needed.

In Cincinnati at the Franciscan Ministries Community Garden, refugees are given opportunity to participate in gardening education with Turner Farms and have become community crop plot garden leaders and members of the community garden committee. Their enthusiasm and knowledge of gardening has been instrumental in the success of the garden that coincidentally began the year that Bhutanese refugees began arriving in Cincinnati, 2008. The refugee population now makes up over 50% of the garden plots and the garden donates an average of 1000 pounds of produce to community food pantries.

Each ethnic gardener takes so much pride in the crops they produce and boast how they are able to not only feed their family but their extended families. On a rainy day you can drive by and notice an umbrella with a man or woman underneath tending to the soil. As they tell me, the dirt provides them comfort and reminds them of home. I often see their children sitting in the garden or helping them while their parents quickly speak their native tongue and I wonder if they’re sharing their childhood stories and memories with them.


Sorting and preparing the vegetables at Namaste


Namaste Community Garden in Seattle
Jit – The Garden Manager
Franciscan Community Garden
Organizing a volunteer workday at the Franciscan Community Garden
Managing paths in Cincinnati


Compost overload.
Creating a trellis for the beans.