At Once We Were Refugees we’re helping refugee arrivals to identify their interests and then teaching them skills to help them become self supporting. We believe in taking action with urgency in order to raise public awareness about the needs of some of our most vulnerable neighbors. Please join us by supporting our efforts to make a measurable difference in the lives of others.


“You know how to teach sewing?”  That question opened a whole new conversation with Abdul Bakar, Director of Refugee Services at the Della Lamb Refugee/Adult Education Center.  Ann Say responded, reluctantly, that yes she does.  But she was not at all sure that was how she wanted to spend her retirement years!  In the chat that followed she found herself challenged and energized in ways she has since learned that she missed in her years as a nursing home administrator.

Abdul’s challenge has played in her mind ever since.  He said, “if you have a gift from God and you do not use it, it is no longer a gift.”  And so began the adventure that has blossomed into a full time ministry for Ann and for her family.

Ann, along with a growing group of volunteers, teaches a nine week beginning sewing class that touches the basics-- sewing straight seams, cutting fabrics from patterns, using elastic, hemming and other skills--to folks, many of whom have never used a pair of scissors (not to mention an electric sewing machine!) and most of whom are not at all conversant in the English language.

At the end of nine weeks, if the assignments have been completed satisfactorily, each student will take home the machine they have learned on, a new pair of scissors, an iron, ironing board, thread, notions, and ten yards of fabric.  They have completed five different sewing projects, the last of which is a quilt by each student that will be sent to Lutheran World Relief for transmission to refugee camps around the world.

The incredibly generous greater Kansas City community has donated all of the machines, tools, and materials that are used in this process!

Now over thirty-five students have passed the beginners’ class.  They are eligible to move up to an intermediate class where they learn more complex sewing skills.  Those students are enabled and encouraged to make items that are marked:  “Handmade in the USA by Refugees” and then offered for sale at various events around the city.  The proceeds of those sales are then returned to the students to help supplement family income.  It is a truly exciting moment when a refugee receives the first income generated by his or her own hands in their new homeland!

A special gift was given recently, the purchase of an industrial sewing machine for use in teaching.  This is the kind of machine in use in many of the settings that hire people to sew professionally.  It is another strong step in helping to build vocational skills in the refugee community.




Find out more by contacting us.

"The minute a refugee has a job, that's the minute they stop being a refugee."