CLEVELAND — The fabric, the thread and the needle in the machines are a combination that make a skill used to stitch together refugees and immigrants to become a productive part of the fabric of America. One local nonprofit is using the skill of stitching and sewing to create a better future for those who call Northeast Ohio their new home.
Esperanza Threads, located in Gordon Square on Cleveland’s West Side, trains the underemployed how to sew and thrive in the Cleveland garment industry.
Started by Sister Mary Eileen Boyle, the mission is to help women and men find sustainable jobs.
“We want to encourage those people that are looking to start their new chapter in life to come and learn a skill with us,” said Emily Tielle, executive director at the nonprofit. “And we teach everything from basic sewing to some pattern works, some embroidery, some screen painting."
A special group of volunteers help bring a sense of empathy that is needed for the program’s success as some of the refugees and immigrants come to Cleveland with little English skills.
"Our trainers are so understanding in knowing that English is not their first language, so they're really patient. And I think that patience and understanding allow our clients to grow," Tielle said.
Clients like Megraj Baraili, from the south Asian country of Bhutan, credits sister Mary for helping him communicate better.
"She can understand how I want to say and also she can teach it in every step, what you don't know about it. "The sewing job is a professional job in my country, but I never had any kind of sewing skills in my country,” he said.
Baraili graduated from the program in 2021 and now has a full-time job in the a supervisor position. The students learn to make t-shirts, bags and baby items for purchase on Esperanza’s website.
“So if you show up everyday, do what you're supposed to do you're going to get paid,” said Tielle. "At the end of it, each student can get about a thousand dollars."
The money is a great incentive, but Esperanza sows something money can’t buy—the meaning of its name, hope. As it struggles to maintain funding as a small nonprofit, Sister Mary and the team have faith they will continue to create a pattern that those seeking a better way of life can master.
"To be able to see somebody go from brand new off of an airplane, not having a clue what's going on in this country to getting their family set up and being self-sufficient is really...isn't that the American dream?” said Tielle.
Click here to find out how you can help the nonprofit and buy handmade items.
This story is part of A Better Land, an ongoing series that investigates Northeast Ohio's deep-seated systemic problems. Additionally, it puts a spotlight on the community heroes fighting for positive change in Cleveland and throughout the region. If you have an idea for A Better Land story, tell us here.