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At West Town Flower Shop, Newly Arrived Refugees Learn New Skill

By Joe Ward | January 23, 2016 4:33pm | Updated on January 25, 2016 9:05am
 Sifuni Emidi, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo, learns how to design floral bouquets at a workshop Saturday.
Sifuni Emidi, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo, learns how to design floral bouquets at a workshop Saturday.
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DNAinfo/Joe Ward

WEST TOWN — Odette Osheli came to Chicago from the Democratic Republic of Congo with a dream of becoming a nurse.

For now, she's taking up every skill she can, which on Saturday led her to Flowers For Dreams, a West Town floral shop with a serious dedication to social and civic responsibility.

Osheli was one of six refugee women at the workshop, hosted by Flowers For Dreams and local advocacy group Refugee One, where the women learned basic flower and bouquet design. Refugee One works with refugees even before they arrive to Chicago to find them housing, schools for their children, education and eventually jobs.

"It' a new twist, a novelty for us," said Melineh Kano, Refugee One's executive director. "This skill will actually be fantastic for them to have."

Refugees generally find employment in hospitality and service industries, Kano said, and floral design comes in handy in those fields. Steven Dyme, owner of Flowers For Dreams, said that many floral shops hire temporary workers for the Valentine's Day rush, and that his business might even bring back some Saturday's participants.

Osheli and the women began the workshop by trimming each flower's stem and separating them into individual buckets before assembling them into bouquets.

"You gotta have all the flowers ready to go so it doesn't interfere with the creative process," said flower shop employee Zack Hall.

The two organizations became acquainted when some Flowers For Dreams employees recently greeted incoming Syrian refugees with flowers and a welcome kit, Dyme said.

Since then, the floral shop has teamed with Refugee One to host an arts and crafts event for children and has launched a campaign where customers can send bouquets to refugees in the Chicago area.

Plus, the business will donate a quarter of January's profits to Refugee One. (Flowers For Dreams chooses a different charity each month to receive a quarter of its profits.)

"We want to let them know that we are welcoming people, that that's how we are in Chicago," Dyme said.

Dyme said he looks forward to the prospect of having new trainees help with the Valentine's rush. "We desperately need help for those days," he said. "This [training] gets them halfway there. It can be a full-time career."

Meanwhile, Osheli said she was excited to learn this skill.

"If you're in a hotel, you got to know how to do a lot," she said. "I want experience."

She is currently enrolled in English Second Language classes at Truman Community College, and is in a hospitality training program that will hopefully place her in a job by spring, Osheli said.

Chicago, as well as the cold and snow, is very new for Osheli, her husband and two kids. But she said her family is adapting and very excited for their future.

"Chicago, we like it," she said. "I am very hopeful for a job."

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