Opinion: Why my Chicago company helps refugees
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My grandparents were Holocaust survivors. They endured the horrors of Auschwitz and Buchenwald, and after liberation became refugees living in a hopeless Soviet internment camp.
And then it happened. The United States of America offered them a safe haven, a second chance at life. Without it, I would not be here.
Three years ago, their grandson (me) started a business. A flower shop, to be exact. Although it doesn’t cure cancer or offer alternative energy, we started it in part to make a difference. See, what’s unique about our shop is that we give one-fourth of our profits to charities here in Chicago. Every bouquet benefits a different and important cause.
Last month, I had the unique opportunity to honor my grandparent’s legacy. For January, our charity would be RefugeeOne — a nonprofit that helps resettle refugees in Chicago that are fleeing war and persecution. People advised against the partnership, saying it was “too political” and might upset customers — we risked losing business. But we saw it differently. We saw it as a chance for our company to stand up for what we believe in and take care of a community that was otherwise being neglected.
So we went full steam ahead.
We started the partnership by traveling through a snowstorm to O’Hare Airport to welcome a new Syrian refugee family of seven. Carrying a few welcoming bouquets and some warm clothes, we did it simply to show them that Chicago cares. That the extreme voices in the news are not representative of all Americans.
Of course, there was backlash. Because, sure, welcoming Syrian refugees in a political climate in which our own governor speaks out against their entry into Illinois is controversial. But we rejected that. We agreed that we weren’t interested in shying away from tough positions if they promote important causes and save lives.
That’s why we went on to lead a free, day-long floral workshop for refugees to help them find gainful employment in our industry. It’s why we’re continuing to work with RefugeeOne so that customers can send hundreds of bouquets to newly arriving families at the airport to warmly welcome them to America throughout 2016. We’ve also hired three refugee women from our workshop to help with Valentine’s Day orders.
It’s why we’ll be writing a check from our profits to continue funding welcome kits for refugees, Syrian or otherwise, for the rest of 2016.
It is our hope that Flowers for Dreams will set an example for other caring companies and conscientious consumers. Here in Chicago and around the country. Maybe a few more people will choose to stand up and get involved with #refugeeswelcome. Or others will question their bias and ignore stereotypes of what it means to belong to a certain faith.
If we can create this kind of momentum, simply by delivering flowers and operating our business, then we’ve achieved more than any single sale could. We’ve learned that doing good, no matter how hard, is simply good business.
Steven Dyme is CEO of Flowers for Dreams, based in Chicago’s West Town neighborhood.
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