Soft Landing Missoula now has a building where refugee families can land. And it even has a soft armchair, though it sits alone next to the stackable plastic chairs that fill the lobby.
“These will be couches soon,” said Mary Poole, Soft Landing executive director, as she pulled out more chairs for the rapidly filling room during their open house Sunday afternoon, held to show off their new building.
In fact, many of the rooms in the Stephens Avenue office space were a bit sparse; “wishlists” were taped up outside of each with items like rugs, plastic totes, computers, extension cords, picture dictionaries (lots!) and toilet paper still needed either to be donated or bought.
Even though it’s missing some essentials, Poole said they were excited to have a place to welcome refugee families to get together, as well as give their volunteers a base to work out of.
“We’re just really happy to have a home, finally,” she said.
And it turned out Sunday, the human element (and those plastic chairs) were enough to fill the space.
A steady stream of people that included refugees, volunteers, quilters and interested citizens crowded in and out of the office. A healthy din of conversations in multiple languages – Swahili, French and English, to name the easily recognizable – filled the air.
Soft Landing, a local nonprofit that works with the International Rescue Committee, has welcomed six families from Iraq and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to Missoula.
As many as 150 refugees could be resettled in Missoula in the next year, according to a U.S. State Department document presented by Missoula IRC director Molly Short Carr in October.
Soft Landing was able to rent the office after meeting and exceeding their $30,000 fundraising goal, made up of donations from around the country, program director Molly Cottrell said.
The campaign wrapped up just this weekend.
They’ll now turn to raising money to pay their staff, which, along with about 10 volunteers, will use the office after working out of “literally every coffee shop in town before this,” Cottrell said.
“Well, we’re still all volunteers at this point,” she added.
One thing the office had plenty of were quilts, with over 30 being donated by several local quilting groups in the last few months, Carel Schneider said.
Schneider, with the Missoula Quilters’ Guild, is coordinating donations from several different groups, including the guild, Quilts 4 Kids, and the Jeannette Rankin Peace Center. She said plenty of blankets have also been donated by individuals.
Racks and piles of quilts sat in the office Sunday, most of them kids’ size, but a trunk full of adult-sized blankets sat in the kids’ play room.
The Guild sewed three special quilts for Soft Landing months ago, Schneider said, when they first heard refugees would be arriving in Missoula. Those were presented at the open house.
“The idea is that each family has a large quilt and each kid, hopefully, has a quilt,” Schneider said. “Something that’s theirs.”
The storefront office won’t be just for Soft Landing employees and volunteers. Half the rooms in the building were dedicated classrooms or learning areas, with one for children, one for adults, and a computer room for Skyping friends and family, building resumes or applying for college.
“We just envision this as a gathering space offering different sorts of classes and cultural exchanges,” Cottrell said. “A space for the community and refugees to come together.”
Soft Landing will offer English and general academic tutoring, and Cottrell was excited at the prospect of the families themselves eventually teaching classes for Missoulians to attend.
Those could be language or culture classes, Poole said, or even music or art lessons, as many of the refugees are talented in those areas.
While the new building is their office space, it’s also a community space, Poole said. She was happy it was open for winter, creating a gathering spot for cold, rainy days.
“Anyone’s welcome to be here and be a part of this space,” she said. “It’s just come, hang.”