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"My Kids Have a Future"

By Julie Riddle

Bietlehem Fantahon wanted to complete her schooling, but she had no family or other support in her home country of Ethiopia. "I wanted to work," she says, "but nobody gave me a chance because I didn't finish school. So I got out."

Fantahon, then 19, lived in Sudan for a year, then traveled for six days across the Sahara in a small truck loaded with 35 people, arriving in Libya. When fighting erupted there, she relocated to Egypt. Finally, after five years as a refugee, Fantahon landed in Spokane in 2014 through the assistance of World Relief.

Just after graduating from Whitworth, Brent Hendricks '06 worked as a refugee resettlement caseworker at World Relief. "It threw me into the deep end of understanding what the refugee experience is like," he says, "and left me wanting to do more."

Brent, a theology major, and his wife Amy (Johnson) '09, a sociology major, founded the nonprofit Global Neighborhood in 2007. "We didn't have a lot of specific plans," Brent says, "just a desire to provide ongoing support and to be driven by the needs of the community we were serving."

The couple soon discovered that what many former refugees needed most were jobs. "The very experience of being a refugee means you don't have stability and security," Brent says, "and that's where things start to break down."

In response, Brent and Amy opened Global Neighborhood Thrift in 2011. Since then they have provided job training to 128 former refugees from 30 countries and have hired 38 permanent employees.

"They have the tenacity, the work ethic, the smarts," Brent says. "All we're doing is giving them an opportunity. Welcoming someone and giving them a job can make a difference for many generations." Trainees who have completed GNT's job-readiness program have gone on to work in the community as business owners, truck drivers, teachers, skilled tradespeople and more.

Along with gaining the knowledge and skills of a liberal arts education from Whitworth, Brent says he gained the foundation and confidence to start and run a nonprofit. "A lot of our initiatives have failed," he says, "but that's how it goes. We learn from our failures and keep moving forward. That could be a summary of Core 350 – learn from your failures."

The Hendrickses' faith deeply informs their work. "All of us, at our core, are good, holy and blessed," Brent says. "There is a lot of work each of us must do to unearth and accept that goodness. We believe this hard work is best done in a supportive community that helps relieve the stress and suffering people so often experience. We are trying to create that community here."

Fantahon, now a mother of two girls, works full time at Global Neighborhood Thrift. Her English is steadily improving, and she plans to finish school and apply for citizenship. But her eyes shine because of her daughters. "I see a good future for them because I am working now," she says. "My kids are safe. They have school and a home. They have a future."


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