In the 1990s, refugee resettlement groups deemed Clarkston to be an ideal area because it was near Atlanta, at the end of the transit line, and had lots of rental units available. Hundreds of refugees from Somalia, Bosnia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Vietnam, Bhutan, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Russia, Afghanistan and Iraq flooded in. By 2000, almost half the population of the town was from outside the U.S. and Clarkston had become the most diverse square mile in the U.S.
In response, the Small Town with a Big Heart built a $2.4 million, 10,000-square foot Community Center with room enough for everyone: Contra dancers, senior refugees, Girl Scouts, the Burundi drum team, table tennis players, break dancers, literacy students, country music pickers, 40 community gardeners, 100 summer campers, and or course, the Refugee Women’s Sewing Society.
Led by the perennially perky Catherine Palmer, a Southern Baptist missionary, the Sewing Society serves over 40 women of numerous nationalities with 23 sewing machines, 6 classes and enthusiasm galore. The women gather for fellowship, laughter and work – crocheting, beading, hand sewing in a microfinance model that creates products the women can sell.
If there were a rainbow of hope for how diversity can work in a community, it would be arching over the Clarkston Community Center. My $100 today goes to the CCC, and the lovely ladies of the Sewing Society.