Sloane Davidson (second from left) at her Valentine's Day crafting event for refugees at The Shop in Homewood. Photo by Taylor Davidson.

You recruited your mentors through an open application process. How did you vet these mentors and make sure they have the best intentions?

As part of being accepted people had to give references. I had everyone do background and security clearances. That’s not for working with refugees, mind you, it’s anything having to do with children. I have a lot of teachers and university people. I would say half of my class already had clearances from something else they’ve done. We went through a surprisingly rigorous application process.

Valentine’s Day crafting event at The Shop in Homewood. Photo by Taylor Davidson.
Valentine’s Day crafting event at The Shop in Homewood. Photo by Taylor Davidson.

What were some of the challenges starting a program like this in Pittsburgh?

I think there are a lot fewer challenges than one might think. Pittsburgh is a city built on immigrants. I also feel very strongly that refugee and immigrant issues have become politicized in the way that women’s health has become politicized. But these are basic human rights. I also fundamentally believe that when you take politics and the media out, that we’re just people and families trying to do the best we can for each other.

The Somali Bantu community has had some real challenges. There was a man who was beaten and died. [Editor’s note: Davidson is referring to Ramadhan Mohamed, a Somali Bantu cab driver who was attacked last February] I was securing refugee families when that was happening. I did not do a lot of outreach to the Somali community because I talked to one of their community leaders and I said, “This isn’t the time, everyone is in mourning.” I don’t think it’s appropriate to go sell a program when they’re terrified of being exposed to Americans. And yet there are Americans who want to help them. But at the same time, for me, it didn’t feel right. So I might not have a Somali family in my pilot.

You want to expand the program in 2018. How do you plan to do that?

It really is my goal to also include immigrant groups. But for this pilot program, I did limit it to refugee groups in part because that’s what I could manage and that’s where a lot of my relationships were. I also wanted to be very sensitive. A few of the immigrant groups I talked to when I originally started planning were skittish to sign up for official programs of any kind. I just decided it was best to save that for the next series.

Everything is up for reviewthe length of the program, the number of participants, the groups we’re looking at. I have a lot of ideas about how it could expand in Pittsburgh. I also have a lot of inquiries from people in other cities. I’m trying to think about how I could take this to other cities because I do think it’s a model that could be replicated.

Amanda Waltz

Amanda Waltz is a freelance journalist and film critic whose work has appeared locally in numerous publications. She writes for The Film Stage and is the founder and editor of Steel Cinema, a blog dedicated...