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The Refinery and From Nebraska Gift Shop work together to help women start their own small businesses

Located near the bustling downtown area of Lincoln, Nebraska, The Refinery is making a big difference in the lives of up-and-coming small business owners. 

According to their website, “The Refinery provides refugee and immigrant women the opportunity to achieve economic independence and build social capital through business education and professional mentorships. We focus on serving women who are still in the process of learning the English language.”

The Refinery is a program under an organization called the ECHO Collective, started by Kelly Ross in 2020. With The Refinery, Kelly has built a resource that not only provides education and assistance in the establishment and running of a small business, but also a support network for the women who are participating in this program. 

A new GROW Nebraska® member, The Refinery is working with other small businesses to further lift up these entrepreneurs. The From Nebraska Gift Shop in the Haymarket is one of these businesses, and has provided a new home for the products of one of the talented women in The Refinery’s first cohort. 

A common thread from the beginning of this partnership, Cecilia Vargas has been an inspiration to Kelly, who was her ESL teacher for five years. Cecilia would bring and wear crocheted items that she had made herself, and Kelly wanted to help her turn that talent into a business. 

Ross said, “I should walk alongside her and help her start this business. That was the seed of the Refinery.”

After determining that Cecilia’s business, Best Knit, would benefit most from an in-person shopping experience, Kelly reached out to Janell at GROW Nebraska®, who connected her to Barb Ballard at the From Nebraska Gift Shop, where Cecilia’s products have been a huge hit. 

“It’s been very rewarding,” said Ballard. “I love being able to feature Nebraskans and their handiwork. I’m always in awe of other folks’ talents, and Cecilia has literally some of the most amazing handiwork skills. Everything is meticulously done, and anybody who knows handiwork knows how much talent is actually displayed in these clothes, and has great admiration for them.” 

While this partnership serves as the first between the two organizations, they are looking forward to future collaborations. 

“It’s been pretty amazing how GROW has worked with Cecila and the Refinery in a store,” said Ross. “It’s amazing when you step back and look at it, because Cecilia’s from Mexico, but this is her home. This is a struggle for many refugees — feeling like they’re home. Being able to watch Cecilia represent Nebraska with the things she makes has been incredible.”

Kelly connected GROW with Cecilia, who told us, “My favorite part of selling my knitted products is that, thanks to this, I can make myself known with my work, and I’m able to get my products to more people. What has given me the most happiness is seeing the babies wearing my designs.”

GROW Nebraska® is always thrilled to see Nebraskan entrepreneurs working together in order to lift one another up to new heights, and we can’t wait to watch Cecilia, The Refinery, and the From Nebraska Gift Shop grow in their successes!

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