Monday, Feb. 5, 2024 | 2 a.m.
A refugee from the Congo was deaf, mute and had not had a chance to get an education.
Cindy Trussel, founder and CEO of Lighthouse Charities in Las Vegas, was searching for ways to help the woman develop skills so she could make a living.
Trussel wound up locating an African woman who told her about a crafting technique of tightly winding paper to make beads for jewelry.
Trussel dove right in, watching YouTube videos to learn how to do it. Once she’d mastered the craft, she taught the refugee.
“By the end of the four months, she was making enough from the sale of her beads to pay her rent,” Trussel said.
The experience led to the creation of Lighthouse Charities, which was founded in 2016 and provides refugees with job training, English lessons, a food pantry and other resources.
Lighthouse Charities, a nonprofit group, partners with Catholic Charities and the African Community Center, which find housing for refugees.
“The mission of Lighthouse Charities is to empower refugees by providing access to opportunities that promote self-sufficiency, encourage personal growth, foster healing, and restore hope,” a statement in the organization’s promotional materials reads.
Each year, Lighthouse works with over 900 volunteers to serve over 500 refugees from 17 nations such as Afghanistan, Syria and Ukraine.
The group’s ongoing crafting program has served 400 women and is an option for those who need to work from home.
Jewelry made with the beads is displayed for sale at the program’s building. Trussel wore several beaded bracelets as she talked about Lighthouse’s services.
It offers English classes, which are required for people participating in paid job training programs.
One jobs program takes old linens from Caesars Entertainment resorts and trains clients to turn them into cleaning cloths, which are sold back to Caesars. The program, which employs 20 to 25 people at a time, has a wait list to join.
Frosted Bakery, another project the group runs, sells baked goods, and the Hydroponics Healing Garden provides work for refugees with a farming background.
The bakery and garden also produce food items for the Corner Market, which serves as an employment opportunity and a food pantry for those in need.
It offers culturally specific and religiously sensitive foods, with a focus on items that are easily recognizable to people who might not have seen American canned foods before.
Trussel’s career serving refugees was inspired by her own immigration experience. She grew up in Australia, where a drought in the 1980s created bad economic conditions.
Her father lost his job, which prompted the family to move to the United States when Trussel was 12 years old.
“It took my dad about five months to find employment after he came here,” Trussel said. “And I just remember how grueling the first year was, not having anything, even a kitchen table.”
Trussel had to adjust to the American culture, including no longer using the metric system. The experience moving made her understanding and compassionate toward those with similar experiences, she said.
“I wanted to jump in and help these families because this country is a melting pot of all kinds of different countries and cultures and languages,” she said. “It’s a beautiful thing, and I was given an opportunity to rebuild my life here.”
“This is me giving back, me becoming part of that American dream and helping others to do the same — become assets and give back,” Trussel added.
Francoise, a Lighthouse Charities client from the Congo whose last name we aren’t using, has been in the United States for seven years.
“Before, I feel like shy, you know, but right now I feel comfortable,” Francoise said. “With Cindy, you know, she help a lot to be comfortable.”
In addition to easing her fears of living in a new place with new people, Trussel and Lighthouse helped Francoise obtain food and learn English.
Her first job in the U.S. has been working at the market, and the group helped her find an outside job as well.
Lighthouse’s plans for the near future include acquiring land nearby to grow crops. The land, owned by a nursing home, is now a community garden with chickens, vegetables and decorative plants.
Trussel said they could improve the garden by providing a consistent source of volunteers to maintain it.
Trussel said her goal is to help clients become self-sufficient and an asset to the community.
“Some of them put their children in open ocean, because it’s safer in open ocean than it is in their country,” Trussel said.
“That, to me, is a testament of who they are and the values that they’re raised on to protect their children, and how much hard work and sacrifice it would take to start over. Because of that, they’re not coming over for those handouts. They just want opportunity.”
[email protected] / 702-990-8923
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