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Local businesswoman advances refugee support

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Thirty-two years of business has helped make Finders Keepers Consignments become a ubiquitous enterprise in the Atlanta resale market.

Since it’s humble beginnings as a single store-front in Avondale Estates’ Tudor Village that sold children’s clothing and home decor items, Finder Keepers has grown its inventory to include women’s clothing, accessories, men’s clothing and furniture.

Now, owner Bonnie Kallenberg is in the market to expand the role the company plays throughout the community.

A scholarship program through New American Pathways has been established in Kallenberg’s name that will allow continued education for refugees who are overqualified for minimum wage jobs.

According to New American Pathways Marketing and Communications Director Amy Crownover, the funds will support the average cost of one new American to go through vocational counseling and provide them with tools and a mentor who will guide them through getting a career in their field.

“Some of the immigrants that come into New American Pathways, we don’t call them refugees because they’re actually on a different VISA called the Special Immigrant Visa,” Crownover said.

New American Pathway volunteers unload a truck of furniture for refugees’ apartments.

New American Pathway volunteers unload a truck of furniture for refugees’ apartments.

According to the U.S. Department of State, the visas are given to people who worked with the United States Armed Forces or under Chief of Mission authority as a translator or interpreter in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The program aids up to 50 people a year.

The scholarship setup in Kallenberg’s name will assist these immigrants.

Kallenberg got involved with the organization after meeting a caseworker from Refugee Resettlement and Immigration Services of Atlanta (RRISA). The case worker explained who he was and asked if he could put money in an account so that clients can come pick out what they needed.

“I didn’t know anything about the organization. I didn’t know that right in our backyard there was this refugee resettlement organization, in fact I didn’t even know that there was such a need for refugees. It was all new to me,” Kallenberg said.

She said after speaking with the representative she wanted to get more information and ultimately get more involved.

Through Finders Keepers Kallenberg helped raised money for RRISA with bag sale events which raised up to $2,500 to support refugee programs.

According to Kallenberg the unrestricted funds made it “a lot easier for them to get the things they needed as opposed to grants and other federal money which come with terms.”

Later Kallenberg joined RRISA’s board and has continued to support the organization for about 10 years via sales, donations, providing employment opportunities and placement, volunteering and fundraising.

She stepped down from the board after six years during the merge of RRISA and Refugee Family Services which formed New American Pathways.

In 2006 Kallenberg joined Leadership DeKalb, a development program in DeKalb County in which members learn about history, diversity, government, justice, arts and culture, education, health and economic development in the county.

Kallenberg said through Leadership DeKalb and RRISA, she realized the challenge of “all the bureaucratic hoops that must be jumped for money or anything that is needed” for refugees.

“You can’t just get in and help. It’s all the layers of bureaucracy. It’s not a matter of manpower. It’s a matter of things being done in a certain way to guarantee that you get what you need. You’re responsible for setting up policy and making sure that everything within the organization is being run to the letter of the law,” Kallenberg said.

One of the initiatives Kallenberg assisted on the board of RRISA was arranging an apartment for a refugee family.

“We used what we had from our group , people were willing to buy and donate things and we used items from the furniture store to set up the apartment… It was very hands-on and gratifying to actually do something like that,” Kallenberg said.

She said of working with refugees, “It’s where my heart is. It’s something that resonates with me—what they have lived through and to be in a new place and expected to succeed or survive—to help someone through and help them manage it a little easier, it’s just something that speaks to my soul.”

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