We had the good fortune of connecting with Kristen Bloom and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Kristen, can you walk us through the thought-process of starting your business?
To be honest, I never intended to start my own business, but I’m so glad I did! I always loved my previous jobs, but at the same time I always felt there was something more out there for me. I couldn’t put my finger on it, and I wasn’t necessarily searching anything out, but I knew there was something more for me. When I moved to Miami, I had transitioned from being a full-time working mom to a full-time stay-at-home mom, and I significantly underestimated how hard that would be. I quickly realized I enjoy working. I missed having a job. I love my kids dearly, but I also realized I’m a better mom when we get a break from one another. I started looking for a way to get involved – something small that I could dedicate a few hours to each week. In early 2017, a friend invited me to attend a Syrian Supper Club dinner. At the dinner I was surrounded by people who wanted to extend a warm welcome to the newly arrived Syrian refugees in our community, and I immediately felt at home among the people in attendance. The refugees who cooked the meal that night said they really needed help learning English. I have a lot of experience teaching English as a Second Language, so I quickly volunteered. I thought it would be a perfect way for me to give back and also dip my toes back into the working world. After my first day with one of the Syrian families, I quickly realized they needed a lot more help than just English. I realized they needed a friend – a local counterpart who could help them navigate their new life in the U.S. I went back to the organizers of the dinner and asked if we could put out a call for more volunteers to help the other refugee families they were working with. I blindly volunteered to organize those volunteers. Before I knew it, we had over 50 volunteers working with 20 different families, and I was organizing everything. It turned into way more than a few hours a week, but I found the work exhilarating. It felt so good to be giving back and helping these families. I finally felt like I found the thing I had been searching for for so long. After a few months of operating as a team of volunteers, I knew we had to formalize the program and applied to become an official nonprofit organization in the state of Florida. What started out as a side gig is now my full-time job. Refugee Assistance Alliance is 3.5. years old, and I could not be more proud of the progress we have made since we started. Although I never intended to start a business, I could not imagine turning my back on these families. I have gained more than I have given over the past 3.5 years, and I know our community is better for the relationships that have formed between volunteers and refugees.

Can you give our readers an introduction to your business? Maybe you can share a bit about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
Founded in 2017, Refugee Assistance Alliance (RAA) works with former refugees (refugees who have been recently resettled into a new home country) from Asia, Africa and the Middle East who have been resettled into Broward or Miami-Dade counties through the U.S. refugee resettlement program. They are our new American neighbors, and we welcome them to the United States.

Non-Spanish and non-Haitian Creole speaking refugees do not have an embedded community in South Florida to tap into, which can leave them feeling marginalized, vulnerable and underserved. Upon arrival, many former refugees feel unable to fully navigate their U.S. communities or institutions, feel socially isolated, and feel they don’t have anyone to turn to for practical needs and concerns. We know they have a lot to offer our country, communities, and ourselves, so we aim to come alongside them in their resettlement journey. We recognize that they do not need us to empower or save them, but that they could use a friend and cultural mentor in the same way we could if we resettled into their home countries.

At RAA we believe refugees and immigrants make our country stronger and better, and that everyone deserves to live in safety, community, and with opportunities to succeed.

We are proud to be the only organization in South Florida offering much needed support to our new neighbors from the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. They are incredibly courageous and resilient. Their strength is inspiring, and it is our privilege to work with them. We are excited President Biden has raised the refugee admissions cap to help restore our place as a leader of refugee resettlement, and we can’t wait to welcome more refugees to South Florida in the coming years!

Starting my own organization was not easy. I have never worked for a nonprofit, let alone run one, before starting my own. To say it’s been a steep learning curve would be an understatement. However, looking back, I have always been passionate about creating belonging and connection, and my jobs have reflected that. I fully believe it’s harder to hate up close, and I always strive to get to know people for who they are. I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Peru, I lived in Japan for four years, my Master’s thesis was centered around creating connection between American and Japanese youth, I taught ESL at a university where I got to know, teach and learn from students from all over the world, and I worked in the Office of Study Abroad where I encouraged American students to go abroad and expand their horizons in order to get a better understanding of how, despite our differences, we are all interconnected. We share a common humanity, and that is at the heart of my work.

I am also a military spouse. My husband and I have moved 9 times in 16 years. Moving that often means it is very hard to have a career. However, I have always tried to carve my own path and find something that aligned with my values in each place we lived. I could not have told you 15 years ago how all of the pieces of my life would fall together, but looking back I can see they were each stepping stones to help me get where I am today. We can’t see into the future, but as Anna says in Frozen II (I can’t help it, I’m a mom to a five year old girl), we can choose to do “the next right thing.” If you stay true to who you are, you will see the pieces of your life falling into place in a way you never could have predicted.

Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I love, love, love spending time outdoors, and I grew up in Massachusetts, so I love that we can be outside 365 days a year in Miami. I would definitely take my friends to the beach, an airboat ride in the Everglades, Fairchild Botanical Gardens, Venetian Pool, Vizcaya, and Wynwood Walls. I live in Coral Gables and love all of the tree lined streets and sidewalk cafes. I also love Glass & Vine in Coconut Grove. For indoor stuff I would definitely take my friends to the Frost Science Museum and Perez Art Museum (plus the cafe there is amazing with beautiful views!). Since I have two young kids, we also spend lots of time at parks and riding bikes and scooters around Coral Gables.

The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
There are so many people in my life who have helped me get to where I am today, not least of which are my parents and incredibly supportive husband. Thank you to each and every one of you who has helped me, listened to me, supported me, challenged, me, encouraged me, touched my life in some way. Thank you. With that said, I would like to dedicate this Shoutout to Allison Insley-Madsen, without whom Refugee Assistance Alliance would not exist. Allison was one of the first people to raise her hand when we put out a call for volunteers back in Spring 2017. In her intro, she mentioned her dad was in the Air Force, and she was a career Foreign Service Officer. I was interested to learn more about her, so we went out for coffee. We hit it off and became fast friends. Allison has been a mentor to me from day one. She is one of the main people who encouraged me to turn this side gig into a nonprofit organization, and she is a Founding Board Member. I am so incredibly grateful for her mentorship, encouragement, dedication to RAA, and friendship over the years. Thank you, Allison.

Website: https://www.refugeeassistancealliance.org/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/refugeeassistancealliance/

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kristen-bloom-61132711/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/alliancerefugee

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/refugeeassistancealliance

Image Credits
Charlotte Kesl, Kishore Sawh

Nominate Someone: ShoutoutMiami is built on recommendations and shoutouts from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you or someone you know deserves recognition please let us know here.