A Message From Our Co-Founder, Caterina Passoni

A Message From Our Co-Founder, Caterina Passoni

Dear Havenly Community, 

After four years of growing and dreaming up Havenly, my time as Executive Director has come to an end. As of July 2022, I have shifted to a role as Board Director, and a new team of three Co-Directors - Camila Guiza-Chavez, Nieda Abbas, and Jane Dowd - will be leading Havenly.

I am filled with gratitude for all that we have been able to accomplish, and with deep certainty that now is the time for a new leadership and season for Havenly. My transition marks a clear shift that we have been working on since the beginning - from an organization run by allies for refugees, to an organization run by immigrants and refugees for themselves. I am incredibly proud to be leaving Havenly to a staff that is 100% women, 100% multilingual, 90% BIPOC, and 60% from a refugee background. It is an honor to be joining a board and leadership team that includes graduates of our program and field experts, all dedicated to continuing to build an organization led by and for the community we serve.

I have always said that our role as members of the nonprofit world is “to make ourselves no longer needed” - both individually, and as organizations. Our goal, ultimately, is for the issues we are working on to no longer exist, and in the meantime, for those impacted by injustice to be fighting those issues for themselves. 

In practice, this commitment has meant setting the foundations for me to no longer lead Havenly and for refugee and immigrant women to take over its leadership and strategic visioning. This has been a process of learning, but also of unlearning. Of unlearning savioristic behaviors and conceptions of leadership centered around whiteness and Western values. For example, I have had to shed the tendency to treat fellows as beneficiaries, people in need of help, in favor of ways of working that value partnership, collaboration, friendship and community. I have also learned to value consensus and conversation over speed, democracy over hierarchy, collaboration over individualism. 

Since Havenly started, I have also learned to use my privilege to bring inaccessible opportunities and knowledge to refugee and immigrant women - whether that be business accelerators, interviews with newspapers, or conversations with politicians. Together, we have learned to prioritize bringing an interpreter to a meeting over getting it done immediately, to create spaces where everyone can participate across all levels of education, and to pause to ask whether I, or the others of us who are non-immigrant, should truly be making the final decision on a certain matter. Thank you for being on this journey with us.

My departure is an important step in this journey, and a bittersweet but significant moment of change. I am incredibly proud to be leaving my full-time job to a team of Co-Directors with a wealth of knowledge of and passion for the refugee and immigrant community in New Haven. Nieda will continue to drive the founding mission of Havenly with her managerial skill. Camila will bring her transformational leadership to all aspects of our mission. And Jane, our new Development Director, will bring her innovative and relationship-driven spirit to our community, and background in immigration policy and donor research to our team. 

I am grateful to be leaving Havenly on solid financial and operational foundations, with the community support and financial backing it needs to continue providing job training and education to 15-fellow cohorts for years to come. Seeing the team welcome our first cohort of 15 fellows this month has been like watching a dream come true, and we have you all to thank for this being a possibility.

Lastly, I am thrilled to continue to work on a dream that has grown more than I could have ever imagined. Over the past four years, Havenly has become an organization dedicated not just to economic empowerment and job creation, but to building community power - the ability of communities impacted by injustice to lead and create their own movements for change. It is this transition that I am the most proud of, and that gives me deep certainty that our new team will bring true change and transformation to New Haven and beyond. 

Havenly is not just about food (although Nieda’s delicious dishes are already enough to write an entire essay about..). It is about shifting power, both in society, and within our individual selves. It is about breaking down social and economic barriers that perpetuate inequality in immigrant communities, but also the psychological barriers - trauma, self-hatred, internalized racism and sexism… - that keep refugee and immigrant women in doubt, shame, and isolation. It is about turning those feelings into feelings of community, of power, of courage. During my time at Havenly, I have seen this shift come true again and again in each of the women we worked with. I have seen our programming go from food safety and culinary English to include art therapy, political education, and communal healing. I have seen fellows enter Havenly with no hope and leave having started a business. A housing campaign. A workplace with space for employees from all over the world. 

 I cannot wait to see the ways in which our new leadership will evolve our mission and push it further. This transition is one more step towards building power with refugee and immigrant women, and I am deeply, deeply grateful to each and every one of you who have believed in us, supported us, and made our dream come true. Havenly is our dream, and I will always be one of its biggest supporters and champions.

With much love and gratitude, 


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