The word “fellowship” itself means a friendly relationship among people. In Alloy 26, we accept fellows into our Fellowship Program from all backgrounds – and our newest Fellowship team, Hello Neighbor, does something similar, but with refugees. Hello Neighbor is a mentorship program for refugees of all backgrounds. They accept refugees into their program, currently from six different countries, and match them with Pittsburgher mentors.
We had the pleasure of interviewing Sloane Davidson of Hello Neighbor to find out what services they provide and how it’s such a great time to launch a startup company in Pittsburgh.
Q: Tell us a little more about how you got the idea for Hello Neighbor?
A: Hello Neighbor is an idea that I have sketched in just about every notebook I have had for the past 15 years. I would sit in meetings for jobs I had in my 20’s and dream about starting a mentorship program that helped support vulnerable communities. I have always valued the two-way street of mentorship having been both a mentor and mentee.
I’m a native Pittsburgher but lived away for 15 years. It wasn’t until I moved back to Pittsburgh in 2015, that I really solidified what that could look like. Part of that process was completing my Masters in Public Policy and Management at The University of Pittsburgh over the past year. I was able to ground the concept for Hello Neighbor in an academic environment and my professors and fellow classmates were incredible in supporting Hello Neighbor and helping bring it to life.
In looking back at my varied career, working across nonprofits and startups and various cities I’ve lived in, it was my time with international communities that I enjoyed the most. I started researching refugee resettlement and the process refugees go through. I wanted to help support a refugee family in my neighborhood. I was introduced to a Syrian family and invited them to Thanksgiving dinner at my house. This was immediately following the presidential election and the attention on refugees and refugee issues and so I think it was a bit of a perfect storm where I had this nascent idea and then had so much momentum behind me and in front of me that I felt like I couldn’t not do this. We’ve been called “Big Brothers and Big Sisters but for refugees by The New York Times and to grow to that level of recognition is definitely a goal of mine, that would be incredible!
Q: What is your product/business?
A: Hello Neighbor is a mentorship program for refugees. We are currently in our pilot, it’s a 4-month program where we match American families with refugee families. The Class of 2017 has 25 American families from 22 different Pittsburgh neighborhoods and 25 refugee families from 6 countries (Bhutan, Myanmar, Syria. Iraq, Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo). The total class has over 180 participants including 86 children under the age of 18. It’s a wide range of occupations from the mentors, we have a chef from Morcilla who takes Arabic in his spare time, we have a playwright from East Liberty, we have young families and retirees and everyone in between. We even have a guy who is an HR manager but also one of the Pittsburgh Pirate Pierogies! It’s an amazing group of people.
We create community events to support refugees and immigrants and also have a dynamic national database that is a leading resource for people who want to get involved. Currently it has over 350 agencies from 49 states.
Q: What’s next for Hello Neighbor?
A: On one hand, I’m living in the moment right now because Hello Neighbor is an incredibly high-touch program and it’s critical that I get the pilot program right and it’s a success. To do that, I’m incredibly focused on the current class of mentors and mentees.
One the other hand, I have gotten so much interest and inquiries around what’s next both in Pittsburgh and potentially for expanding to other cities in the U.S. To do that is a lot of work, many conversations, raising money, everything. I’m excited to see what the future holds. The second class of Pittsburgh mentor applications will open in fall for a program to run in early 2018.
From there, the sky’s the limit! I’d love the opportunity to bring Hello Neighbor to other cities in the U.S. I’m thinking through how to do that and tapping into my own network of mentors and supporters to try and make that happen. I’m really excited about what the future holds for Hello Neighbor.
Q: What excites you most about working in Pittsburgh?
A: I’m really excited about working in Pittsburgh. As a native Pittsburgher who lived away for 15 years, I always wanted to move back. I’ve been back for 2 years, and I don’t think I would have been able to start Hello Neighbor anywhere else. I have had so much support from Pittsburghers in starting this and it’s given me the confidence to move it from an idea to a real live organization.
I think that politicians and the media would have us believe that refugees are the problem and they are different from us. I don’t subscribe to that. I believe when you put two families together, they will find common ground and create a bond. That is what Hello Neighbor is all about. That is why Pittsburgh, a city built by and for immigrants and built around connecting many bridges to many communities, is perfect for launching Hello Neighbor.
Alloy 26 Fellowship Program
Our fellowship program grants accepted companies the chance to join our inspiring space for a FREE six-months stay, with ZERO equity fees, and no obligation to stay after the program ends.