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Designing for

resettlement alongside newly arrived refugee families

Family to Family Welcome Meals

Family to Family Welcome Meals

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Project Overview


As part of a larger project to help create a "Refugee Ready Region" in Michigan, our team engaged with new citizens to better understand how the experience of settling into a new place could be improved. 


1 of 3 Design Masters students

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The Result

Family to Family Welcome Meals (F2F) are a way to develop social connectivity between arriving families and those who have already spent time in the area. This project is set to be piloted in Winter 2023.

Jan 2022 - ongoing



Process & Methods

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Background Research
Stakeholder Map
Co-design Workshop


Affinity Mapping
Story Boarding
How Might We...


Sketch Modeling
Visual Collaging
Idea Matrix
DFV Matrix


Co-design workshop


Service Requirements


Background research and getting to know families were important starting points of the project. We spent time interviewing single mothers, mapping stakeholders, and conducting workshops. Combined with other information about the larger context of resettlement in Michigan and around the world we were able to begin narrowing the scope of the project.




Single Mothers
28-40 years old

4-18 years old

Case Manager
from Samaritas

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I find life in the US very lonely and boring.

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I can only work 6 hours a day because I have to pick the kids from school. 

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My sister learned to drive but we never cross the highway.

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These images are from a co-creation workshop with families. In partnership with a visiting artist, we brought a co-creative toolkit that included country flags, photos, toys, food, and other objects.  We asked families to portray "Home" in shadowboxes. Our goal was to identify what objects they might associate with belongingness and culture.

Key Insights

Individual vs Collective Experience

Activities in this phase taught us that it was important to understand what were individual and what were collective experiences.

Establishing Trust

Relationship building was important, especially with implied power differentials. Showing up consistently made is possible to gain trust and hear candid insights.

Language Barrier

Working on strategies to communicate non-verbally was helpful in activities and workshops, but we noticed that families did not often mingle with other families, despite knowing basics of English.

Role & Experience

During this phase, I participated in group interviews and more casual conversations with the mothers we met. I was also part of analysis and debrief sessions with my team members resulting in stakeholder maps and key decisions about project direction.


With so many interactions and learnings, our team was constantly using a variety of methods to sensemake. We held debrief sessions with other MECC teams, crafted storyboards, and utilized affinity mapping.

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Key Insights

Lived experiences

With so much variation in individual journeys to Hamtramck, there was also a lot of trauma that needed to be unpacked and low confidence of being psychologically safe within the community.

Small radius of access

The hesitance to drive and fragmented public transportation meant that they needed to walk most places and couldn’t reach similar ethnic communities that were out side of their current radius of access.

Lack of community as a root cause

When the families moved in to Michigan the case managers were their only point of contact and it was difficult to connect with neighbors without a shared language. Lack of community reduced opportunities to crowdsource solutions to every day challenges, like they might have in their communities back at home.

Problem Definition

New Americans need social connectivity in their new home locations because they feel a lack of community post resettlement

How might we...

increase the sense of belongingness?

improve the social tissue of the community?

leverage existing assets for empowerment?


Additional Insight

Food & Music as Connection

We noticed that during our shadowbox workshop activity, moms wanted to create a sense of giving back and saw food as a medium to do that. We also noticed that cooking skills were already highly developed for the women we spoke with. We came to view this as an important existing asset that could be built upon.

Key Question

How might food act as a means of social connection and/or economic agency in a way that is accessible for women?

Role & Experience

I helped guide the team to actionable next steps during team conversations and generated How Might We questions that led to the definition of the problem space and key question. I also took part in team analysis and synthesis activities such as affinity mapping and analyzing images from the shadowbox workshop.

Ideate, Prototype, & Test

Ideating, prototyping and testing all happened throughout this project. The iterative nature of design projects meant that activities related to each of these phases were mixed together. We created small physical prototypes to expand our thinking and consider if something in the built environment was the right next step. We also considered more service oriented ideas and used matrices to map and sort them. And we visited with families several times to ensure the project was going in a direction that aligned with their interests.

Low-fi Physical Prototyping

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These images are from a physical lo-fi prototype brainstorm. We took insights from our research to brainstorm quick sketch models, visualizing possible interventions ranging from modular food kiosks to community storage units to extendable bus stops that also acted as pop-up marketplaces.

Idea Matrix

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Validating the Focus on Food

To gauge the willingness of single moms to use their culinary skills as a means of social interaction or a medium of empowerment, we spent a Sunday cooking with the families while we informally interviewed them.

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Key Insights

Open to hosting at home

We were surprised to know and see that the women we spoke to were open and willing to host other people in their homes.

Willing to share culinary skills

Moms were not protective of their cooking skills or recipes and were willing to share their culinary knowledge.

Interest in creating a business

Many of the moms had considered owning a food business and were enthusiastic about opportunities to learn more.

Brainstorming & Analysis

After confirming that food-related interventions resonated with the families, we brainstormed opportunities that could help give the women we talked to a sense of belonging or a means to financial freedom.

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Evaluating Desirability, Feasibility, Viability (DFV)

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Testing Ideas & Co-designing 

To further refine what our intervention should look like, we visited the families again to break down what they were willing to do, in terms of time, energy, money, and involvement. We designed several workshop activities, but ended up following what was most useful and interesting to folks in the moment, spending the most time on the whiteboard, hearing what ideas moms preferred most and why.

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Ice breaker Activity

The first activity was creating any food with Play - Doh on sticks. This was to set a fun tone and open up creativity.

Co-designing components

White boarding with Ideas

Moms were not protective of their cooking skills or recipes and were willing to share their culinary knowledge.

Many of the moms had considered owning a food business and were enthusiastic about opportunities to learn more.

Key Reflections

Language barrier remains

Language remained a barrier to communicating clearly, and we ended up depending heavily on the Samaritas case manager to help us translate

Pivoting effectively

There was some confusion in the activities we had planned during the co-design workshop so we pivoted to the whiteboard and ended up having a much richer conversation

Cultivating trust through transparency

Taking notes where everyone could see them was a great way to make sure what everyone was saying was heard and that the process felt transparent

Role & Experience

During our idea workshop with families, I was co-facilitator and led the whiteboard activity which gave the mothers a chance to choose their top ideas and explain why. Leading this activity was challenging because of the language barrier (we had a wonderful case manager who helped translate for us), and the wide range of ideas we were discussing but it went well and I gained invaluable experience in pivoting and persevering in a workshop setting. I also created numerous physical prototypes and helped lead the group discussion about the strengths, weaknesses, and resources needed for the many ideas we generated. 

The Intervention: Family to Family Welcome Meals

Family to Family Welcome Meals are a coordinated way to use food to create a sense of belonging and welcoming for new Americans

How it Works

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Families arrive from all around the world

Settled into temporary housing in the first week and take part in orientation activities 

New Americans meet settled in families who have stayed in Michigan for over 2 years


How to Make it Happen

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Incoming families fill in basic information about language, dietary restrictions, number of family members, etc.


Existing families who have been settled for > 2 years fill out an interest form based on their preference such as:

  • Language

  • Number of people to cook for

  • Gender of folks they feel comfortable inviting

  • Willingness to partner with another family to create meal

  • Availability

  • Address (to assess how far two points will be)


Post-meal surveys to assess success and determine willingness of families to host again in the future

Service Requirements


  • The surveys should be translated into multiple languages so that it has a lower requirement for case manager support

  • Monetary support for hosting dinners is essential, grocery stipend should be per person


  • Exchanging contact information should be encouraged for families

  • Family matching should be optimized for logistical convenience in the beginning stages


  • Based on capacity, case managers could be present at the first few meals to observe and assist

  • Families could be invited to cook together

Role & Experience

While my talented colleagues created many of the diagrams displayed here, I created the above flip book as an artifact of the project as well as a way to quickly explain the premise of the idea. As a team we worked through the potential logistics of the program and considered ways to lighten the load for Samaritas case managers.

Key Reflections

Earlier Feedback

​We could have worked in ways to get feedback from families even earlier in the process

Deeper Analysis

​There was room for much deeper and more thorough analysis of the shadowbox workshop

Setting Expectations

We would have better set expectations better with community members we engaged so they had a better idea of our project and timeline

Additional Collaboration

Further collaboration and idea sharing between MECC groups would have been very useful

Use of Language

It was important for us to have conversations about the words we were using and reflect on how they altered our perceptions of the folks we were working with

Potential Impact

Reduced Case Manager Workload

Currently, case managers are overworked responding to urgent and non-urgent needs of families. While this might still happen, when there is a stronger community the first point of contact could be their “buddy” family

Increased social capital

By directly considering well being, it is possible that new relationships between community members could lead to shared childcare responsibilities, carpools, or even result in more individual flexibility

Role & Experience

During this stage, I have led follow up efforts and communication with our partner, Samaritas, as they consider what is needed from their end to implement the project pilot.

 Unleashing the power of a shared meal 

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