Getting a bedroom is a milestone for children in America. It represents a chance for expression. For two young Bosnian women, Ena Mehmedović and Indira Krizevac-Hodzic, being able to decorate their spaces was the seed that needed to be planted in order for them to realize their dreams. Their love for interior decoration grew, and their charity, Serene Refuge, was born. Located in Chicago, Illinois, their nonprofit helps refugees create a home away from home by furnishing spaces using donated goods and volunteer efforts.

Arriving in America

For Indira, her interest in creative projects began at a young age.

As a teenager, she began receiving compliments on her design choices. Being able to move into her own house as an adult further fueled her passion. Her advice began to be sought out on matters of interior decoration. Her eye for design soon became stronger.

“I quickly realized that I was able to put things together easily. I think my taste is ever-developing and that really keeps things interesting ,” Indira said.

For Ena, the oldest of three siblings in a family of five, her story as a refugee in America began when she was an older child. She learned, like other immigrants and refugees, that adapting to a foreign place is not an easy journey. She wanted others to feel the same happiness she feels blessed to have experienced.

Her strong faith in God being another reason for helping others, she’s always felt connected to the community while hopeful that her intentions remain sincere. She seeks to lessen these individuals’ burdens by providing them with comfortable fully-furnished homes.

“The small details such as the floral wallpaper that our father put up were elements that made my sister and I feel so much more comfortable in our new home,” Ena remembers fondly of her first home.

The reward boomeranged

Hearing other people’s stories is also part of their journey. Doing this type of work brings about extreme emotions. Indira cried during their first hosted event for the charity. She was overcome with emotion while learning the trials one elderly woman faced while escaping her native Burma. However, she wouldn’t change this part of the process for the world.

“I wasn't strong enough to comfort her at that moment, instead she was comforting me,” Indira said.

Another example, is of a family that included four children. Their reactions, upon seeing their bedrooms filled with toys and books, were ones that will stick with her. This is rewarding for Indira and Ena. Indira realized the significant change she can make in a person’s life. They hope to have provided that family with a secure base from which to build on.

“It is my belief that when these families have a place that truly feels like a home, they will then have the time to focus on other very important things such as education, employment and building a better future,” Indira said.

There is strength in community

Ena remembers when she went to the home of a young couple. The matriarch, named Iman, welcomed the designers with tea and dessert. Through conversations with the young couple, Ena and Indira learned about the loss of their children. This further impassioned the designers to provide them with more comfortable living arrangements. The young couple was shocked upon seeing the finished results. For the designers, Iman’s smiles and prayers was the best reaction.

“We wanted nothing more than to help them the best that we could and place smiles on their faces,” Ena said.

Indira agrees that everything has come full circle after being helped as a refugee herself.The donors and volunteers inspire Ena daily as well.

Ena considers humanity their binding force. They show strength in coming together to encourage each other. She learned the power of a community in making a change.

“When all members of a community pull together for a united cause, the power becomes unlimited,” Ena said.

As for Indira, she’s inspired by the Ghandi quotation,

“In a gentle way, you can shake the world.”