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A Thousand People Gathered to Learn How to Serve Refugees in Utah County

Jun 08, 2016 09:00AM
Ever since the semi-annual women's broadcast of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on March 26, 2016, where church members were encouraged to help local refugees, the phones at nonprofit organizations in Utah have been ringing off the hook. Over 80% of the population in Utah County are members of the church, so it's certain that these callers were responding to the plea.

In answer to the unusually numerous phone calls, United Way of Utah County partnered with Community Action Services and Food Bank, Centro Hispano non-profit organization, and The City of Provo to host the first Refugee Info Night on May 18, 2016. About a thousand people showed up to learn how they could get involved to help refugees.

In welcoming the surprisingly huge crowd to the event, Provo Mayor John Curtis said, “I’m touched and I’m stunned at the turnout.” “We need to understand how much love is needed,” Curtis said. “The secret sauce to what makes Provo number 1 is you and your hearts. We have a task ahead of us. Let’s figure it out.”

Bill Hulterstrom, president and CEO of United Way of Utah County, explained that even though there are not many refugees in Utah County, there are more than 38,000 immigrants here who face similar challenges in learning how to live in a new culture. Hulterstrom gave five guidelines for volunteers. He suggested that you don't stand in line to serve. Instead go find a short line and go there to serve. Do your homework in advance and serve deeper instead of wider. Focus on the individual. Be slow and steady when serving because there is no time-line to service.

Adrian R. Escalante, executive director of Centro Hispano said, “A refugee is a person who has been forced out of their country by war, persecution, or natural disaster. They are assigned a country. They no longer have a country to call home. They received political asylum and are thus here legally....many are doctors, nurses, teachers, lawyers and educated. I hope we reach out to them and make them feel they have a home. “

Utah Valley University professor, Lars Eggertsen recently returned from Syria and Greece where millions of refugees are still looking for a home. Eggertsen dispelled fears that may come when thinking of refugees. He explained that there is a vigorous vetting process before refugees can enter our country.

Chris Mecham, LDS Church Welfare Area Manager, covered three things to remember: 1) It is a divine calling to care for the poor and needy. 2) Serving is an ongoing, one-to-one ministering mission. 3) It is important to not run faster than you’re able. “The church supports these community organizations,” Mecham said. “We want them to be successful.”

For those interested in getting involved, contact United Way of Utah County, Community Action, Centro Hispano or any other agency involved in helping to resettle refugees and immigrants. One thing mentioned at the meeting is that many times we simply need to make a new friend and invite them over to our home for family dinner. The new person to our country deals with fear and we can help them by showing love and kindness. We already know how to do that.