Thurl Bailey leading effort to build community center to enhance refugees' work, life skills

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 16 2013 6:10 p.m. MDT

Thurl Bailey, ambassador of the Utah refugee community and retired NBA player, speaks at the World Refugee Day Festival at Liberty Park in Salt Lake City on Saturday, June 22, 2013.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — Former Utah Jazz player Thurl Bailey is leading an effort to build a community center in Salt Lake County intended to help refugees transition to life in Utah.

The as-yet unnamed facility would cost between $10 million to $12 million to construct, said Jon Pierpont, executive director of the Utah Department of Workforce Services. The project would be primarily funded with private money, he said.

Earlier this year, Gov. Gary Herbert named Bailey as ambassador to Utah's refugee community. He will lead a "steering team" of government, community and faith representatives appointed to get the project rolling.

Pierpont, addressing the Utah Legislature's Economic Development and Workforce Services Interim Committee Wednesday, said the facility would provide a "safe and comfortable" setting for refugees to obtain job and life skills they need to successfully transition to life in the United States.

Some 50,000 refugees live in Utah with the vast majority residing in Salt Lake County.

The proposed center, according to materials Pierpont provided to lawmakers, would provide space for English language and writing skills classes, specialized job training, before- and after-school programs, life-skills education and a microenterprise commercial kitchen, among other uses.

The facility, which would be one-stop shopping for services refugees may need, would also better facilitate volunteer efforts on behalf of Utah's refugee population.

Many people want to help, Pierpont said, but the process is fragmented among resettlement agencies and other programs.

"We have lots of institutions and folks that want to move on this community center," Pierpont said.

The center is backed by a wide array of partners including universities, government agencies, nonprofit organizations and organizations representing Utah's diverse refugee communities. Refugees in Utah speak 53 different languages and come from 20 countries.

In addition to Bailey and Pierpont, members of the steering team include: Pamela Atkinson, community advocate, representing the Gov. Gary Herbert's Office; Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams; Granite School District Superintendent Martin Bates; Rep. Ronda Menlove, R-Garland, also representing Utah State University; H. David Burton, former presiding bishop of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; developer Dan Lofgren; and Aden Batar, director of Immigration and Refugee Resettlement for Catholic Community Services.

Email: marjorie@deseretnews.com

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