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Local religious organizations help Salt Lake-bound refugees resettle

Published: Tuesday, June 10 2014 5:45 p.m. MDT

On average, 70,000 refugees come to the United States per year, according to Brown. Of these, Utah hosts about 1,100 per year. Their needs range from learning English and navigating public transportation to obtaining education, therapy services, housing, beds, bedding and clothing.

Of the two nonprofit organizations in the state that provide refugee resettlement, one of them — Catholic Community Services — has a religious affiliation. Refugees come to the state through this agency, the International Rescue Committee of Utah or from another state in the U.S.

For the first two to three months, these two agencies rally volunteers to help a family secure housing and food, learn English food and gain skills for employment. After this, other agencies step in to help provide long-term assistance.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints supports resettlement agencies like Catholic Community Services, the Asian Association and the International Rescue Committee with material, monetary and volunteer donations.

"The focus of Church Welfare Services is to serve the poor, develop self-reliance and provide opportunities for service. Refugees and immigrants who are struggling to find their way can be assured that the LDS Church is striving to meet their needs through direct service and by collaborating with trusted community partners," said Rick Foster, manager of humanitarian services in North America for the LDS Church.

Among other services it provides, the Welfare Department of the LDS Church offers beds and bedding for new arrivals, as well as vouchers to Deseret Industries so they can buy items like appliances, clothes and utensils.

For the past four years, the LDS Church and the Department of Workforce Services have worked in tandem to allow 100 refugees per year to participate in a dual employment and language-learning program, where they work for four hours and learn the language for another four. Those who leave the program have a 70 percent success rate with gaining full-time employment to entry-level jobs, according to Brown.

"The would not be able to get (these jobs) without English," he said.

Jose Bonilla faced this challenge when he came alone to the United States as a refugee from El Salvador in 1980. He said he knew how to name colors in English, but not much else.

He learned how to work hard while growing up on a farm, but struggled with the language barrier once he arrived in the U.S. and was often treated poorly by others because he did not speak English. Unaware of refugee resettlement services, he estimates that it took him about seven years to learn English on his own.

Now as associate director at Lutheran Social Services, he helps others refine their English and develop the skills they will need to get jobs and assimilate.

Lutheran Social Services connects refugees with programs at Westminster College and Salt Lake Community College. They believe education is the "primary path" to gainful employment, which will lead individuals to more independent lives, according to Leslie Whited, CEO of Lutheran Social Services of Utah.

The agency has individuals from eight religious groups on site daily, working together to create an "intentionally peaceful" environment for those who may have escaped religious conflict in their countries.

"That's one of the miracles of our place," she said.

The Refugee and Immigrant Center at the Asian Association of Utah tries to help according to the hierarchy of needs, taking care of housing, food and immediate needs before looking at what will help make the refugees' lives more meaningful.

Jewish Family Services is among the religious organizations in Utah that help refugees with short- and long-term needs after their relocation. Similar to other organizations in the area, it offers counseling, food, English language classes and emergency funds to people in need, regardless of religion or refugee status.

These agencies all rely on community volunteers who can do anything from helping children with school work to teaching a family how to live in an apartment and cook food.

"They're very eager to learn. They just need somebody to teach them," Batar said.

Email: wevans@deseretnews.com

Twitter: whitevs7

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