Coming to America is a dream many refugees have held onto for years. But that dream can quickly become a nightmare when the realities of a new language and culture are encountered.
Recent Polish immigrant Jerzy Slusarczyk has been in Salt Lake City for three months and his English is remarkable. But he recalls how difficult it was for him at first."It was for so long that I had this dream of America, but when I got here I could hardly imagine how to make the money pay for rent and food and how to get around without a car." He needed to check out an apartment on 72nd South but didn't understand how to take a bus. So he walked.
His girlfriend, Yolanta Tomaszewska, just arrived here six weeks ago. But there will be no long walks for her. Jerzy now has a car and has discovered the New Hope Multicultural Center. Yolanta's English was assessed last Friday so she can be assigned a tutor to help her with this new language.
The New Hope Multicultural Center is located at 11th West and Fourth North in an old LDS meetinghouse donated to the group. Director Wilma Odell is grateful that the Southeast Asian and East European refugees streaming into Salt Lake City can have this resource to aid them. One such refugee is Somsy Bouapha who arrived in Salt Lake City on Dec. 13 with her husband and son from Laos. Somsy is receiving English tutoring at New Hope.
A room has been set aside at the center to house clothing and linens for the struggling newcomers. Odell said that when Hotel Temple Square closed for remodeling, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints donated towels and bedding to the center. Whenever the clothing on hand can't cover the need, New Hope Multicultural Center can call on Deseret Industries for assistance. "It's like they've given us a scholarship," Odell said of a recent DI gift of winter coats and boots.
FHA students from Brighton High School have put together packets each with a razor, deodorant, shampoo and soap to be dispensed to new immigrants.
There is a sewing room with machines, patterns and bolts of cloth. "We can have three refugees at a time in here learning English as they learn to sew and help clothe themselves," Odell said.
Cambodians, Laotians and Vietnamese use the gym for volleyball, pingpong and badminton. New immigrants from Eastern Europe haven't yet discovered the gym but are availing themselves of the tutoring help. One Rumanian immigrant is repairing bicycles for the children.
Seng Tek has a degree from a Cambodian university and is a VISTA volunteer. He is helping the refugees at the center and at Crossroads Urban Center by distributing locally caught carp. Immigrants pay a $3 fee that enables them to pick up 40 pounds of fish, up to 15 pounds a week. Over 600 pounds of fish were distributed from Nov. 5 through the end of December.
One section of the old meetinghouse was partially burned, and Odell says the group has hopes of repairing the wing and adding pre-school and day care to the center's facilities.
Working with Literacy Volunteers of America, the New Hope Multicultural Center provides refugees with the greatest service, learning English. LVA volunteer Lorene Odekirk is looking for volunteers to work with the refugees. No foreign language knowledge is required, although volunteers are asked to undergo literacy training. The training will be given Jan. 21 and 28. Most tutoring is done one on one and follows "English As a Second Language" guidelines. "Anyone who enjoys reading can share this gift by tutoring," said Odekirk.
NHMC's Suzi Haynes said children are also tutored after school. Rose Park Elementary School students come to the center at 3:30 p.m. "They work with the same tutor every Monday and Wednesday. The tutor helps them with homework and reading, and gives them a little gym time and a snack before they are taken home at 5 p.m." Haynes said. The center hopes to start tutoring students from Washington Elementary School on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but needs volunteers.
Another resource for new immigrants is the Tolstoy Foundation, a refugee resettlement agency. Adam Pawlica is job counselor and developer for the Salt Lake office and receives paperwork for all refugees moving into Utah. Pawlica tries to anticipate problems they might face.
"In the beginning it is always hard, but it all depends on a person's expectations. America is still the land of opportunity, but you can't push people. They have to make their own opportunities," Pawlica said.
For Salt Lakers anxious to reach out a helping hand to their newest neighbors, multitudes of volunteer opportunities await. Adam Pawlica would love to have help in his job placement efforts and can be reached at 486-4781. The New Hope Multicultural Center can use volunteers for English training and friendshipping and even sponsoring families. And if time is a problem, the center always needs financial help. Suzi Haynes can be reached at the center at 363-4955 or at 582-6458.