Simple things like managing a bank account or talking to a teacher are things refugees struggle with every day.

That's why Utah's agencies that serve refugees say volunteers are critical to their missions. Volunteers not only help refugees find services and adapt to American life, they also often become friends, says Shu Cheng, executive director of the Asian Association of Utah.

"Volunteers are crucial in trying to link refugees to the community," Cheng said. "They provide a social support network to answer questions refugees have in their day-to-day living."

To that end, the state Office of Refugee Services has hired a coordinator of volunteer services. It's a response to a call by a working group for a coordinated volunteer base, says Gerald Brown, director of the state office.

"We want to have a statewide managed volunteer program," Brown said. "We already have a long list of people who have offered to volunteer."

Brown said his office will work with existing agencies to figure out where coordination is needed. His office will train and conduct background checks on volunteers.

The state office will be starting small, Brown said, filling in gaps where needed to supplement efforts already underway by organizations that serve refugees.

"In a couple years, it could be that everybody gets volunteers for refugees through us," Brown said. "There are a lot of refugees out there who could really benefit from a trained volunteer from the mainstream."

Aden Batar, director of resettlement for Catholic Community Services, says while he has yet to work out the coordination details, the state role will be useful. The state office could boost the number of volunteers available and ensure that all volunteers are properly trained.

Batar said his agency, as well as other agencies, train their volunteers. However, some people who want to help refugees do it on their own without training or agency support.

"If someone can contact them and train them it would be helpful," said Batar. "Once volunteers themselves are educated, they are better able to assist refugees."


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