SALT LAKE CITY – The first refugee families from Afghanistan have officially arrived in Utah.
Utah Catholic Church Services said they are expecting 120 people over the next few weeks and their goal is to have homes ready for everyone. The plan includes all the details, right down to the hot meal on the table when the family comes through the door.
The first refugee families from Afghanistan have officially arrived in Utah. Utah Catholic Community Services said they have recorded 3 cases so far, including a family of eight.
They expect another family to land in Salt Lake City before the week ends.
While some families have been able to stay together, like the two parents who have just arrived and six young children, others will show up alone.
“I think the families who come from Afghanistan, or other refugees in general, don’t all come at the same time,” explains Aden Batar, director of migration and refugee services at CCS. “Sometimes families have been separated, sometimes we only have children under the age of 18 who are accepted by Catholic community services, and we put them in our foster family.”
For this reason, Utah-based CCS is looking for volunteer foster parents to look after the children. They’re also looking for landlords to help build homes and community members who donate furniture, housewares, and even vehicles for transportation.
READ: Amazon Wish List for Afghan Refugees Arriving in Utah in October
CCS of Utah also has a unique partnership that they can rely on to better serve their refugee customers.
On Wednesday afternoons, Elder Martinez was at a desk looking at forms on his computer screen.
“They recently ran an audit,” he explained, looking at the screen. “I helped you prepare all the files.”
His work as a service missionary for the LDS Church is not what most can imagine, considering he serves an organization of a different religion.
“I had to somehow reassure everyone, ‘I’m still a missionary. I’m not going to convert to Catholicism, that’s fine, ‘”Elder Martinez said, laughing as he remembered his farewell address in church. “I’m still a missionary to us, I only serve for a Catholic organization.”
He is one of 16 LDS Church service missionaries working in the three CCS Utah locations – their Salt Lake City office, board, and dining room.
Brittany Moulton, Volunteer and Community Relations Manager at CCS of Utah, stated that the job ranges from replenishing pantries to serving meals, conducting citizenship classes and providing transportation.
“I think a lot of people here don’t know how much the different religious organizations work together behind the scenes,” she said.
Moulton described how the partnership came about in August 2019. Service mission leaders contact the Utah CCS when they have a service missionary to send, she said. Service missionaries can tour the facility, learn about current opportunities and needs, and then make their choices.
“It just fits like a perfect glove,” she said. “We have the help that is needed and they have the manpower to fill it.”
READ: Organizations that coordinate resources for Afghan refugees arriving in Utah
According to Moulton, there is currently a major focus on helping arriving Afghan refugees. She shared how service missionaries sort donations and prepare homes.
“It gives them a really unique opportunity to meet and see people in the community who they might not otherwise interact with and to gain that appreciation for people from all kinds of backgrounds,” she said.
Elder Martinez finds this work with refugees most fulfilling.
“They were forced to flee their countries,” he said. “And I think that I can just help these people in any way that I wanted me to come here to serve.”
He shared his most memorable experiences, one of which was helping Venezuelan asylum seekers in an education course. Elder Martinez said he was the parents’ Spanish translator, providing interpreters, resources, and tips for raising children in a new country.
For his Wednesday computer work, Elder Martinez made sure that clients who had just completed a Swahili education course filled out all the correct documents.
Regardless of religion, the purpose at CCS of Utah is the same.
“They are just made to feel welcome,” Elder Martinez said, adding, “and they are valued here in the fellowship.”