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SALT LAKE CITY — It’s been six months since leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints asked members to aid refugees as some 60 million people from across the world sought asylum from conflict-riddled areas.
Since then, refugee aid organizations in Utah have experienced a dramatic influx of volunteers as LDS members have flocked to serve. Individuals and church groups have also taken it upon themselves to organize donation and relief efforts sending much-needed items across the world while also befriending refugees that settle in Utah.
In these last six months, the state of Utah has also witnessed several new changes designed to help refugees that have positively influenced the state and the rapidly-growing refugee population in and out of Utah. The following are six changes from the last six months:
The University of Utah launched a refugee research center on Sept. 28 of this year that will focus on integrating refugees into local communities. The center will research the challenges that refugees face as they come to the US and how to best serve their needs.
A main concern for many refugee parents is keeping their children in school and away from drugs and alcohol, but many refugee parents do not have the knowledge of American culture, grasp of the language or time to help their children in the ways they would like said Caren Frost, director of the university's new Center for Research on Migration & Refugee Integration. The new center hopes to aid parents in this area, as well as others.
Soon after the LDS Church urged members to aid refugees in April, the Utah Refugee Center launched a new smartphone app called “Serve Refugees” that enables users to learn more about refugees in their area and discover how they can help.
The app responded to the flood of hopeful volunteers that acted on church leaders’ admonitions and gave them a direction to follow in their journey to serve refugees. The app lists refugee centers and resettlement agencies and gives users the opportunity to either “learn, serve or give.”
Though Hayley Smith, founder of Lifting Hands International, began her nonprofit organization in January 2016 after returning home from working in refugees camps in Greece, she has seen it really take off since the LDS Church’s women’s conference in April. Lifting Hands International became a federally tax-exempt organization just days before the conference.
Smith had noticed while in Greece that, while the refugee camps were receiving a lot of donations, many people were sending the same items, not all of which could be used or were even needed. When she came home she began sending more organized packages of donations that she knew would be more useful.
Smith then created an Amazon wish list that allows people to purchase items that the camps need that are then shipped to the areas that need the items the most. Since the conference, the amount of donations Smith receives has increased astronomically.
After returning home from a study abroad in Jordan this year, a group of Brigham Young University students organized the first Run4Refuge 5K and 10K races, located in Provo. The Run4Refuge races will take place on Oct. 8 with all proceeds going towards the Doctors Without Borders Syrian Response Team.
The event will also include a cultural fair that focuses on the “art, music and food of different refugee cultures in Utah,” according to the group's website. The event hopes to raise money and awareness for local and foreign refugees.
“We have spent countless hours researching sites, asking friends and family if they know of refugees, and looking for community groups… (and) have decided to share the opportunities that we have found to give support to families, in hopes that we will all be able to help more people together,” the Refugee Support Facebook page reads.
Olson has since received many donations from around the community and has invited people to deliver the donations to refugees in an apartment complex in Salt Lake City that houses over 200 refugee families.
Since the push to aid refugees in April, the LDS Church has donated millions of dollars to various organizations for just such a purpose.
In July, the Church donated $3 million to the United Nations’ World Food Programme and donated $2 million to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and International Rescue Committee (IRC) in August after having previously committed $6 million to refugee relief efforts in the US.
As refugees enter Utah over the next six months that follow, Utah can hope to continue extending a helping and welcoming hand to all those searching for a home.