SALT LAKE CITY – The first Afghan refugee families have officially arrived in Utah.
Catholic Community Services of Utah said they are expecting 120 people over the next two weeks, and their goal is to have an apartment ready for everyone. Plan all the details, right down to putting a hot meal on the table when the family walks through the door.
The first refugee families from Afghanistan have officially arrived in Utah. Utah Catholic Community Services said it has handled 3 cases so far, including a family of eight.
They expect another family to land in Salt Lake City before the end of the week.
While some families have been able to stay together, such as both parents and the six young children who have just arrived, others will come alone.
“I think families who come from Afghanistan or other refugees in general don’t all come at the same time,” said Aden Batar, director of migration and refugee services at CCS. “Sometimes families have been separated, sometimes we only take in children under the age of 18 that Catholic Community Services brings, and we place them with our foster family.”
For this reason, CCS Utah is looking for volunteer foster parents to look after the children. They are also looking for landlords to help with housing and community members to donate furniture, household items, and even vehicles for transportation.
READ: Amazon Wish List Created for Afghan Refugees Arriving in Utah in October
CCS of Utah also has a unique partnership to rely on for assistance to better serve its refugee clients.
On Wednesday afternoon, Elder Martinez sat at a desk and looked at the forms on his computer screen.
“Recently, they were doing an audit,” he explained, looking at the screen. “I helped them prepare all the files.”
His work as a service missionary for the LDS Church is not what most might imagine, given that he serves an organization of a different religion.
“I had to kind of reassure everyone, ‘I’m still a missionary. I’m not going to convert to Catholicism, that’s fine,’” Brother Martinez said with a chuckle, recalling his farewell address to the church. “I’m still a missionary for us, I’m just in the service of a Catholic organization.”
He is one of 16 LDS Church service missionaries who work at three CCS sites in Utah – their Salt Lake City office, food bank, and dining hall.
Brittany Moulton, Volunteer and Community Relations Manager at the Utah CCS, explained that the work they do ranges from stocking pantry shelves to serving meals, organizing citizenship classes and transportation. .
“I think a lot of people here don’t realize how much the different religious organizations are working together behind the scenes,” she said.
Moulton described how the partnership was formed in August 2019. Service heads of mission contact the Utah CCS when they have a service missionary to place, she said. Service missionaries can tour the facility, learn about current needs and opportunities, and then choose from there.
“It looks like a perfect glove,” she said. “We have the help we need, and they have the manpower to help fill that in.”
READ: Organizations Coordinating Resources for Afghan Refugees Arriving in Utah
Moulton said one of the main goals right now is to help incoming Afghan refugees. She explained how the missionaries on duty sorted the donations and prepared the apartments.
“It gives them a really unique opportunity to meet and see people in the community that they might not otherwise interact with and gain that appreciation for people from all kinds of backgrounds,” he said. she declared.
It is this work with refugees that Brother Martinez finds most rewarding.
“They were forced to flee their country,” he said. “And I think helping these people in any way is what wanted me to come here to serve.”
He spoke about his most memorable experiences, and one of them was helping Venezuelan refugees in a parenting class. Elder Martinez said he served as a Spanish translator for parents, providing interpretation, resources and advice on how to raise children in a new country.
For his computer work on Wednesday, Brother Martinez made sure that clients who had just finished a Swahili parenting course filled out all the correct paperwork.
Regardless of religion, the goal at the Utah CCS is the same.
“It’s just to make them feel welcome,” Elder Martinez said, adding, “and they are valued here in the community.”