Crowds flock to Provo community Refugee Night

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Provo Mayor John Curtis addresses community members regarding ways to volunteer with refugee efforts. (Natalie Stoker)
Provo Mayor John Curtis addresses community members regarding ways to volunteer with refugee efforts. (Natalie Stoker)

Hundreds of locals gathered Wednesday, May 18, for a community outreach event to learn how to help refugees, immigrants and other struggling community members.

It was standing room only at a local LDS church where nearby volunteer organizations along with city officials and concerned citizens met to discuss ways the community can become involved in service and volunteer opportunities in the area.

Mayor John Curtis spoke about two facets of volunteering he wants the community to remember. First, is to reach out and find ways to help refugees, especially those in neighboring Salt Lake. Second, community members must recognize the 38,000 immigrants locally that are struggling with English, jobs, transportation and education.

Community members listen and take notes to learn more ways to get involved in helping local refugees and citizens. (Natalie Stoker)
Community members listen and take notes to learn more ways to get involved in helping local refugees and citizens. (Natalie Stoker)

While many people are looking for specifics of projects to go out and do, “much of what needs to be done is undefined,” said Curtis. Rather, he encouraged community members to be thoughtful, resourceful and prayerful in finding ways to lend a hand. Quoting an LDS talk he said, “Don’t expect your leaders to figure everything out for you.” That being said, “Love is needed,” he reiterated.

Executive Director Adrian Escalante of Central Hispano defined a refugee as someone “who has been forced to leave his or her country because of war, persecution or natural disasters.” He spoke of a group of Karen people who were forced to leave their home country from Burma and eventually came to Salt Lake City where no one could speak their native language. He emphasized the feeling of despair these individuals and others face when coming to a new country.

Hundreds of local community members attended the Utah County Refugee Info night. Mayor John Curtis was the key speaker. (Natalie Stoker)
Hundreds of local community members attended the Utah County Refugee Info night. Mayor John Curtis was the key speaker. (Natalie Stoker)

Escalante continued to reinforce being a refugee is not a choice, though many immigrants who choose to come here face similar challenging circumstances.

In the meeting, Bill Hulterstrom, the CEO of United Way, outlined five points for getting involved with service. First, don’t stand in line to serve — find a shorter line. He encouraged people to find projects with maybe less people but greater needs. Second, he asked people to do their homework and find true needs of people. Third, he said serving deeper, with longer commitments and perhaps helping only a few people is more meaningful than serving wider. Fourth, recognize people’s strengths and build on these. Finally, fifth, be slow, steady and patient.

Kris Mecham, manager of Area Church Welfare and Lars Eggertsen, a professor at UVU, also spoke and elaborated on these points, encouraging community members to help where they can.

Afterward, booths lined the auditorium with representatives from organizations providing concrete ways for community members and college students to get involved. Lovette Marchbanks, community engagement specialist for United Way, represented a booth encouraging community members to donate resources to United Way, a non-profit organization that promises to donate all of the proceeds to a donor’s program of choice.

However, monetary resources are not the only way to provide relief. Ashley Mendoza, a representative from Everyday Learners at United Way, explained people can get involved with simple projects like donating their time through volunteering to tutor elementary school students who are struggling with English.

Many local residents attended to find ways they could become involved in a task that can seem otherwise daunting. Kylee Marshall, a BYU student and family life major, explained sometimes it can be discouraging to get involved in a project because it’s hard to know how. Refugee volunteer work is hard to find in Provo area, she said, but the event was “a good reminder there are opportunities to get involved no matter where you are.”

Lindsay Combs, a BYU student and journalism major, echoed Kylee’s remarks. “It is inspiring to live in a community where so many people want to help,” Combs said.

As cited by Hulterstrom, Provo is in a unique position to give back to people who are struggling, because it has been ranked number one in the country for volunteerism. “We have a task ahead of us,” Curtis said, “Let’s figure it out.”

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