A 5K event and fundraiser in Provo this weekend hopes to raise thousands of dollars for refugee children.
The Run for Refugee race starts at 9 a.m. Saturday, June 18 at Rock Canyon Park, followed by a festival for all ages. All funds received will be divided among three local organizations specializing in helping Utah refugees.
Ammon Hardin and his wife Kaitlan decided to organize the event after the April LDS General Conference where female auxiliary leaders urged members to get involved in helping refugees. After the conference Kaitlan became involved in a clothing drive for refugees. Shortly after, the couple knew they wanted to do more to help.
“We didn’t expect it to be this big,” Ammon said about the event.
More than 1,000 locals and counting have expressed interest in attending. He hopes people will continue to invite their friends in the area to attend the event.
Because competing in the race itself is free, Ammon said he and his wife hope to receive funds primarily through donations from local businesses and the silent auction. A festival after the race will be held for the runners and all community members to raise additional funds. The festival will include activities for kids like a bounce house and face painting as well as a marketplace selling goods made by refugees. Food trucks will be at the event and have committed to donate 10 percent of proceeds to the cause; Kona Ice has committed to donate 20 percent of its proceeds.
All of the funds raised will be given evenly to three local nonprofit organizations. These organizations include Catholic Community Services, the International Rescue Center and the Utah Refugee Center. Catholic Community Services and the International Rescue Center are the primary organizations that work in Utah’s refugee resettlement process.
Public Relations and Media Director for Catholic Community Services Danielle Stamos said these organizations work closely with the state department and the refugees. Together these organizations take in 100 percent of the refugees in the state of Utah, with each organization taking in 600 refugees a year from countries like Somalia, Iraq and Burma. While Syrian refugees have been a large focus for the U.S., Stamos said, there are currently only about seven Syrian families in Utah due to the strict security regulations.
Stamos said from the moment refugees arrive, this program works to assist them to be successful in their new lives. A case manager picks up the refugees immediately from the airport and then helps them adapt to a new and often extremely unfamiliar culture.
“For the next two years we are their support in finding jobs, going to school, getting English training, job training, learning how to navigate their benefit systems, how to buy their first home and how to buy their first car,” Stamos said. “Anything they need for their first two years in the U.S., we provide them with that, or connect them with the services that will provide them with that.”
Through the program, refugees learn to become self-sufficient in new surroundings.
“The first two years are very critical in the success of a refugee,” Stamos said. “A lot of the refugees, probably about 80 percent, are 100 percent self-sufficient within the first six months.”
The funding this organization will receive through the 5k race will be put directly into the organization’s refugee resettlement program. Stamos said the organization receives a very small amount of money to help each refugee, so fundraising efforts are crucial to ensure these individuals are well taken care of.
The third organization partnering with the race is the Utah Refugee Center. Sadie Foster, an assistant at Utah Refugee Center explained how difficult it can be coming to a new country and adjusting to a new culture.
“Some of these people are coming over and are learning to brush their teeth for the first time or use a vacuum or a toilet,” Foster said. “We are helping them to learn everyday skills that we take for granted.”
In addition to helping refugees adjust, the Utah Refugee Center helps these people learn English, a crucial step in their adjustment process.
The race funds will help this organization purchase items for the refugees. With more than 60,000 refugees in the state coming to Utah with nothing but the clothes on their back, Foster said, there is a great need.
Ultimately, Ammon hopes to connect the community with these organizations, and even more importantly with refugees themselves. By coming to the event, the community can meet refugees, which Ammon believes is the most powerful part of the whole experience.
“For us, that is really what changed it from a conference talk, (from) something we should do to something that we really wanted to do,” Ammon said.
Through the event and its partnerships, Ammon believes the nonprofit organizations can help bridge the gap between contemplating volunteering and actually getting involved.
Provo has recently placed increased emphasis on helping local refugees. Earlier in May a Provo community meeting was held about ways to get involved. Ammon recognized that after the meeting some people felt disappointed because they largely weren’t provided with specific ways to help. However, he believes the race can help overcome this dilemma.
“There are specifics people can do with these nonprofit programs,” Ammon said.
Ammon believes the 5k race will show people ways to become engaged in helping, and become the impetus for people volunteering on a deeper level with long-term, consistent opportunities.