Catholic Community Services remains a helping hand for those in need in Salt Lake City

Story and slideshow by HAYDEN S. MITCHELL

“All we want to do [as an organization] is help folks in our community,” said Aden Batar, immigration and refugee resettlement director at Catholic Community Services, located at 745 E. 300 South in Salt Lake City.

The primary goals of CCS are to help those in need and create hope for people who have none. According to its pledge, “Catholic Community Services of Utah has been empowering people in need to reach self-sufficiency.” CCS does this by lifting up those in the community, regardless of gender, race or religion.

In 1945, the Rev. Duane G. Hunt of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City saw there were many people in need of assistance. These folks were poor and no help was coming their way. So, with that, Hunt started an organization to contribute to his community. According to the CCS website, this organization started by creating adoption centers, poverty assistance, foster care, counseling and transit programs.

“There have always been people in need … that is way we must help if we are able to,” Batar said. “Not everyone can do it themselves, which is why organizations like this are around.”

Following 1945, Hunt’s organization continued to expand, beyond his death in 1960. It grew from a single office to four different sites and buildings that deliver social services to folks in need of help in Utah, specifically Northern Utah and the Wasatch Front. As the organization grew it strove to help more and more people in need of assistance. The Rev. Hunt’s organization joined the United Way Agency in 1951, allowing them to help more people, according to the CCS website.

The St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Shop and Soup Kitchen were opened in 1967, as an extension of the Rev. Hunt’s organization. It began providing food and clothes for the homeless, which continues to this day. Over 1,000 meals a day are served to needy Utahns at the St. Vincent de Paul Dining Hall located in 437 W. 200 South in Salt Lake City. It is a mid-day and evening meal service, according to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul,

Ethan Lane, a local high school student who has volunteered at the soup kitchen over the last couple of years, spoke very highly of the work they do, saying, “Having a reliable place to go get a nice meal is important.” Lane added, “Without this place providing the service they do, there would be a lot more hungry people here in Utah.”

That is why it is important for community organizations to continue their work by maintaining the places like the soup kitchen and increasing their reach. Poverty and hunger continue to be an issue in Utah. According to the U.S. Census, more than 10 percent of the population is living below the poverty line. That is one in every 10 people living in Utah. Add to that, Utah is ranked fourth in the United States for the highest rate of very low food security.

Not only has Hunt’s organization made efforts to help the hungry and homeless in our community but they also strive to help others in need like immigrant and refugees, says Batar. The Rev. Terence M. Moore added the refugee resettlement program to Hunt’s organization in 1974. The refugee foster care program was established the next year to assist unaccompanied minor refugees.

Shortly after the organization began assisting with refugees it added immigration services in 1981. Included in those services was aid to the disabled and the Utah Immigration Project. Both immigrants and refugees are facing a new environment but they are coming from vastly different situations. Immigrants are choosing to resettle in a new location whereas refugees are being forced to leave their homes and find a new one, according to cnn.com. Although they don’t all come from the same situations they need some of the same assistance.

“Refugees and immigrants have the same difficulties adapting … they have a hard time with the language, the weather and the feeling of being home takes a while,” Batar said. “It is important for them to understand that they have help and they are not alone in a difficult time.”

Soon after the additions of the refugee and immigration services, the organization changed its name to Catholic Community Services of Utah but the mission remained the same. According to the CCS website, that mission is “to practice gospel values of love, compassion and hope through service, support and collaboration.”

“We are a medium-sized non-profit organization that provides some great help to our community,” said Danielle Stamos, public relations and marketing director at CCS. “We will continue to expand our efforts to help in all aspects of our organization … making people’s lives easier is what we try to do.”

Stamos said CCS will continue to contribute to the needs of others by helping those weakest become strong and functioning members of the community. “Hopefully, in the future we will be able to help more people, knocking down the number of people in need,” Stamos said. That may be a harder challenge for the CCS refugee services compared to the organizations other programs. The problems come from political controversies and new policies centered on refugees. With threats of policy change and residents angry about potential safety concerns, the number of refugees getting help may be reduced.

Bradford Drake, executive director of CCS, said in a newsletter, “Even in the wake of this uncertainty, CCS continues to do what we have always done — provide help and hope to those most in need.”

Drake wanted to reassure the staff, volunteers and those who receive assistance from CCS, that the organization will continue to help refugees transition into a new country, culture and lifestyle.

Of course, any organization is only as good as their volunteers, Stamos said. Without volunteers CCS would never be able to reach its full potential. So, if you want to get involved with some volunteer work, the website lists multiple opportunities. One can volunteer to assist refugees, or monetary donations are always welcome.

With all the challenges facing people today, it’s nice for people to know a resource like Catholic Community services is available to assist them.

 

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A day in the life of a refugee

Story and photos by WESLEY RYAN

Refugees, within the past year, have had to deal with a gargantuan amount of resistance. However, there are two refugee students who attend Salt Lake Community College who proudly live an American life and have aspirations they want to achieve.

Jemima Singoma

Walking across Salt Lake Community College (SLCC) with a beaming smile and a confident stride, you’ll see Jemima Singoma heading to her weekly meeting at the Refugee Club. There, she meets and enjoys the company of other refugees with similar stories to hers.

“When we first got here they immediately took us. They took us and separated us from our parents,” Singoma says, remembering the day she arrived in the United States at 13 years old. “We didn’t speak any English and they tried to put us in foster care.”

To this day, Singoma still doesn’t know why she and her brothers were temporarily separated from her family. All she knows is the United States government approached her and her family and tried creating more fear in their life. Possibly never seeing her family again, Singoma was forced into the care of strangers who didn’t speak the same language as her and her siblings. Singoma was eventually reunited with her family, but it won’t change what had happened.

Although Singoma recalls this moment being petrifying, she recounted the story through a smile and laughter, never showing a sign of resentment toward the American government. As a matter of fact, she plans on working within the American justice system in the future. Studying political science, she hopes to one day become a divorce judge, whether that’s in America or in her native Congo is a different story.

“I’d prefer to live back home, in Africa. Anywhere in Africa, or Nigeria,” Singoma says. “It’s just so beautiful all over.”

It’s not as simple as buying a plane ticket and flying over to Nigeria for the weekend. Working two jobs, going to school and caring for a child can prevent a lot of travel. However, Singoma is determined to give her daughter the life she deserves.

Only recently did Singoma pick up the second job at the Sephora warehouse in West Valley City, Utah. Although, Singoma says she prefers her job as an after-school teacher, mainly because of her love for kids. There, she teaches the kids the importance of being curious, math and proper grammar. Five days a week she will devote her time to school and work, but the weekends are when she relaxes.

On the weekends, you will see her in various dancing spots with a group of her friends she went with or met that night. Never breaking a smile and answering questions with a slight laugh, it’s quick to see why she’s so good at making friends.

Singoma is no different than most people in their 20s: going out with friends, exercising, dancing and meeting people. Nevertheless, she also has responsibilities and goals she needs to accomplish: finishing college, becoming a marriage counselor, raising a child and, finally, becoming a divorce judge. Singoma is your everyday person, the only difference is she has a different history.

Peter Muvunyi

Entering the international room you immediately see Peter Muvunyi helping another student with her math homework. Wearing a striped polo and innovative “toe shoes,” Muvunyi guides this student to the answer.

Muvunyi is a first-year student at SLCC, trying to get his surgical technician certificate. While he doesn’t particularly find the medical aspect interesting, he finds the life of a surgical technician enthralling. The main reason being its ability to lead to a better and easier life. Meanwhile, his work as the communication director for his church allows him to harness his other skills.

“I’m in charge of the communication and without me it’s pretty much chaos,” Muvunyi says. Every Saturday, Muvunyi goes to his church to set up and work the sound for the service. He makes sure the music is playing properly and all the microphones are set up correctly. Yet, the work he is doing and the courses he studies doesn’t relate to his dream.

“My dream goal is to own a school, it’s going to be high-tech though,” Muvunyi says. “Like, a fun, superhero kind of school. Have talented people come [work].” He’s already designed his future school in a program created by the architecture department. The architecture isn’t what interests him though, it’s the software and development aspects. Muvunyi doesn’t see his school being outstanding because of the way it was designed. He sees his dream school as being the best because of the softwares and programs being used to enhance the student’s learning, not their surroundings.

When it comes to Muvunyi’s dream, he will gladly admit it’s unlikely this will happen. It doesn’t stop him from continuing this interest of his; that’s what makes it a dream for him. Muvunyi has vastly different goals in mind compared to his dream though.

“My main goal is to just get a diploma that I can give to my mom, and then pursue my own interests,” Muvunyi says. He admits he could do both but his family wants him to follow societal norms. Muvunyi is no different than millions of Americans in this design. Conforming to certain ideals not only because it’s the societal ideology, but because it’s what his family believes. Nevertheless, like most people, he swerves from the road.

To rebel against his family’s ideals he will use bitcoin. His family doesn’t see the worth or understand the point of bitcoin. For them, bitcoin is a game where you waste your money. It’s not a realistic approach to life, which is why his mom still has some control over his rebellion. For example, whenever he wants to acquire more bitcoin he can only use so much of his own money or else his mom will put a stop to it. Muvunyi can understand his mom’s resistance to let him pursue this, considering he knows her and his brother are “straightforward people.” Being what Muvunyi considers a “city boy” or a “privileged refugee” is why he is able to experiment with these technologies.

“The thing is, there are different types of refugees. There are refugees who have fled and are in camps. Other refugees who have settled in a country and are able to provide themselves with the basic necessities. Then there are the refugees who have those things but live in camps,” Muvunyi says. “I am one of the refugees — my parents were financially stable, my mom was financially stable.”

Muvunyi’s hardships aren’t diluted by the fact he is considered a privileged refugee. Talking about the long arduous process of trying to acquire asylum, traveling for a year from Zambia, to Rwanda, to the United Kingdom and then, finally, the United States of America.

This isn’t out of the ordinary for his family, though. Watching his parents constantly try to find a place they can call their own, he saw what he wanted to change for himself. It was only natural Muvunyi would learn from his parents and adapt to a life he perceives as better.

Being a refugee since 2000, Muvunyi has had to acclimate to American culture and is still in the process of it. He knows it’s not an easy path, but he will make sure it is the best one he can create.

American Life

Singoma and Muvunyi are no different than Barbara working at Jamba Juice or Miguel, the personal trainer. However, with the sentiments being thrown around regarding refugees it’s hard for many people to understand refugees are just normal people with dreams like anyone else.

“Have various cultures side-by-side; show and highlight the differences. Celebrations and activities help the most,” said Jason Roberts, the advisor and founder of the Refugee Club at Salt Lake Community College. Going to a festival celebrating the culture or visiting a restaurant specializing in the food of a country with a high refugee population are simple ways to immerse oneself in these differences.

“There’s a war with good and bad. Refugees are just people,” Roberts says.

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The Refugee Club at Salt Lake Community College

Story and photo by WESLEY RYAN

Starting college is a wonderful time in people’s lives. However, it can also create moments of terrible stress. Being a refugee student intensifies many of those problems, but the Refugee Club at Salt Lake Community College (SLCC) plans on helping refugee students overcome them.

“On paper, they, the refugees, look like a resident. There was no way to distinguish them apart,” said Jason Roberts, one of the founders of the Refugee Club and a current advisor for the group.

Roberts said many organizations throughout campus noticed there wasn’t a direct source helping refugee students reach excellence. To resolve this issue the school created the Refugee Club in the fall of 2013 to act as a safe space for refugees. At the Refugee Club, members can share their stories and meet people with similar stories.

While Roberts isn’t a refugee himself he understands some of the challenges affecting refugees on a daily basis. Before Roberts, an English professor at SLCC, began working with the Refugee Club he was employed by the Granite School District, teaching English as a second language to students.

“American culture is different from others,” Roberts said. In Syria and the African countries where club members are from, there is a distrust toward authority out of fear of being wrongfully punished. For many of these refugees this mindset is ingrained into them. This leads students to not ask questions, even if they aren’t completely understanding the literature being taught to them. This frame of mind can devastate their academic career and can dissuade them from pursuing what they are passionate about.

“Teaching them how to support themselves and to teach them to ask questions,” Roberts said. Creating an environment where these refugees can feel comfortable enough to ask questions. Roberts believes that this cultural shift from fear and submission to empowerment and individualism is important to the advancement of refugees’ understanding of survival here in the U.S.

Keeping track of how many members the club regularly helps has been a challenge for Roberts and the president. Roberts has said the number fluctuates between six and 10.

The welcome sign to the international department, where the Refugee Club regularly meets.

“What I care [about] is you come sometimes, and get some help,” Roberts said. As an educator, he emphasized his desire to educate and help people. Roberts doesn’t want to force club members to come to the meetings, saying that a forced education will only create problems further down the road. That could be the reason for the fluctuating attendance.

The club meets every Wednesday from noon to 1 p.m. The first half of the meeting is dedicated to learning a new skill such as writing with commas, giving a proper presentation or learning more about American culture. They will then spend the next half of the meeting discussing relevant topics in the news or things from their everyday life. They treat these meetings as a safe place for everyone to communicate about their troubles and for the group to give positive advice toward fixing the problem presented.

Even though the club is called the Refugee Club, Peter Muvunyi, the acting chair and president of the club, wants it to be a place where everyone can come.

“So, if I say Refugee Club the first thing that should come to mind is everybody; it’s more inclusive,” Muvunyi said. As a refugee from Zambia, he decided to join this group because he wanted to meet other refugees. He wanted to share his story with others. It’s the same reason he visits the Black Student Union (BSU).

Muvunyi and the club teamed up with the BSU and the American Indian Club in late November 2017 for a cultural potluck. They’re also planning, at the beginning of March 2018 to go to schools in Cottonwood and assist these other refugee students with their applications.

This desire to help refugees receive a higher education is an important belief for many of these people. Aden Batar, the director of immigration and refugee resettlement for the Catholic Commuter Services, has said that “very few actually do” go to college.

“Many of them are illiterate and it can take years for them to fully understand the language,” Batar said. He and Roberts have found that language is a huge challenge for refugees. This could be another reason why they don’t further their knowledge.

The purpose of the Refugee Club is to help refugees find these resources to further their education and their life here in the U.S. However, when it comes to helping refugees, Roberts said “we’re definitely not doing enough.” This desire to continuously do more for refugees could be for a multitude of reasons but each person answered the same way, refugees are human beings who deserve equal treatment.

Tom Huynh brings experience as Vietnamese refugee to West Valley City Council

Story and photo by EMILY ANDERSON

When he first arrived at Philippine First Asylum Center (PFAC) in the island province Palawan from Vietnam, Tom Huynh was shocked by the “horrible” conditions of the camp.

“It was a sad place, very depressing,” Huynh said. “But people had no choice.”

He was immediately placed in a 12-by-12 room with seven other people. His unit was given a card identifying everyone in the flat, which allowed them to obtain two cups of rice, one piece of broccoli and two pieces of fish to be divided among the occupants each day.

As Huynh was standing in line to collect the food during his first few days in the camp, he met a man in his 60s. The man told Huynh that he had a lot to learn in the coming years — the refugee camp was a whole new world.

The pair arrived at the front of the line. The fish given to the man was rotten, although there was a heap of fresh fish behind the refugee who had been assigned to pass out the rations. Huynh said he protested the unjust treatment, but the man stopped him. He told Huynh the pile of newly-caught fish was being saved for the distributor’s family and friends.

After thanking Huynh for standing up for him, the man said, “Tom, promise me that if you’re ever in a position of power, you will treat people fairly.”

Huynh said he has always remembered the man’s plea and it has influenced the way he lives his life.

Vietnamese refugee Tom Huynh has served on the West Valley City Council for six years.

Since coming to the U.S., Huynh has pursued a career in politics while working as a real estate agent. He was elected to the West Valley City Council in 2011, and is in his second term in the District 1 seat.

Huynh’s journey to government leadership began with his father’s efforts to defend his own government.

Journey to Safety

In the aftermath of the Cambodian-Vietnamese war, in which the Socialist Republic of Vietnam invaded Democratic Kampuchea to remove the Khmer Rouge from power, the Vietnamese military continued to fight against armed Cambodian groups who opposed the new regime until 1989.

The government continued to tap all men above age 18 for military service. Many of Huynh’s friends had been drafted to patrol the Cambodian borders. Many were killed. Some returned home with missing limbs, he said.

Huynh’s father, a South Vietnamese soldier, was killed in the Vietnam War when Huynh was 5 years old. This left his mother to care for her children alone, which included bribing military officials to keep Huynh out of the military.

When the financial pressure on his mother became too great, Huynh said he fled the country on a boat with his 15-year-old sister Tiet in 1986 to avoid being conscripted.

Between 1975 and 1995, others were leaving the country to escape economic despair brought on by U.S. sanctions and destruction left in the wake of the Vietnam War.

Huynh and 99 other refugees packed into a boat that was approximately 10 feet by 30 feet. The group was so densely crowded that Huynh was confined to a singular spot the entire trip.

At one point on the journey, the boat became lost. The party ran out of food and water, then people began dying.

“Everyone was scared to the point that they were like, ‘I see you and you see me, but we’re not human beings anymore,’” Huynh said. “They knew they were going to die.”

It was a miracle that Huynh made it to the refugee camp, he said.

“At that moment, I was not a religious guy,” Huynh said. “But I looked into the sky and I said, ‘I really don’t want to die. I’m only 19. So please help me out.’”

When he arrived, Philippine First Asylum Camp hosted about 3,000 people on approximately 1 square mile of land. The refugees were desperate and crime rates were high.

“There was everything there,” Huynh said. “I witnessed a fight where someone stabbed someone else about 2 or 3 feet from me, for no reason really — it was over the water.”

Huynh was trying to avoid being lured into crime like the other men his age in the camp, he said, so he volunteered to pass out mail to other refugees.

“I didn’t want to waste my time,” Huynh said. “I like to work, and the employees at the camp center could see that.”

After three months, he was promoted to deputy of the planning commission. His job was to keep records of how many people were staying in each housing unit, then assign rooms to new arrivals.

“It kept me very busy, all day every day,” Huynh said. “I was lucky, because then I stayed out of trouble.”

Despite the success he found in the camp, Huynh wanted out. The refugees were plagued with rampant alcoholism, drug addiction and violence, while many young women were forced into sex work as a means to make money.

Six months after Huynh arrived at the camp, representatives from the U.N. came to interview refugees to be considered for admission into the U.S. They prioritized people like Huynh, who were children of South Vietnamese soldiers. However, there was one stipulation — refugees had to provide multiple documents to prove their parents’ position.

“My dad sacrificed his life, so I had the privilege to go to the city center to speak with the delegation,” Huynh said.

Huynh slid his father’s military ID — one of the few things he brought on the boat — across the table at his meeting with a U.N. official. This was the only document he had, because his mother, like many other South Vietnamese, burned documents connecting their family to the American forces to avoid persecution from the new government.

The official, whose name Huynh recalled as Pam, told him that although she wanted to sponsor him, she couldn’t. The ID wasn’t enough documentation to prove that he was the son of a South Vietnamese soldier.

Huynh said he began to worry that he would never be able to leave the camp.

Then, as part of what Huynh called another miracle, there were a series of coup attempts on the Filipino government — one of which resulted in a fierce battle on the streets of Palawan.

The U.S. government became concerned about the welfare of refugees on the island, so it gave a number of those living in PFAC another opportunity to be interviewed for acceptance into the country. Huynh was given a second chance to get out.

Although Huynh was unable to obtain additional documentation, the official he met with told him he had been cleared to leave the camp, and would be transported to the Philippine Refugee Processing Center (PRPC) in Bataan. His next and final stop would be the U.S.

He left PFAC in 1987. Soon after, the U.N. stopped accepting refugees into the camp and began reducing its size. Some people volunteered to return to Vietnam, while others fought the guards and committed suicide.

Huynh was elated to be relieved of the uncertainty associated with being a refugee.

“You don’t know where you’re going to go, where you’re going to end up or how your life is going to be,” he said. “Are they going to send you back to Vietnam? Are they going to send you to Canada, Australia or somewhere else? You just don’t know. Your destination, your life, depends on someone else. It leaves you feeling powerless and useless.”

While at PRPC, Huynh met missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who were teaching English.

He said he was curious about the religion, because he had been on a quest to find the right religion for him since his plea to God earlier on the boat. Huynh’s family was Buddhist, and he previously attended Catholic and Baptist churches.

“I just wanted something that felt comfortable,” he said. “At the Mormon church, I had a sense that they were nice people.”

When Huynh was processed and relocated to the U.S., he was baptized into the church and served a mission in Washington, D.C., from 1990 to 1992. Huynh credited the changes the religion forced him to make and the lessons he learned on his mission for many of his life’s successes.

“I wanted a different path in my life, and my decision brought me to where I am today,” he said.

Ongoing Political Journey

Huynh later graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in Asian studies. Upon graduation, he was appointed president of the Vietnamese Community of Utah. He hopes to eventually go to law school, but for now he wants to continue his political career.

“Politics are very complex,” Huynh said. “In China, Vietnam or any communist country, they don’t trust government. They don’t trust police. Then when [people from those countries] come here, they stay away from government and police — but I want to be different. I want to do something to help people around me.”

His determination to forge a path for marginalized communities in politics not only increases the diversity of voices at the table, but also encourages other minorities to be involved in the community.

“It is inspiring to see someone so close to home break down socio-cultural barriers and proving that we are capable of taking on larger roles like politics,” said the Vietnamese-American Student Association at the University of Utah in a prepared statement. “The younger Vietnamese-American can often feel detached from the government due to lack of [Vietnamese] representation, often discouraging them from participating in civic engagement. Tom Huynh’s position as the West Valley City Councilman empowers the younger generation and encourages them to strive toward active political awareness.”

Caren Frost, the director of the Center for Research on Migration and Refugee Integration at the University of Utah, said in a telephone interview that civic engagement is the last step of integration for a refugee. She feels that as Huynh continues to succeed, his political involvement will extend beyond Vietnamese-Americans to inspire all refugees in Utah.

“If a refugee is visible in the community participating in government, then all refugees will feel more comfortable taking the next step and getting involved,” Frost said.

As a city councilman, Huynh focuses on mending the problems of not just refugees, but other groups who are also frequently forgotten. He reaches out to senior citizens in the community to listen to their perspective. Since 2013, Huynh has gone on twice-monthly ride-alongs with police in an effort to solve the city’s crime problem.

“In government, you can change things,” Huynh said. “And that’s what I’m doing.”

Education, skills and connections: Many say this is the pathway to one’s career

Story and slideshow by PEYTON M. DALLEY

Meet Chris Haston, the head photographer for NBC Studios.

In the small neighborhood on Catalina Avenue in Burbank, Calif., one may not recognize the flood light cameras and crew surrounding the house where the production is occurring. But it’s just another day in Hollywood. The crew and cast are filming a pilot for a television show that they hope will become an instant hit.

Among the hustle, directors are yelling “cut,” “quiet on set” and “that’s a wrap.” Assistants fix fly-away hair, and set designers find the perfect angle of lighting.

Chris Haston, NBC’s head photographer, is part of this scene. Haston has been working for the company for 23 years, and can be found behind the camera capturing the perfect angle of every noted Hollywood icon. He also has had cameo roles in sit-coms like “The Office.”

While Haston’s home may be the rolling green hills of Hollywood, he has also shot movies in Park City and Salt Lake City.

Focusing on the success of Chris Haston

Haston attended a junior college in El Camino, Calif., and tried to figure out which art college he wanted to attend. But he realized formal education wasn’t a good fit for him. “I’m glad I didn’t waste four to six years, when I’m already doing what I love,” he said.

Haston worked at a local camera store in Gardena Calif., a job that meshed with his interest in photography.

While working there, Haston began to take photos of off-road racing, and used a studio called Trackside to edit his footage, experiment with lighting and develop his skillset.

He had also built a connection with a man named Frank Carroll, who was an NBC photographer.

“I stayed on that guy constantly for a job at NBC,” Haston said.

After six years, Haston finally was hired for a lab position in the NBC Studios in Los Angeles producing and making film.

“Persistence and work ethic got me the job,” Haston said. “Being hungry and not letting words ‘it’s not possible’ cross your mind.”

Some aspects of success

Haston not only is doing what he loves, but he also knows his cast and crew. Haston said it’s important to treat everyone with kindness and respect in this industry, because it gets people further than any ego.

“Be nice, not egotistical,” Haston said. “Having egos make[s] it impossible to work with [people] in such a competitive field.”

Haston isn’t the only one making dreams a reality. He works alongside photographers Dave Bjerk, Rafael Ortega and Allan Nadel.

Bjerk said timing in the career process is crucial. “Just because something opens up does not mean a person is ready for it,” he said.

Ortega said, “Some people need to go to college for experience. I took pictures and figured out how to use a camera. Can’t say I’m in a better place than I am now.”

Nadel added, “You can definitely make connections in school.”

While the City of Angels may be the hot spot for future careers, connections play a valid role for hitting the big leagues, Haston said.

So how does one break into the field?

Although higher education wasn’t an ideal fit for Haston, others can benefit from taking classes that help them gain skills. The Career Services office located at the University of Utah can be a good resource for students. Director Stan Inman said his office helps current students as well as alumni to tell their story.

While Career Services provides both connections and help with resumes and portfolios, Inman said students “have to have the skillset to do the job.” That becomes the story students can share with their connections.

“Education credentials are important to have,” Inman said. “We provide contacts that can develop into opportunity.”

Students who have graduated from the U can be surveyed and  jobs they have acquired after graduation can be tracked. Although the survey isn’t inclusive, Inman said, the Career Services website shows students as well as potential employers who has hired Utah graduates. Currently, 35 jobs were booked in the film and media industry, and 11 were booked in the theater industry.

“It’s not a cut and paste process,” Inman said. While a job or internship may not happen immediately, it’s important to have the skillset and credentials.

Haston said even in Hollywood, “knowing someone doesn’t get you the job.” But being able to prove yourself with credentials or skillset can help you get a foot in the door.

 

 

 

 

Laura Durham: The work of an artistic woman

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Laura Durham enjoys her job with the Utah Division of Arts and Museums. Photo courtesy of Durham.

Story by JORDAN SENTENO

Utah native Laura Durham has a bachelor’s degree in art history from Brigham Young University. She currently works for the Utah Division of Arts and Museums in Salt Lake City and manages marketing and special projects that encourage public value of the arts in the state.

Growing up as a young girl, she really enjoyed music and art. Both her parents were musicians so she was surrounded by music all the time. The turning point for her was when she was in high school. She went to London with her father when she was 17 to study art and music.

“Since my parents were both musical artists I knew I wanted to do something with art and music and kind of rebelled against them by going into the field of art history,” she said in an email interview.

She has 15 years of working experience with the Utah Division of Arts and Museums. Before being promoted to marketing and public value manager, she worked as the visual arts coordinator. She also does graphic design on the side as a hobby, but has used those skills to create a brand and unique look for the Utah Division of Arts and Museums.

Durham also enjoys cooking, traveling, writing and sharing stories in her spare time. With her enjoyment of music, she sings with the Utah Chamber Artists.

Durham works out of the division’s main office in the historic Glendinning Mansion at 617 E. South Temple in Salt Lake City. Also located there is the Alice Gallery, named after founder Alice Merrill Horne. Durham chose to work at the Utah Division of Arts and Museums because she wanted to work with the arts and build programs, while also giving back to the community.

She serves on many boards, including the Salt Lake Gallery and Utah Emerging Museums Professionals. And she sits on the Downtown Marketing and Events committee, assisting with the Downtown Farmers Market, Dine O’Round and other community events.

She has worked for several other arts programs within the Utah Division of Arts and Museums, and was the visual arts coordinator managing the Rio Gallery and Traveling Exhibits. She also served as the vice president of the Salt Lake Gallery Association from 2003 to 2006.

Durham was program director of the Salt Lake Gallery Stroll from 2005 to 2010. “It was significant because it’s a great anchor in Salt Lake City when it comes to the visual arts,” said Durham in an email interview. “It’s a community event that people can count on each month and it has fostered a fertile environment for new galleries to pop up and join. A lot of business have joined the fun too, as we see more small business rotating local artwork on their walls and opening up their doors for the Stroll.”

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A piece that Durham designed for “15 Bytes” about Utah artists. Image courtesy of Durham.

She regularly contributes to “15 Bytes,” which is an online visual arts magazine in Salt Lake City. She serves, too, as assistant editor and managing music editor. Durham has developed a longstanding partnership with Artists of Utah, publisher of 15 Bytes. The magazine publishes two free adds every month for the Utah Division of Arts and Museums so it can advertise what is going on in its galleries, literary arts programs and more.

Durham has developed many other partnerships, such as with the Salt Lake Film SocietyUtah Film Center and Utah.com. She is in the process of helping the latter showcase its website and direct tourists to the wide variety of arts that are available here in Utah.

In 2014, Durham completed the Change Leader Program, which is a professional development course. According to the Utah Division of Arts and Museums website, “Participants attend a three-day institute with instruction on assessing environment and the communication and facilitation skills necessary to implement change.” As part of the program, Durham initiated a project called “Utah’s 15 most influential artists.” In a press release about it, Durham said, “Hopefully this program will inspire more people to recognize how art has enhanced their quality of life as well. And hopefully we will nurture a society that more widely and visibly values artists and their contributions.” She  said in the release she believes artists influence our landscape and culture. “I sought to identify Utah artists who influence and impact our community,” she said.

 

Ben Behunin, artists have a responsibility to illuminate the world

Story and slideshow by NATHAN ASTILL

Experience the artwork Behunin has created in his Salt Lake City studio.


Ben Behunin quickly wipes the excess dust away from his ceramic pieces with a sponge. He has the practiced efficiency that only years of experience can bring. The artist moves between a metallic sink and a shelf that holds the ceramic dishes he is working on in his studio at 1150 E. 800 South in Salt Lake City. His sentences flow out in a smooth, nonchalant way. “I feel like artists have a responsibility to illuminate the world,” he says.

He is glazing bowls, painting them black with a brush as he speaks. “Art is anything that is done to the highest level, whether it’s making sandwiches or mowing lawns,” Behunin says. “Life would be so much better if everyone considered themselves artists.”

Behunin is fairly busy, hoping to get in a good amount of work before he heads over to the Deseret Book flagship store, in downtown Salt Lake City, to sell his various artwork at the “Lunch and Learn” series. This event allows LDS artists to come meet customers and share the stories behind their artwork. 

Behunin, 41, grew up, for the most part, in Salt Lake City. The oldest of seven children, he not only became independent, but also learned to use his creativity to make money since his parents never had much.

“My dad wasn’t rich but could teach me how to work, so I started my own lawn business when I was 10,” Behunin says.

By the time he was 12, his parents informed him that he was making more money than they were. Up to this point in time he had begun to realize that he, like many other artists, lacked a financial safety net. Whatever he chose to do in his life he knew he had to be successful enough to make a living off of it.

Knowing this simple fact has helped Behunin when it comes to running his own pottery business. The ceramic artist, who jokingly refers to himself as Chief Slave, relays something his friend once told him. “The great thing about running your own business is you get to only work half days. Pick any 12 hours you want,” he says with a laugh.

But as Behunin believes, “Being a slave to your work isn’t necessarily a bad thing.”

Behunin is usually in his studio by 8:30 a.m. and still works 12-hour days. “I love creation,” he says. “I love being able to take mud and turn it into something functional, something that has value.”

He believes everyone has an inherent creator inside of them. “Whatever it is we do we’re making mud pies of a sort. All of us probably start out as creative artists as kids,” he says. “When you ask kindergarteners who thinks they are an artist, 99 percent of them will raise their hands.”

Except he believes that many of us grow, or are even pushed, out of it. “But then someone tells a child that their dog looks like a monkey, or that there is no such thing as purple trees,” he says. “And then they start to think that, ‘maybe I’m not an artist.’”

But artists come in all shapes, sizes and colors. Nick Beckstead, 31, a character animator for Disney Interactive, offers another artistic voice to the belief that no matter what a person is doing in their life, they are still creating art.

In a phone interview Beckstead said, “My personal belief in life is that everyone is meant to be a creator. I have friends who are programmers and though they wouldn’t say it, they are creating art.” Beckstead pauses, “It doesn’t have to be traditional art to be art.”

Beckstead adds another thought onto his idea. “There is so much you can do with art,” he says. “I personally believe work ethic exceeds talent. Anyone can be a good artist and make a living off of it.”

Behunin would agree. “Too many people buy into the idea that ‘it’s good enough,’” he says.

“I feel like art is one of the most important subjects,” he says. “It enhances science and math. I mean, you have to be creative to design new things. And art is what opens your mind to the possibilities.” Behunin continues, “Imagination asks questions while knowledge feels like it has all the answers.”

As Behunin speaks an idea begins to emerge. “Artists create beautiful things that give hope,” he says. “They create philosophies and ideas that challenge the status quo.”

But challenging the status quo — having society progress — is only half of the answer to the question: why is art so important?

“The hope of joy,” Behunin says. “They are buying my story as much as they are buying my art.” He pauses, “They are taking home a piece of ‘follow your own dreams.’”

Because when Behunin creates art he wants to create something that will make people feel happy.

“My goal at any art festival is that people see something they like and that they can afford,” Behunin says. “Because I would rather make 1,000 people happy than just one person happy.”

Happiness is something people seek. Something that people need. Behunin points to the “gear heads” hanging on his wooden fence outside his home studio. The ceramic faces are molded together with gears from cars. “I used to make happy and sad gear head faces. But people only bought the happy ones, so I stopped making the sad ones,” he says.

Whether it’s at art festivals, his studio, or at small events like Deseret Book, people continue to buy his art, a lot. So does that make Behunin a successful artist? Well, yes and no, because Behunin defines success differently than most. “I feel like I’m rich because I have no wants and am happy every day I go to work,” he says. “I feel like I’m contributing joy to the world.”

Linda Howard, the art concierge at Deseret Book, talks about her views on art as she helps Behunin place his bowls, plates and books on the table they have set up for him, organizing them neatly for potential customers to view.

Howard used to teach art for elementary teachers at Brigham Young University and as such has strong views as to why art is so important as an educator. She echoes a thought Behunin has also had before. “Art is just as important as science and math,” she says. “The world would be a dreary, terrible place if we didn’t have art to uplift and inspire.”

As she walks around showing off the diversity of the various paintings in the store she offers a fitting final thought. “Art is not the frosting on the cake,” she says. “It is the cake. You need art to connect with life.”