Catholic Community Services helps refugees in Utah


Approximately 1,000 Asian refugees take solace in Utah every year, according to the State of Utah Refugee Office. Most of these refugees come from Third World Countries, and have lived in refugee camps for the majority of their lives.

The majority of these people were driven from their homes because they did not support the ruling class that was currently in power. Some refugees are from the formal ruling class and ended up living in camps because their group was thrown from power, said Linda Oda, the director of Asian Affairs in Utah.

According to the State Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual, all refugees go through a several year process before being allowed to come live in the U.S. This process involves the work of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the Department of State’s Bureau for Population, Refugees and Migration.

It usually takes about three to four generations for a refugee family to become in tune with the American way, Oda said. This transition involves learning English, taking life skills classes, learning American culture and establishing a life in the U.S.

Since 1945, the Catholic Community Services of Utah, has been helping refugee families throughout the first year of their lives in Utah.

“Utah is considered a welcoming state because we have organizations that truly advocate refugees,” Oda said.

When a refugee is relocated to Utah, their case is assigned to CCS or the International Rescue Committee. CCS and IRC are the only two agencies in the state of Utah that are allowed to handle refugee resettlements, said Rebecca Van Maren, the former assistant volunteer coordinator for CCS who also worked with Bhutanese refugees.

CCS’s work begins before the refugee or their family arrives in Utah. CCS finds out information about the family to arrange housing for the family. This information involves knowing the number of people within the family, and if they have any children, knowing the ages and gender of the children. CCS makes sure that the house is ready for the family to move in upon arrival, including fully furnishing the entire house, Van Maren said.

Van Maren said when refugees arrive, CCS sends a case manager to greet them at the airport. From the airport, the case manager then helps the refugee and their family get settled into their new housing. The refugee’s case manager’s job is to help the refugee and their family adapt to American life, and are available for the first year that the refugee is living in the U.S.

“Their case manager is primarily the person who is explaining the services that CCS provides,” Van Maren said.

CCS’s goal is to help the refugees and their families reach a state of self-sufficiency in Utah. This goal is achieved through taking classes, creating a stable life within the community and with the help of their case manager. A case manager’s help can range from signing the refugee up for classes, to explaining how to shop at a grocery store.

One of the biggest difficulties that refugees face is not being able to speak or understand English. CCS can find education classes that teach people who are 90 years old, down to small children the English language, Oda said.

“Without English these people will never get anywhere,” said Maung Maung, an Asian Advisory Council member in Salt Lake City.

CCS offers life skills classes that refugees can take. They also can coordinate volunteers and interns to mentor and visit with the families. These mentors can go to the refugee’s home to teach them basic life skills, as well.

CCS has job developers, who will work with the refugee’s case manager, to find employment for the refugee. These job developers can also help refugees write resumes in English, because a lot of CCS employees speak multiple languages, such as Vietnamese and Mandarin Chinese.

They also offer a refugee foster care program for children. This program provides guardians until the child’s family can be found or until the child reaches 18 years of age.

CCS occasionally works in conjunction with other agencies in Salt Lake to provide opportunities for people from other countries, Van Maren said. Over the summer, CCS provided filing work for Koreans who were here for a three-month language learning internship, she said.

They also offer an array of assistance programs, which include help with immigration status, substance abuse treatment facilities and many facilities to help provide basic services and goods to low-income and homeless individuals all across Utah.

Mormon church lends help to refugees


Every year people throughout the world come  to the United States for something better, whether it’s opportunity, a place to live or lifestyle. Some of these people are refugees who have fled from their native countries to seek better chances in their lives.

According to the United States Department of State a refugee is a person that may be fleeing from their country to get away from war or persecution on account of race, religion, or nationality.

A refugee must first go through the requirement process to get into the United States. The process is not a short task. It can take foreigners years to gain permission to get into the United States, said Patrick Poulin, resettlement director of the International Rescue Committee in Salt Lake City.

Typically, refugees making the jump to the United States ride a bumpy road to success.

Elissa McConkie, resettlement operations officer for IRC, said over a telephone conversation, they usually can’t speak English. They are typically poor and most likely have little working experience. 

Seventeen IRC locations stretch across the United States. The Utah location at 231 East and 400 S. receives major help from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which takes a heavy load off for the organization.

“There are several levels of support from the LDS church,” McConkie said. “If we didn’t have support from the LDS church our job would be much more difficult. It contributes so much.”

IRC takes in refugees and attempts to start the newcomers on the right foot throughout the first few months of their stay. The agency makes the arrangements allowing the refugees to obtain food, jobs and shelter. Staff members and volunteers contribute to the committee by helping make these necessary accommodations, and by personally working with the refugees.

Every year fluctuates on the amount of refugees from countries around the world coming into Utah. McConkie estimates there are approximately 900 that come to Utah a year. Out of those, 450 come through IRC. Catholic Community Services, a different agency located in Salt Lake City assisting refugees, receives the rest.

McConkie said the money from the government is not sufficient for what the refuges need. The federal government gives the IRC $425 for each refugee who comes in.

“That is not a lot of money,” McConkie said. “It [the church] helps us stay within our budget.”

The church grants vouchers to the refugees to Deseret Industries. The vouchers go directly to the newcomers so they can go shop themselves, McConkie said. Most of them are not used to Utah’s weather, thus, with these vouchers they can make sure they are seasonally prepared.           

“We would be purchasing these items if it wasn’t for the church,” McConkie said.

The government requires that refugees contain certain necessities in their homes, such as hygiene and basic foods. The church provides these products at cheaper costs through theWelfare Square mini store, which offers these certain goods at cheaper costs.

Most importantly, the LDS church offers jobs to the refugees through Deseret Industries stores, the LDS Humanitarian Center and the manufacturing center.

“They get a sense of work,” said Poulin, IRC’s resettlement director. “It’s a great opportunity.”

When the refugees begin work, they learn a trade they can take with them when they move on. The employment received for the refugees through the church is not permanent. It lasts only a few months. They are being trained.

Not only do they receive working experience, but are assigned a mentor that works with them. The mentor follows up with the individual once the training is over.

“Our goal is for everyone in our training to have a mentor,” said John Yancey, LDS Humanitarian Center assistant manager, during a telephone conversation. “That person is not only helping to look for jobs after training here, but housing and other things in life.”  

McConkie said the church hires people on a monthly basis, but it does depend on the time of year. She also said the training grounds for the refugees are very supportive environments.

“They can learn what’s expected of them,” McConkie said. “They are so excited to be working.”

A certain goal the IRC wants to achieve is not to see refugees return once they have gone through the program.

“When a refugee gets a job we don’t hear from them as much because they don’t need us as much,” McConkie said.  

And for the refugee’s sake this can happen more often than not due to the support from the LDS church.