Volunteer programs aiding not only refugees, but volunteers as well

Story and slideshow by SCOTT FUNK

Do you know what a refugee is? Do members of society take the time to know who these people are, or do they simply walk past and question why they are here? What if you knew? What if you understood their story and why they are here? If you did, would it make a difference?

Gerald Brown, the Utah state refugee coordinator and assistant director of the Refugee Services Office, said in an interview that refugees “don’t have any American friends. Being nice to people is most important to them. Even just a smile at them. Many refugees have said that just a smile from the mainstream is meaningful.”

Why would a smile be so meaningful? To understand that, it’s important to understand what a refugee is. Brown said a refugee is someone who has been forced to flee their country because of persecution, war or violence. Persecution must come from one of five scenarios: race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership within a particular social group.

“Leaving their country is difficult and traumatic,” Brown said. “The resettlement process is just as difficult and often traumatic. They are so inspiring. You can’t believe what they’ve gone through, and what they’ve done.”

So why would a smile be so significant? Because of the trials refugees face to get here. A smile can signify happiness to them — something that some have been lacking for a long time.

There are many ways to share your happiness with refugees in Utah. One of these ways is by joining a volunteer program in Salt Lake City called Know Your Neighbor (KYN).

KYN is a volunteer program that offers over 20 different opportunities to volunteer with local refugees. Some of these opportunities include: helping a refugee prepare to take the citizenship test; helping refugees learn a new language; helping teach life skills such as sewing; becoming a tutor to help learn English, math or even to learn to drive; teaching technology skills such as typing or how to use programs; presenting and leading class on a topic of your choice; and becoming a family friend.

Rachel Appel, the program coordinator for KYN, said there are roughly 200 active volunteers helping over 350 refugees who have enlisted in KYN. The opportunity that has had the most success, and the one that Appel believes is the most beneficial, is the family friend.

A flyer provided by KYN describes a family friend as an individual, family, or small group, who will develop a friendship with a refugee family through weekly gatherings on their own schedule.

One volunteer who participates in this is Kim Watson.

Watson has a family of her own and is just as busy as everyone else, but one day she decided she wanted to volunteer. She has been involved with KYN for over a year, and she loves it. In an interview at an orientation, she described what it is like being a family friend.

Watson said there is no such thing as a typical visit, because each one is different. But what she has found to be the most beneficial to the individual whom she works with, is just being in their home to talk. Watson said that some days she’ll go over and ask what they want to do, and occasionally all they’ll say is just talk; talk about anything and everything in life. (Families can not be identified due to confidentiality guidelines.)

Sometimes, with the permission of the family, she’ll even bring her kids so that they can play with the kids of the refugee she is visiting. Watson made it clear that there is in no way any form of financial aid going on. She said that if she has some extra veggies from her garden she will take them, or if she is going to donate items to the Deseret Industries, she’ll take them to her refugee family first to see if they want them. Watson says her purpose of being there is to be a friend and to develop a relationship.

At the orientation, Watson shared that at her own home, her house is filled and yet she still thinks she needs things. One day, when she was visiting with her refugee friend, they were sitting and talking outside on a curb and her friend told Watson that she believed she had everything. Watson went on to explain that in her friend’s home, there was barely anything, especially compared to her own home. And yet, with barely anything, her friend said that she had everything.

“I could listen to NPR for 100 years and never have the same experience as I did than when I was with my friend on a curb,” Watson said. “I now have a sign in my home that says ‘I have too much here’ and it’s a constant reminder to me of what I have, and what others don’t have.”

Appel, the program coordinator for KYN, said making friends and developing relationships, like the one that Watson has made, is the goal.

“It’s bigger than just matching families together,” Appel said. “It’s for refugees to have the opportunity to participate in social activities. So they can have an American friend to break down barriers and to ultimately have a unified community in Salt Lake.”

To become a volunteer and a family friend, there is a process that one must go through. The first thing to do is get in contact via email with Rachel Appel (Rachel.Appel@slcgov.com). Second is filling out a volunteer application and attending one of the monthly orientation meetings — Appel will have that information —  held at the City and County Building in downtown Salt Lake City.

At these orientation meetings, potential volunteers will introduce themselves to each other and then they will receive a “Refugee 101” from Gerald Brown, the assistant director of the Refugee Services Office, where they will learn more of what a refugee is. They will then learn the volunteer opportunities, role-play volunteer situations and also have the opportunity to hear from a current volunteer and hear their story. At the end, there is an opportunity to ask any questions that may have not been answered.

Once they have completed the orientation, the next step is to schedule an interview with Brown. This interview also consists of a background check, and will help determine which opportunities are best for the volunteer as an individual and which refugee family they would pair with the best if they chose to be a family friend. Once that is completed, they may begin to volunteer based upon their availability.

“We want a good community,” said Brown at a November 2017 orientation. “We have to help refugees integrate. These people have gone through things I can’t imagine. They are so inspiring. And if we make them feel like they belong here, it will add value to them.”

Refugees can be overwhelmed when first arriving to Salt Lake City

Story and photos by HAYDEN S. MITCHELL

Utah became home to 1,200 refugees in 2016. All of them were people fleeing their home countries because of persecution, violence or war. They left behind families, friends and a place they had spent the majority of their lives. Somewhere they considered home, according to a PBS story.

“These people are not leaving because they want to,” said Aden Batar, a refugee who fled Somalia in 1994 with his family and resettled in Utah. “They are facing tough conditions as they flee because they would rather go than face the danger in their country.”

Any refugee coming to the United States, specifically Utah, is stepping into a completely new environment. They are starting their lives over again. The process of creating a new home can be a challenge for lots of New Americans. Batar said that some of the biggest challenges are the differences in language, the change in weather and finding affordable housing and a job.

Gerald Brown, assistant director of the Refugee Services Office, said, “It’s tough to rely on a safety net in Utah … refugees need to become self-sufficient in order to succeed.”

Becoming familiar with the new surroundings and getting comfortable with a different language is a priority when first arriving, Brown said.

They are initially greeted by a caseworker who has been assigned to them. The caseworker then takes them to a house, which has been furnished and readied for arrival. After the refugees see where they will be living, the caseworker assigned to assist the family will continue to help them as much as possible. It is important that the refugees feel like they have help and support through their transition. The goal for a caseworker is to get New Americans to self-sufficiency, which is when the refugee gets to the point of being able to provide for themselves or their family without assistance.

“We are the first face they see,” said Danielle Stamos, public relations and marketing director at Catholic Community Services of Utah in Salt Lake City, located at 745 E. 300 South. “It is important that we make them feel welcomed and relaxed. They have a lot going on and we want to make sure that they are not on their own.”

The refugee process can be difficult, but with the help of organizations like the Refuge Services Office and CCS it can become less of a burden. Help comes in a variety of forms for New Americans not only through organizations. Family, friends, faith, community and volunteers all help the process of integrating into a new home.

“Volunteers are amazing. They understand how much their time and effort helps these people,” Batar said. “The refugees appreciate all the help they get and the volunteers enjoy helping someone create a new home.”

Here are some results from the St. Vincent de Paul donation drive held in early November 2017.

Children at the school and members of the parish donated canned goods and other goodies for Thanksgiving.

There are many ways to get involved and help with the refugee process. If you want to be a positive impact on these people’s lives, here are a few ways that you can help out,  according to rescue.org and ccsutah.org.

  • The Refugee Family Mentor Program pairs volunteers with refugee families who are now living in Salt Lake City. Volunteers will guide these families through areas such as education, health care and accessing local resources. The most important aspect of this program is that volunteers become friends with these New Americans.
  • Joining the Know Your Neighbor Volunteer Program will allow you to mentor New Americans and help them become a part of the community. This program is run through the Salt Lake City Office of Diversity and Human Rights. Jennifer Seelig, the director of community relations, oversees the program.
  • Donating supplies, food and money can often be the simplest yet most effective way to give back. The International Rescue Committee is an organization looking for donations to help it provide newly arrived refugees with the basics they will need to start over. Some supplies that are most needed are baby products, toiletries and hygiene products.
  • KUTV lists some drop off locations:
    • Lincoln Elementary School, 3700 S. 450 East, Salt Lake City.
    • International Rescue Committee, 221 S. 400 West, Salt Lake City. Donations can be made between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. with advance notice. To set up a time contact Jesse Sheets, IRC development coordinator, at donateSLC@rescue.org.
    • Catholic Community Services accepts donations Monday through Thursday at the CCS Sharehouse, 440 S. 400 West in Salt Lake City. If you don’t want to travel, monetary donations may be made online.

Helping someone in need can be one of the most rewarding experiences in life, Danielle Stamos said. Organizations and volunteers help can make all the difference in the world. Helping refugees is not only appreciated but it can also be rewarding for the volunteers. It can provide a new life experience for donating their time to help and give them a new perspective on the world.

“Volunteers help us reach our full potential as an organization,” Stamos said. “They allow us to provide more help to those in need.”

Refugees given tools to adjust to a new culture

Story by SCOTT FUNK

What makes a home? Is it the people you live with, or is it the pictures and decorations within the house? Is it the home-cooked meals, or the fun and games with family and friends? No matter what it is, a home can be defined in many ways. However, leaving the place you call home often is only described in one way: difficult.

Gerald Brown, the Utah state refugee coordinator and assistant director of the Refugee Services Office, has dedicated his life to helping refugees.

Throughout his lifelong career, he has constantly been “trying to make the world a little more fair.” He has found his motivation to do his work based off what he has seen and experienced. “Leaving their country is difficult and traumatic,” Brown said. “And the resettlement process is just as difficult and often traumatic.”

On a daily basis, Brown works side-by-side with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) developing programs designed to make the resettlement process less traumatic. One of these programs that the IRC has established is called Adjustment Support Groups.

Jennica Henderson, the mental health program coordinator for the IRC in Utah, said in a phone interview that the curriculum of these groups consists of three parts: adjusting to the U.S. and a new culture; mental health; stress management and community wellness and development.

Henderson said the curriculum was designed by a company in Seattle called Pathways to Wellness. She said the curriculum and groups are designed to “provide education and skill development around mental health and well-being. It is also designed to develop community support for one another so that our participants can rely on one another.”

Following the curriculum, refugees participate in an eight-week course featuring a new topic weekly that falls under one of the three key concepts of the curriculum. These topics in order are: introduction to the group and establishing guidelines and rules; culture shock and moving from one country to another; refugee experience; mental health and tools to overcome stress; mind and body connection; goals and dreams.

Adjustment Group at the Central Park Community Garden. Photo courtesy of New Roots SLC.

In Utah, these groups are just getting underway, as they have only been in use since fall 2016. They are funded by grants and currently run in the spring, summer and fall and are only offered to women. However, the program is expanding to start its first male group in spring 2018.

For now, the program meets at the Central Park Community Garden, located at 2825 S. 200 East in Salt Lake City.

The signup process for the group is simple: there is none. When a refugee is resettled, their location is saved within a database. Henderson said one of the goals of the program is to make the ability to attend as easy as possible. Therefore, once a location for the group is chosen, based on their geographical location, refugees are then called and invited to attend.

When invited, refugees are asked what day and time would work best for their schedules. Based on the results, a day and time is chosen that is best suited for the majority. Refugees are also informed in that call that the IRC provides transportation to and from the meetings, food and childcare for who attend.

In Utah, up to three separate support groups are offered at once. These groups are led by three instructors — Jennica Henderson, Alex Haas and Sara Franke — all of whom are employees of the IRC and have completed hands-on training to know the curriculum and know how to best help the refugees in their process of settling in a new culture.

One of the instructors, Alex Haas, said in a phone interview that he believes these groups are helping refugees become self-sufficient and that they are creating a “community of wellness.”

As refugees come and participate in the program, they meet new people and develop new relationships. Although the programs may never replace everything that a refugee lost, they are succeeding in what they were meant to do: helping resettle in a new home.

Salt Lake County faces refugee-housing crisis

by MATT BERGSTROM

At the end of 2007, Salt Lake County Community Resources and Development commissioned a report on the housing situation for refugees within the county. The report, published in December 2007 by Wikstrom Economic and Planning Consultants Inc., revealed a dire situation.

According to the report, Salt Lake is what is known as a “highly-impacted community.” When compared to other counties of relatively similar size, Salt Lake has resettled a disproportionately large share of refugees.

The report gives a number of reasons for this discrepancy. Refugees tend to be very successful here due to Salt Lake’s constantly expanding job market. Simply put, more jobs means the county needs more people to fill them.

Perhaps the main reason is the family-friendly atmosphere of the city. Many refugees who come to the U.S. have large families, of which Salt Lake is traditionally more accepting. Almost one-fourth of the families resettled in Salt Lake in 2007 had 5 or more people in them; with some having as many as 11.

Resettling large families in Salt Lake also leads to large numbers of secondary resettlements. This is when a person, or group of people, decides to relocate to a city to be closer to family after having already been resettled in another part of the country.

But with a steadily growing job market and a near-constant stream of new residents the vacancy rates in apartments in Salt Lake is low. And when vacancy rates are low, rent tends to go up. This is especially true of larger units that are needed to house the larger families being drawn here.

According to the Wikstrom report, an annual income of more than $24,000 per year is required to afford an average priced, one-bedroom apartment in Salt Lake. The average refugee works a minimum wage job and earns about half that amount. This means multiple earners are needed in the home just to afford the cheapest possible option.

Adaptation to apartment life is another housing problem facing refugees. Many who come to the U.S. are coming from refugee camps in Africa or Asia, and often have never lived anywhere else. These camps are not always equipped with the modern conveniences of a Salt Lake apartment.

“Sometimes you have to teach people how to use a light switch,” said Patrick Poulin, resettlement director for the International Rescue Committee in Salt Lake. He and his caseworkers assist refugees assimilating to their new surroundings.

“Imagine having to teach someone that, then have to teach them about a lease, or paying utilities,” he said.

This concern resonates with other refugee care organizations. At a recent refugee service provider network meeting, held by the Utah Department of Workforce Services, housing problems ranging from cooking in apartments with open flames to a bedbug infestation were discussed.

Situations like these make landlords wary of allowing other refugees to rent their units in the future.

Fortunately, local government has not turned a blind eye to the situation. Early in 2008, the Department of Workforce Services opened the Refugee Services Office. It was created with the intent of coordinating the many agencies and nonprofit organizations that work to help refugees in and around Salt Lake.

Gerald Brown, the director of the Refugee Services Office, feels the number of refugees coming to Salt Lake is not going to slow down any time soon. “People will not stop coming here as long as they can get here what they can’t get there,” Brown said.

Salt Lake City has also begun to explore other solutions for the housing crisis. In January 2008, just after the Wikstrom report was released, the Community Resources and Development division of the Utah Department of Human Services assembled a committee to find a solution. The committee, comprised of refugee service caregivers and local business owners, came up with an idea to build temporary housing specifically designed for recently resettled refugees.

The facility, which is being referred to as “welcome housing,” would not only be a place for refugees to live for the first year or two in America, but would also provide onsite casework assistance with a goal of eventual acculturation. This staff would include people to help teach refugees the basics of apartment living in a safe atmosphere where they can develop these skills before having to find permanent housing on their own.

The projected 50-unit project is still far from fruition, said Dan Lofgren, president and CEO of Cowboy Partners, a real estate development and property management company based in Holladay. Lofgren is also a member of the state housing committee.

Until somebody steps up with funding for the project, he said it would never be anything more than an idea. But even money won’t permanently fix the problem.

“There aren’t resources available to build our way out of this,” he said.

The Wikstrom report came to a similar conclusion. According to the report, there needs to be better training to teach refugees good renter practices. Availability of housing is not a panacea for the rest of a refugee’s life as a U.S. resident.

Diversity is complicated for refugees in Utah

by BRADY LEAVITT

In a state that is 93 percent white, Gerald Brown represents diversity.

Brown is white. He wears bow ties and peers through round-rimmed glasses. When asked if he speaks foreign languages, he says, “Only Southern.” When asked what his epitaph might read, he says, “A Holy Man.” And when asked if refugee caseworkers are tough, he says without hesitation, “Shit.”

Brown, 57, is the director of the Refugee Services Office in the Utah Department of Workforce Services. He works as a sort of traffic cop at the intersection of politics and nonprofit groups, coordinating efforts to help refugees integrate into Utah’s communities and culture.

Brown became director of the Refugee Services Office in February 2008 after Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. ordered its creation. Huntsman and the state legislature appropriated $200,000 to fund the office, the first time state money has been provided specifically for refugees. The sum is small, Brown said, less than 10 percent of the money he receives from the federal government. However, it as a sign that the state is willing to invest in refugees, he said.

“I need Huntsman for another term,” Brown said, referring to the upcoming elections. “He gets it.”

A self-described “lefty activist type,” Brown wants democratic Sen. Barack Obama to be elected president in November. He figures that with a Democratic president, Republican Gov. Huntsman will be re-elected in Utah and not called to a cabinet position in Washington.

Before Gov. Huntsman’s executive order, the Refugee Services Office consisted of “one guy and a cubicle,” Brown said. Now the office has six employees and one volunteer coordinator.

While he enjoys working in Utah, Brown’s fondness for the state and its governor only goes so far. He expressed frustration with the organizational difficulties of his job. One of his office’s goals is to build a network of trained volunteers to assist caseworkers. But, he said, the bureaucracy is slowing it down.

“Do we have trained volunteers on the ground yet? Nope. Because we’re still meeting,” Brown said.

Brown began his work in the field of refugee services assisting Cambodians at a YMCA in Houston in 1981. It was his first-hand experience that inspired him to be an advocate and an activist. The most effective activists, he said, are those who have had similar exposure to diverse populations.

Brown both praises and criticizes Utah in this respect. He accuses many Utahns as being insular and in many cases ignorant when compared with other groups of people he has worked with.

Peter Robson works as an interpreter for refugees at the Asian Association of Utah. He said that he included his work experience at a refugee resettlement agency on his resume. As he interviewed for jobs this past summer, many employers would ask him about it.

“These were well-informed people, but they were surprised that there were real refugees in Salt Lake,” Robson said.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Utah’s population in 2006 was identified as 93.5 percent white and only 5.1 percent black, Asian, Native American or Pacific Islander.

Robson, 23, is a native Utahn. Growing up in his east Salt Lake City neighborhood he was separated, and not just from the refugee community, he said.

“It’s easy to insulate yourself and separate yourself from anyone who is less-privileged,” Robson said.

Robson said his experiences working with the refugee community have changed his underlying career goals – salary and other considerations are no longer as important as the satisfaction that comes from helping people.

Robson is similar to many people that Brown knows in Utah. Brown said he is baffled by how simultaneously sheltered and eager the volunteers he finds here are.

“Utah County is the volunteer capital of the U.S.,” Brown said, “It’s like the perfect job.”

Brown said that diversity is edifying and that people need to begin to realize that the world is getting smaller and people are more reliant upon each other than ever.

While Brown may feel that Utah is not a hub of diversity, he maintains that Utah is the “Wild West for resettlement work,” meaning that he feels so much is possible because people and organizations are so willing to help. And despite his criticism insularity, Brown said that one of the reasons it is so easy to work with people in Utah is that they are conservative and relatively nondiverse. ”

They have no complicated experiences,” he said, “and people seem generally nice.” Brown epitomizes in many ways the unique and unlikely diversity of Utah.

Diversity, Brown said, is a two-way street – a street on which he directs the traffic.

And doing so, Brown said, “I have had the privilege to get to know the world.”

Gerald Brown: Fighting for those who cannot fight back

by REED NELSON

The man is happier than any man should rightfully be for a 7:30 a.m. meeting, but in his line of work, this is the least stressful part of his day. Donned in a bow tie, thick-rimmed glasses with Coke-bottle lenses, and topsiders, and for a man in his position, he looks the part.

He deals with grants (or lack thereof), crime (both with clients and against), family issues (his and his clients), resettlements, and the acclimation of oppressed people in a foreign land.

His name is Gerald Brown, 57, and for the better part of three decades, he has been working with refugees in locations such as New York City and Houston before arriving in Salt Lake City in 2002.

Now, as the Director of Refugee Services, in the Utah Department of Workforce Services, Brown is under constant pressure from the weight of two separate worlds. He must keep his budget in line, because he is a government employee. And he must also keep the refugees he helps happy, healthy and in tune, because he knows they are the ones who can get lost in the shuffle.

“We provide eight months of Medical service and cash assistance for those who qualify,” Brown said with a hint of empathy, ” the problem with Utah is a lot of time there is no one to look after them after that.”

Brown began his work with refugees in Houston for four years, then continued his work in the melting pot that is New York City. He understands that it was a good place, if not the most mundane, to earn his stripes. He was thrown into the middle of the daily struggle that is resettlement with a group of Cambodian refugees.

“Once I began to learn to communicate with them I could plant a seed,” Brown said, “and once the seed is planted, it can be enforced to the nth degree.”

He ran a resettlement house for 10 years in New York, and that led him to a job as a political asylum officer in Kansas in 1998. (Political asylum differs from refugee status, only because asylum deals exclusively with political conflict and oppression. A refugee is oppressed from any and all angles.)

After Kansas, Brown moved to Salt Lake to bolster the resettlement program, before ending up with the Utah Department of Workforce Services

“When I came here, we had one guy in a cubicle, now we have six,” Brown said with a grin. And his grin is genuine, because when he works with such a limited, but demanding, clientele, he needs all the sure handed help he can get.

Now he has a volunteer training program in place, and help, at least with a face, has arrived. His caseworkers are now fully trained, and now they can manage each responsibly and compassionately. The training program is essential, Brown said, especially when handling home visits with refugees.

“Volunteers untrained can cause more trouble they help most of the time,” Brown said. Which is why his case workers are equipped not only to handle face to face interaction with their clients, but the behind the scenes business as well.

Those volunteers have now taken on a heavy load of individual cases. The case management process requires the caseworkers to be fully versed in the refugees’ rights; otherwise a lot of necessary services are not readily available. It is Brown’s job to make sure his workers can access those services.

Brown understands that he is fighting an uphill battle, but the battle far from over. He has reached members of the Salt Lake community indirectly, which is a testament to his influence. Some do not even know who to see when they first arrive.

“My family never knew where to go, and I am still the only English speaking member of my family,” said Sean Keranovic, a Salt Lake Community College student originally from Prijedor, Bosnia. “Our neighbors got in touch with a case worker back in 2002, and their transition has been made much easier. No late bills, no missed school, and very little confusion.”

So while Brown deals with his 11-year-old son (“He wants to be a journalist,” Brown said with a chuckle) and his family life, he is always making sure that no case is left untouched.

Society has the propensity to complicate things, and complication can often bury the unprepared. Gerald Brown deals with people who have had few choices in life, and makes sure they don’t slip all the way through the cracks. And despite the long hours, he still manages to keep a broad smile on his face.

“Man, I’ve had the privilege to know the world,” Brown said, with the same smile adorning his face, directed more to himself than anyone in particular. “To learn [about people from other countries] is like another college degree free of charge. Cool.”

Refugee caseworkers work long hours in Salt Lake City

by MICHAEL OLSON

Originally from Rwanda, Africa, Valentine Mukundente and her parents were relocated to Salt Lake City as refugees. Before they came to America, however, Mukundente and her family were sent to a refugee camp in Zambia where she spent her high school years. In Zambia, Mukundente worked as a translator for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees while her family waited to be relocated to America. She had learned French and Swahili as a child in Rwanda and English while in high school.

Mukundente is a resettlement caseworker at the International Rescue Committee in Salt Lake City. She has worked there for more than a year.

“I love working with refugees because I used to be one,” said Mukundente. Armed with experience as a refugee she is able to keep from getting burned out from the extreme demands on her time as a caseworker. Instead, she finds it easy to relate to the refugees she helps because she was a refugee herself.

Life as a refugee caseworker is not easy on family life. Mukundente recently married a man she knew from Rwanda. He came here as a refugee and now they have a 6-month-old baby boy.

“It’s difficult because we don’t have time to go home,” Mukundente said about their schedules. Sometimes they have to pick up a refugee family from the Salt Lake International Airport in the middle of the night.

Caseworkers take them to their new house and show them how to use the stove and other appliances. This is the first time most Africans and Burmese have seen a stove or a light switch, Mukundente said.

Sometimes refugees will visit the IRC’s downtown office on 400 South to ask questions or for help reading their mail, often just as Mukundente is on her way out the door to go home to her family. But she gladly stays late to help them. After all, she used to be a refugee herself.

Seven caseworkers are currently employed at the IRC. Mukundente is responsible for 30 cases, but some caseworkers handle as many as 70 cases at a time.

“That’s too much,” she said. If she were to focus on one of her 30 cases a day, it would take a month to get through them all.

A case may consist of a single refugee, or it could be an entire family, some with as many as 11 members.

Caseworkers at the Asian Association of Utah are just as busy. Lina Smith, the director of Utah Refugee Employment and the Community Center at the Asian Association, supervises six caseworkers, who handle between 50 and 70 cases each.

Smith has been with the Asian Association for eight years. Five of the six caseworkers she employs are currently or were at one time refugees.

“I find the refugees don’t get as burned out,” Smith said. “They have been through what the people in their cases are going through.” That motivates them to get the refugees through the difficult process of adjusting to life in Utah.

Of all the places for refugees to be resettled, Utah is one of the best locations in the nation, said Gerald Brown, director of the Refugee Services Office of the Utah Department of Workforce Services.

“People here tend to be willing to help,” Brown said. Some social workers have a tendency to become jaded, but that seems to happen less in Utah.

Brown said that the perfect workload would be 20 cases for every caseworker. Because of the shortage of caseworkers it is very important that they set boundaries to avoid getting burned out.

For example, caseworkers decide whether to give out their personal contact information.

“I have some caseworkers that give out their cell phone numbers and then they have to choose whether to answer it or not,” Smith said.

The IRC’s Mukundente usually chooses not to give out her cell phone number, but some refugees still find it out from friends who know their number.

When they call they usually just have a question that can be taken care of later. Mukundente asks the refugee if it can wait until during work hours when they can talk about it. If it is a genuine emergency, such as when a child falls and breaks his arm, Mukundente directs the family to call 911 or a person at the IRC who handles emergency situations and can translate for the refugees.

“We tell them when they first get here to call 911 in an emergency, but they forget,” Mukundente said. “The first person on their minds is their caseworker.”

Despite the stress and the long hours, Mukundente loves her job.

“People have something in their blood, something they like to do,” she said. “This is not a job you do for money. You do it because you love it.”