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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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.”

Catholic Community Services assisting Utah refugees

Story and photo by BLAKE LANCASTER

Over 60,000 refugees have been resettled in Utah. Integrating into a new community can prove to be just as difficult as getting there, but several organizations — and volunteers — in Salt Lake City help with resettlement.

One such organization is the Catholic Community Services of Utah, whose Refugee Resettlement Program helps individuals reach a point of self-sufficiency by providing them with necessary tools and assistance.

For over 21 years, Aden Batar has been a part of immigration and refugee resettlement at Utah’s Catholic Community Services. Batar himself is a refugee from Somalia who came to Utah with his family in 1996. That same year he got involved with the Catholic Community Services and five years later he became the director of the program.

Now Batar and his organization help refugees from around the world arriving in Utah with housing, financial aid, acquiring jobs, learning the language and much more.

Concepts that seem simple to those who have lived here their whole lives can be brand new to a refugee who has lived a completely different lifestyle in their home country.

For example, a lot of these people have never seen what we would consider everyday appliances like microwaves or refrigerators. Batar and the staff and volunteers from the Refugee Resettlement Program teach them how to adjust to a new way of life. But they can’t do it all.

One of the major obstacles these refugees face is simply learning how to interact with their new community. Batar said volunteers can help new Americans overcome this obstacle by interacting and welcoming refugees to their new home.

“Volunteering can go a long way,” Batar said, “It can teach new refugees a lot of things.”

Volunteers for the resettlement program help in the best of two worlds by assisting with the resettlement process as well as helping teach refugees how their new world works. They assist with tasks including grocery shopping, tutoring school-age refugees and teaching them the English language. The organization understands that not everyone can be a volunteer, but that doesn’t mean you can’t help out in your everyday life.

“It almost feels like people are even scared to have any sort of interaction with refugees around here,” said Robert Dean, a student at Salt Lake Community College. “Locals act like refugees aren’t equal because they aren’t the exact same as the rest of us.”

Dean has a unique perspective on refugees. His mother was a counselor at the school he went to at a young age where a couple of refugee families also had their children attend. To help with these children’s integration into their new lifestyle and school, Dean’s mother helped them make friends by setting up play dates with other students including Dean and his siblings.

He’s maintained his relationships with several of these refugee students, and through them has developed friendships with other New Americans. Dean said that being introduced to refugees at age 7 made it easy to look past the kids being any different than him. He attributed this to his still budding concept of the world as he recalled a memory of his friend Emmanuel, a refugee, who had never seen video games before visiting Dean’s house.

“I can’t even imagine going on the crazy journey all these guys have,” Dean said, referencing his friends. “Making it a little easier can go a long way for them and it only takes a little from us.”

Alyssa Williams, an attorney and coordinator of Utah’s Catholic Community Services Immigration Program, said that no matter what sort of life refugees led in their home country, starting a new beginning and integrating into a brand new culture is one of the toughest parts of what refugees have to go through. It has become clear that help and personal interaction from the community add to a smooth transition to their new lives. But Williams also said that while we need to do our part as a community to help, refugees also help us.

The mural above the Catholic Community Services building by Ruby Chacon depicts the organization and the city’s ability to bridge cultural divides.

“Refugees provide a tremendous value both economically and through rich and diverse cultural experiences to our community,” Williams said. “As a community we need to make them understand the importance they bring as an addition to Utah.”

This becomes more relevant as the Trump administration focuses on allowing fewer refugees into the country.

Williams and the Catholic Community Services want those in charge see that they are politicizing this global issue and affecting lives.

Aden Batar said the month of September, which ends the organization’s fiscal year, is usually the busiest time for CCS. However, 2017 was a different story due to a drastic reduction in the number of refugees coming to the U.S.

Catholic Community Services encourages people to contact their representatives and let them know that they do not support the administration’s policies regarding refugee resettlement.

Community remains in the heart of Salt Lake City refugees

Story and photo by HAYDEN S. MITCHELL

All over the world refugees are fleeing their homes from violence, oppression and fear. These families are all looking for a new place to live where they can feel safe. In 2016, Utah became home to a little over 1,200 refugees from multiple countries: Iraq, Iran, the Congo, Somalia and Sudan. The New Americans are experiencing the shock and awe of a new country and culture, places that are vastly different than anything they had ever seen before, according to a PBS story.

When first coming to Utah, refugees have a variety of feelings and emotions ranging from exhilaration to fear. Two individuals, Aden Batar and Romeil Analjok, who have resettled in Utah, discussed how similar their experiences were. They were introduced to a different language, new environments, foreign foods and smells. Add to that, they said the residents of Salt Lake City dressed and acted differently than they had seen before in their home countries. This can create an overwhelming burden for any refugee.

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Romeil Analjok, holding a trophy his daughter won playing basketball. Sports helped the family feel like a part of the community.

“It’s America man, of course it is going to be crazy. I did not know what to expect when my family first came here,” said Romeil Analjok, a refugee from Sudan, who created a new home for himself and his family in Utah in 2004. “Language was the biggest problem along with not knowing anybody … so I enrolled in school hoping to learn English and meet new people.”

While at school, Analjok met a couple of people whom he remains friends with today. He was grateful that they interacted with him during his first few days in class. He did not know how they would talk to him or act around him, but they treated him like everyone else, with respect. Analjok appreciated how quickly he made friends. It made the transition from Sudan to Utah easy and encouraged him that he could create a home for his family and be a part of a community once again.

“Romiel’s story is common for many [who are] moving their families,” said Francis Mannion, a priest who has seen an increase in refugee parishioners within his parish. They need somewhere to start.

For this reason, there are organizations like the International Rescue Committee or Catholic Community Services that will help new arrivals. These groups are in place to assist with the transition and make an adjustment easier for refugees coming to the United States.

In addition to established organizations, becoming part of an open and caring community is vital to helping families transition into a new community. Community allows refugees to make new friends, participate in all sorts of activities, or even worship together. Mannion made it clear that faith is not the predominant force that makes it easier for those going through the refugee process — it is community. A community can hold people up when they struggle the most.

“Every week in Sudan, we gathered with our friends and family, just celebrating everything good we had in life,” Analjok said. “I was happy to be a part of something every week … it gave me something to look forward to.”

Analjok said he felt out of sorts until he found a stable, welcoming community. He treasures it. In his community were fellow refugees from the Sudan who generously donated their time to helping him find friends and a new church, Saint Patrick’s, located at 1058 W. 400 South in Salt Lake City. Becoming involved with this church allowed Analjok some networking in the business world, eventually leading to a new job opportunity.

He said finding a new community can be a lifesaver for refugees. Without this connection, families and individuals can sometimes feel like they are on their own. Typically the countries that these refugees are coming from have a strong sense of community. They must rely on each other significantly to survive, eat and exist. This is why it can be such a challenge for refugees in America because it is solely their responsibility to provide for themselves and their families.

“Having a strong, loyal community around you will always make everything easier in life,” said Mannion, pastor at St. Vincent de Paul. “As refugee families come to church through the years, you can see the change happen. They start off nervous and still, and gradually became an active member of the community.”

Aden Batar, immigration and refugee resettlement director with Catholic Community Services, said refugees can have a hard time adjusting because they are coming from a life we have very little knowledge of. Life in countries like Iran, Sudan and Somalia is not easy. Batar, a refugee from Somalia who now helps other refugees in the resettlement process, said it is a real struggle every day for people living there to provide for their families and keep them safe. He said families are forced to flee because they are being oppressed or they fear potential threat and violence. Batar added that most people never anticipate leaving their home and are not prepared when it happens.

Such disruption can negatively impact people and even cause Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in many individuals, Batar said.

Analjok said, “When we came to Utah we were welcomed by a lot of refugees who came here before us.”  He reiterated the importance of community to his family’s resettlement. “They made me very comfortable and treated me well. It was also nice to see them all doing well,” he said. “It gave me hope for me and my family.”