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 and

  • 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
    • 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.”

Spice Kitchen Incubator helps refugees start food businesses

Story and photos by RYAN CARRILLO

Spice Kitchen Incubator gives certain Utah residents a unique opportunity: a chance to plan and develop a food-based business.

The kitchen incubator primarily assists international refugees who have relocated to Salt Lake City, but also provides services to immigrants and lower-income individuals. The program is part of the International Rescue Committee in Salt Lake City, or IRC SLC, which helps in international crises and relocates refugees in 22 different cities throughout the U.S.

Spice Kitchen Incubator provides everything from ovens to large prep space for the chefs

Spice Kitchen Incubator provides everything from ovens to large prep space for the chefs.

Refugees are individuals forced to leave their native country due to political unrest, war or safety concerns. When they are relocated to the United States, they have to adapt to a completely new culture and way of living.

Spice Kitchen Incubator helps them adjust to some of these changes.

Entrepreneurs, or participants, in Spice Kitchen Incubator aspire to start their own business. These individuals will mostly likely run their own catering business, food truck or farmers market booth by the end of the program.

The program is designed to help each entrepreneur achieve these goals and be successful in the American business market.

“Every entrepreneur’s goals are different but our overall goal is to build self-sufficient businesses,” said Genevieve Healey, the program coordinator for Spice Kitchen Incubator. “Those are the things we are helping them with, [things] like accounting, marketing and connecting them to resources. At a certain point they are comfortable doing that all on their own and they know how to use those resources.”

Spice Kitchen Incubator is divided into two different levels: pre-incubation and incubation. Pre-incubation is designed to help entrepreneurs develop a business plan and teach them how to run a successful business. Incubation is focused on real experience and exposure, putting each participant in control of their business.

Entrepreneurs begin in pre-incubation. They participate in this level for six months before advancing to incubation, depending on their individual needs and progress. During this phase of the program, they are building the foundation for running a business.

Each Saturday, the kitchen incubator hosts workshops for those individuals, covering everything from profit-and-loss and advertising to marketing positioning and food costing. Additionally, each entrepreneur will participate in a focus group. The focus group plays an essential role in the development of the aspiring business owner’s business plan.

“Volunteers from the food industry and the community come and try the entrepreneur’s food and those are entrepreneurs in pre-incubation so they are just developing their menu and what they are going to sell,” Healey said.

Feedback from volunteers is essential. It helps the chefs make adjustments to the business plan. It also can help them develop a mentorship with people in the community.

Kamal is one of 10 entrepreneurs in the pre-incubation stage. As a Bhutanese refugee, he was resettled in the U.S. almost five years ago. He has participated in the Spice Kitchen Incubator for almost a year.

Kamal’s focus group met on March 11, 2015. The chef spent several hours preparing food to present to the group. He said he has enjoyed participating in the program and was excited to share his culture and food with the volunteers and staff. He said he is very appreciative for the help of his wife and daughter, as well as a local volunteer, while preparing for his focus group.

Kamal prepares for his focus group with the help of his wife, daughter and a community volunteer.

Kamal prepares for his focus group with the help of his wife, daughter and a community volunteer.

After pre-incubation, entrepreneurs advance to incubation. This portion of the program typically lasts for 4 to 4 1/2 years. In all, entrepreneurs are able to be in the program for five years. There are currently three entrepreneurs enrolled in the incubation portion of the program. Since the Spice Kitchen Incubator was only opened in 2013, no one has graduated from the program yet.

During incubation, the aspiring business owners begin running an operational business. They start by applying for their business license. Once received, the entrepreneurs begin catering events and participating in local farmers markets.

During the winter, the chefs sell pre-packaged food at the market that they prepare at the Spice Kitchen Incubator’s facilities. The winter market is held every other Saturday at the Rio Grande Depot (300 S. 300 West) from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. It runs through April 2015.

During the summer farmers market, entrepreneurs rotate between packaged and prepared foods. Prepared foods are cooked on-site rather than at the Spice Kitchen Incubator facilities. Healey said the kitchen hopes to expand its services at this year’s summer market to include one booth dedicated solely to packaged foods and another just for prepared foods. This would give the entrepreneurs more exposure and increase their ability to build a client base. The summer market runs from June 13 to Oct. 24, 2015, and is held each week at Pioneer Park on 300 W. 400 South.

Healey said the farmers market demonstrated how beneficial the incubator’s programs can be for both the business owners as well as the community as a whole.

“The farmers market was a really awesome experience, especially the summer farmers market because it is where we can do prepared foods,” she said. “We’ve said that there is a need for this in the community but it was really cool to have that hands-on [experience], like ‘oh yeah, people really want this.’”

Community members can get involved with the incubator through several different ways. The Spice Kitchen Incubator is always looking for individuals to serve on focus group panels, which requires a commitment of a couple hours each session, as well as help with any other topics related to running a business. Donations can also be made on the incubator’s website.

Maria Gigourtaki, who works as the volunteer and communications coordinator for the kitchen, said volunteers can have some amazing experiences with the program. “[The entrepreneurs] are all so passionate,” she said. “I mean, food is something that gets people together and it’s awesome. You can get to see and meet people, new cultures, new flavors, history, languages, everything. It’s amazing!”

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