SOUTH SALT LAKE, Utah – Refugees who come to Utah want to fit in, but at the same time, they don’t want to lose their culture. Now, there’s a place they can come together and learn from each other. On Friday, The Granite Education Foundation opened their new Granite Refugee Center.
Utah is home to 69,000 refugees from all over the world, and 25,000 of them live within the Granite School District. Coming to a new country, where they may not know the language or basic living skills, can be challenging.
Brent Severe, the Executive Director of Granite Foundation, said refugees have never had a place to all gather where they can learn about integrating into the American way of life.
“They’ve been meeting in garages, in people’s backyards, under viaducts,” Severe said.
The center will provide access to resources under one roof. They’ll learn about finding housing and jobs, and enrolling in school--as well as other social programs.
“A lot of these families, they've left everything behind," Severe said. "So they're coming to the United States, they're lucky to have the clothes on their back."
Valentine Mukundente is a refugee from Rwanda. She’s been in Utah for 15 years. Since then, she learned English and attended school.
The mother is now an employee of the Department of Workforce Services helping others find work.
“When you come as a new refugee, it makes you so happy to meet people from your country who have been here before you," she said. "Who know more than you, who knows about American rules, different resources, people who speak your language."
The center is a long time coming for Joseph Nahas. The refugee left the war-torn country of Sierra Leone to find a better life for his family. He said the kindness of one woman made all the difference.
“She came to our apartment every day," he said. "She brought her husband, she brought her kids, she became part of the family. Anything that we needed to understand, that is the lady we talked to. Every step of the way, it make life really easy for us."
The Granite Refugee Center is also a resource for foster parents who take in refugee children. Because there is a language barrier, and children need to be taught basic skills, parents receive training to help children integrate.