SALT LAKE CITY — The first refugee families from Afghanistan have officially arrived in Utah.
Catholic Community Services of Utah said they expect 120 people over the next couple of weeks, and their goal is to have an apartment ready for everyone. The plan all the details, down to putting a warm meal on the table when the family walks in the door.
The first refugee families from Afghanistan have officially arrived in Utah. Catholic Community Services of Utah said they have taken 3 cases so far, including a family of eight.
They're expecting another family to land in Salt Lake City before the end of the week.
While some families have been able to stay together, like the two parents and six young children who just arrived, others will be showing up alone.
"I think the families that are coming from Afghanistan or other refugees in general, not all of the come at the same time," explained Aden Batar, Director of Migration and Refugee Services at CCS. "Sometimes families have been separated, sometimes we only get children under the age of 18 that Catholic Community Services bring in, and we place them into our foster care."
Because of that CCS of Utah is looking for foster parent volunteers to take care of children. They're also looking for landlords to help with housing, and community members to donate furniture, housewares, even vehicles for transportation.
CCS of Utah has unique partnership to rely on for help as well, to better serve their refugee clients.
On Wednesday afternoon, Elder Martinez sat at a desk and looked at forms on his computer screen.
"Recently they were doing an audit," he explained, looking at the screen. "I helped them get all the files ready."
His work as a service missionary for the LDS Church isn't what most might imagine, considering he serves an organization of a different religion.
"I kind of had to kind of reassure everybody, 'I'm still a missionary. I'm not going to convert to Catholicism, it's okay'" Elder Martinez said with a chuckle, as he remembered his farewell talk at church. "I'm still a missionary for us, I'm just serving for a Catholic organization."
He's one of 16 service missionaries from the LDS Church who does work in the three CCS of Utah locations-- their Salt Lake City office, food bank, and dining hall.
Brittany Moulton, Volunteer and Community Relations Manager at CCS of Utah explained that the work done ranges from stocking pantry shelves, to serving meals, to running citizenship classes, to providing transportation.
"I think a lot of people don't realize here how much the different religious organizations are working together behind-the-scenes," she said.
Moulton described how the partnership was created in August 2019. Service mission leaders contact the CCS of Utah when they have a service missionary to place, she said. Service missionaries get to tour the facility, learn current opportunities and needs, then make their choice from there.
"It just kind of fits like a perfect glove," she said. "We have the help that is needed, and they have the manpower to kind of help fill that."
A huge focus right now, Moulton indicated, is helping incoming Afghan refugees. She relayed how service missionaries are sorting donations and prepping apartments.
"It gives them a really unique opportunity to meet and see people in the community that they might not interact with otherwise and to gain that appreciation for people from all kinds of backgrounds," she said.
It's that work with refugees that Elder Martinez finds most fulfilling.
"They were forced to flee their countries," he said. "And I think just getting to help these people in any sort of way is what wanted me to come here to serve."
He talked about his most memorable experiences, and one of them was helping Venezuelan asylees in a parenting class. Elder Martinez said he served as the Spanish translator for parents, providing interpretation, resources, and tips on how to raise children in a new country.
For his computer work on Wednesday, Elder Martinez was making sure clients who had just completed a Swahili parenting class filled out all the right documents.
No matter the religion, the purpose at CCS of Utah is the same.
"It's just making them feel welcomed," Elder Martinez said, adding, "and they're valued here in the community."