Salt Lake City has long history of being a place of refuge for those in need. It’s woven into the culture of our city. Since the mid-1970s, Utahns have welcomed over 60,000 refugees from more than 20 countries.
At the end of March – the mid-year point in the fiscal year – only 12,151 refugees have been admitted to the United States. This is an all-time low. The negative rhetoric and actions from President Trump’s administration towards refuges has left many people wondering how they can help. A good place to start in Salt Lake City is The Know Your Neighbor Volunteer Program (KYN).
Created through a partnership between the Mayor’s Office for Diversity & Human Rights and the state’s Refugee Service Office, KYN pairs refugees with volunteers who want to welcome, mentor, and help new Americans integrate into the community.
Someone who knows the program well is Ashlyn Pezely, a former intern in the Mayor’s office.
“I’m continually blown away with the number of volunteer applicants we receive for this program,” Ashlyn said. “Every month we see between 30-50 new applications, and that really says something about the people of Salt Lake City. They want to help people feel welcome.”
The volunteers come from all walks of life – including different religions, ages, and careers.
Ashlyn was so inspired by the program’s work as an intern, she wanted to be matched with her own refugee family. She now meets with a family from South Sudan two to three times a week, helping with homework, applying for college and sharpening the family’s English-speaking skills.
“There are so many different types of programs we can connect volunteers with. There are English As A Second Language courses, computer tutorials, and even sewing classes at the Refugee Education and Training Center.”
Many refugees have to overcome various obstacles when moving to a new city, from conquering language barriers to understanding new school systems for their children.
“I believe there is a lot of misinformation surrounding the process of becoming a refugee and how they are here. Curriculums like The Know Your Neighbor Program can really help alleviate those misconceptions. I challenge people to come educate themselves, so they have a better idea of the realities.”
To apply to become a volunteer in The Know Your Neighbor Program, visit HERE.
For any questions, please contact Fatima Dirie, the Refugee Community Liaison for Mayor Biskupski at 801-535-7931 or through email at Fatima.Dirie@slcgov.com
Connect with the Know Your Neighbor program on Facebook HERE.