Exactly a month ago, we filed into the conference room for our routine weekly strategy meeting. Typically to begin these meetings, we do a “presencing exercise” – sometimes we go around and share something fun we did over the weekend, watch an Internet video, or even jump around in circles. The point of the exercise, as implied by the title, is to make sure everyone is in the moment for our meeting.
Well, on November 5th, we were inspired by this video about a middle school football team who conspired to stop short of a goal so that one of their special needs players could make a touchdown. It got us talking about simple things we can do to make someone’s day.
It got Jeremy thinking about an experience he had right before, when he was at the mall food court. While he was in line for Taste of Red Iguana, a man introduced himself to Jeremy and told him that he was a refugee from West Africa. He asked Jeremy’s advice on where to get a calling card to let his nephew know he is okay. It was a relatively brief encounter, but the man described some of the experiences that lead him to seek asylum, and said that Catholic Community Services helped him come to the United States and was providing housing and job training.
After hearing this story, Michael decided that the whole team would go to Catholic Community Services that afternoon to see if we could find him and help him get acclimated in our city. At 3pm, we all showed up and were lucky that the Director of Immigration & Refugee Resettlement was able to take the time to talk to us about the refugee experience—everything from the countries they come from to the coalition of organizations that help Utah’s refugees. We learned that nearly 5% of Salt Lake City’s population is refugees— as of January 2013, 46,154 refugees have resettled in Utah since 1988.*
Due to confidentiality and other reasons, Catholic Community Services wasn’t able to connect us with the man that Jeremy met in the food court. However, we were thankful that the experience he had that day brought us all together to learn more about the need in our community.
We were advised that one of the greatest needs of the refugee community is coats. Many of the people who arrive in Utah come from much warmer places and have never experienced a winter like we have here. (Today, the high is 18oF.) Many of the families come with little or no luggage, so besides the obvious warm winter clothes and blankets, they also need almost everything else.
There are many exciting ways to volunteer as well—you can welcome an incoming group at the airport, mentor a family so they always have someone to answer their questions, or even get involved in the New Roots Community Garden. One of Catholic Community Services’ volunteer coordinators is coming to our office to explain to us the available options so we can choose a meaningful way to get involved on a long-term, consistent, and sustainable basis. I feel so lucky to work at a place that not only encourages community involvement, but where each member of the team is meaningfully involved in causes that are important to them. I know that once we get rolling, our team volunteering will be amazing!