Volunteers Help Refugees Feel Welcome

Utah is home to nearly 65,000 refugees, most of whom live in the Salt Lake Valley. Many refugees face great challenges after resettlement in the United States as they begin building their new lives in America. The Utah Refugee Services Office partners with Salt Lake City Mayor’s Office to help connect refugees with volunteer mentors who can help refugees better integrate into their new communities.

Having a friend to help navigate a new area helps a person feel more comfortable and confident, which is why volunteers are crucial in the refugee resettlement process. Volunteers can help refugees learn how to use public transit, navigate the city and integrate into the community.

The Know Your Neighbor Program provides volunteers with three different options for service:

  • Family Friend

  • Skill Share

  • Program Volunteer

The Family Friend Program pairs a volunteer with a refugee family for at least six months, and during that time volunteers and refugees do a variety of weekly activities to build strong relationships. Activities vary to encourage new skill development and growth.

The Skill-Share Program is a unique opportunity for volunteers to help refugees develop a professional or personal interest skills. Volunteers in this program can share their skills with the Know Your Neighbor Program and would be asked to help if requested by refugees.

The Know Your Neighbor Program uses Program Volunteers to help with different classes, events and workshops for refugees. A Program Volunteer could be asked to help teach a class, help with recreational programs, or citizenship opportunities.

Each of the programs help refugees develop new skills and friendships, so they can fully integrate into the community. Volunteers work directly with refugee families to build friendships and help provide support. Refugees feel more comfortable when they have someone they trust help them adjust to life in America. The best way to help refugees connect with their new community and neighbors is to develop a relationship with them.

The Family Friend program is a reciprocal relationship between volunteers and refugees. Many volunteers indicate that they feel like they receive more than they give when serving refugees. Volunteers appreciate the opportunity to learn for themselves, as well as their children, about other cultures and to better understand world issues. They often talk about learning to cook different types of food with their refugee families.

Several volunteer and refugee pairings have been able to share their languages with each other. Some volunteers showed interest in studying Arabic, so they were placed in events and pairings where they were able to learn Arabic from the refugees they were teaching English to.

The Refugee Services Office works closely with Know Your Neighbor Program volunteers to help provide and facilitate events, classes and workshops for refugees. These offerings help refugees develop skills that will help them find better employment opportunities.

Visit our Get Involved page to find more information about opportunities to serve refugees in Utah.