How the Church’s Humanitarian Center and Deseret Manufacturing teach skills and service

Garrett Bloomquist began as an associate at Deseret Manufacturing in Salt Lake City during a challenging time in his life.

“[For] me, after high school, I struggled a bit because I struggle with autism and I was high functioning, but I also had no routine, no schedule, no plans and no goals, and it was very hard for me to even get out of my room and get out of bed,” Bloomquist told the Church’s Newsroom.

Now, six years later, he’s a production trainer and works to help manufacture beds.

“I’ve been able to bless my family. Bills will be paid. It helps … support the struggles that we have. I don’t know where I would be without this program,” he said.

Bloomquist is one of dozens of employees supported by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ manufacturing and training facilities. They are looking for a few good workers right now, and no experience is necessary. According to the article on Newsroom, associates get paid while they learn new job skills and establish a work history.

Teaching skills and service at Deseret Manufacturing

Three different factories fit under the label of Deseret Manufacturing, explained operations manager Joel Deeble. The associates or trainees come through a bishop’s referral, and are assigned to the sleep department, wood manufacturing or the sign shop.

But he said what they really do is build people by building products.

Like Neal Sharp. He served time in prison and spent time unemployed. His bishop gave him a referral about 2½ years ago to join the work training program at Deseret Manufacturing. Sharp is now working as the lead on the paint line. 

Neal Sharp works hard on the paint line at the Deseret Manufacturing facility in Salt Lake City, and is shown in November 2021.
Neal Sharp works hard on the paint line at the Deseret Manufacturing facility in Salt Lake City, and is shown in November 2021. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

“I just try to keep track of all the wood that’s coming in, all the different projects that we do. My main job is just to put it through the machine to paint it. … It took me about 5½ months to learn how to run that machine. I know how to run both machines [really] well,” Sharp told Newsroom. “Now if there’s another company out there that does the same thing, I can go there and work, and I already know how to run the machine.”

Bloomquist runs the coiling equipment to make springs for mattresses. They make a deluxe mattress and a supreme mattress in the shop.

The wooden furniture and new mattresses are shipped to bishops’ storehouses and Deseret Industries stores around the country to help people in need. They are also given to refugee resettlement agencies and to help people who have been displaced from their homes after hurricanes, floods and fires. 

“It has helped me to have enough faith that I know that I can help other people out there,” Sharp said. “I’ve been on the receiving end of that, and now someone [else] needs to be on the receiving end of that. This is how I can help them.”

Learning English and job training at the Humanitarian Center

Associates can learn English while receiving job training at the Church’s Humanitarian Center, which is not too far away from Deseret Manufacturing in Salt Lake City. Referrals come through bishops or the Utah Department of Workforce Services, reported Newsroom.

The coordinator of the English Skills Learning Center at the Humanitarian Center is Elena Orrego. She came to the U.S. with her family from Peru in 2010. 

Elena Orrego came to the U.S. with her family from Peru in 2010. She now is the coordinator of the English Skills Learning Center at the Church’s Humanitarian Center in Salt Lake City, and is shown in November 2021.
Elena Orrego came to the U.S. with her family from Peru in 2010. She now is the coordinator of the English Skills Learning Center at the Church’s Humanitarian Center in Salt Lake City, and is shown in November 2021. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

“I was here for a short period of time, but it was an exceptional time for me because this was a unique way for me to understand how the workplace was here in the United States,” Orrego said.

Randy Foote, operations manager at the Humanitarian Center, said: “Many of the refugees who have come here have gone through a lot of hardships. In many cases they have fled war-torn countries, spent many years in refugee camps and sometimes even lost families.”

One of those refugees is Kadija Mahdi, who came to Utah from Somalia with her family seven years ago.

“I drive a forklift, sort clothes [and conduct] quality checks,” she said. She is also teaching others how to drive the forklift. It moves bundles of donated clothing from Deseret Industries around the center for sorting. The Church and its partner agencies then ship the clothing around the world to those in need.   

Four hours of the day, the associates are paid to learn English. The other four hours, they work in the production area, either sorting clothing, performing custodial jobs, or working in the kitchen.

The kitchen is a full-service cafeteria that provides food for both training facilities. It also has a training program to teach the associates very specific skills they can then use in future employment.

The gospel in action at the Humanitarian Center

Foote said everybody is at their own pace in the English programs and the work training programs. They have had up to 29 languages spoken there in the past.

“Because we’re a training program, our whole feeling is to try to get people to where we can then help them go out and get better jobs and become self-reliant,” he told Newsroom

Amal Klito, an immigrant from Sudan, sorted clothing, then learned how to drive the forklift, then became a team leader. She is now a certified nursing assistant.

Amal Klito, an immigrant from Sudan who is now a certified nursing assistant, is one of the success stories of the Church’s Humanitarian Center in Salt Lake City, and is shown in November 2021.
Amal Klito, an immigrant from Sudan who is now a certified nursing assistant, is one of the success stories of the Church’s Humanitarian Center in Salt Lake City, and is shown in November 2021. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of La

“I’m here today to get a good life, and I hope everyone [will] come here [for] training. They can focus on what they want to do in the future,” said Klito.

Foote said Klito and Mahdi have really thrived despite their past hardships, and learned a great deal of new skills. 

“One of the biggest blessings is that this is a place where we get to see the gospel in action,” said Foote.