JustServe a part of efforts in Colorado that caught the attention of the U.N.
Community partners worked together to help resettle thousands of Afghan refugees throughout the Denver area. Here’s what they learned from the team effort
When Colorado received word that an influx of refugees from Afghanistan would be arriving in the state, local resettlement agencies began to meet together with state officials to plan ahead. And Denver North area JustServe specialist Katie Moon said a very specific prayer.
“I was praying one day, saying, ‘Heavenly Father, let me know what to do and how to help,’ and it was that night I got the phone call with the invitation to start attending these meetings,” Moon said. “You pray, and you get it.”
They even had a specific page for refugee-related needs in the Denver area, at JustServe.org/ColoradoRefugeeConnect. Agencies and organizations posted their needs on that page, and volunteers could find something that worked for them that needed to be done.
But in the fall of 2021, the groups did not have enough people to handle the numbers of refugees who would be arriving. JustServe volunteers, missionaries and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were helping with move-ins — often getting the call last minute and showing up to unload trucks and set up apartments for refugees.
Americorps, Team Rubicon and JustServe volunteers with one of the Afghan families they moved in to an apartment in the spring of 2022.
A community furniture drive at a Church meetinghouse in the Denver, Colorado, area to help supplement warehouse donations for refugee families in early 2022. Pictured are two missionaries and Steven Hiatt of the Westminster Colorado Stake.
Team Rubicon volunteers receive donations from a donation drive to help Afghan refugees resettling in the Denver, Colorado, area in early 2022.
Credit: Team Rubicon
JustServe warehouse volunteers Craig Lundell, Nila Watterson and Angie Riches, with the site manager, LIsa Zoeller in January 2022. The warehouse held donations and supplies for refugees moving to Denver, Colorado.
Warehouse volunteer Angie Riches unloading the first warehouse donation onto the shelf in January 2022 for refugee resettlement efforts in Denver, Colorado.
Denver north area JustServe specialist Katie Moon, second from right, is pictured with other presenters to the UN Working Group on Resettlement in Denver, Colorado, on March 30, 2022.
Warehouse volunteers, Verlinda and Richard Jardin, in Denver, Colorado, in early 2022. The warehouse collected donated items to help refugees resettling in the area.
Right: Elder Chi Hong (Sam) Wong, General Authority Seventy and president of the North America Central Area, with his wife, Carol Lu Wong, visit the refugee resettlement warehouse in Denver, Colorado, on Feb. 11, 2022. Warehouse volunteers left to right: Amy Todd, Rachel Pomeroy, Janet Duerst, Rhonda Rankin, Katie Moon (JustServe), April Lipinski (FEMA), Lisa Zoeller (Site Manager), Joel Scoville.
Warehouse volunteers Nolan Ogzewalla and John Halgren making repairs to some of the furniture, to allow the furniture to be given to a refugee family moving to Denver, Colorado, in 2022.
In the meetings with state agencies, it was determined that the biggest need for resettlement agencies was having a warehouse to store the goods to set up the apartments, and then having teams to go set up those apartments.
“The Salvation Army said they could rent out some of a warehouse for the effort, but we still needed people,” Moon said. The agencies expected they would need people to help five days a week for four to six months.
Moon spoke with area Church leaders, and stake presidents then contacted their members to see if anyone could commit to work one day a week for four hours for the next few months. And many people answered the call, including some who were not attending Church regularly any more.
“One reason JustServe is such a good ministering tool is because everyone has the desire to lift and to help,” Moon said. “That’s something that’s universal. That was a testament to me — when we are going out and serving the community, we need to invite everybody.”
The warehouse opened on Jan. 10, 2022, and although AmeriCorps volunteers eventually took over, some of the JustServe volunteers stayed and still kept helping.
A few of the men were especially skilled at repairing items. The agencies relied heavily on donated items, but some were not in the best condition. Instead of throwing the furniture out, the men brought their tools and fixed them or took things back to their workshops at home and repaired them.
Team Rubicon, a disaster response organization, helped with the move-ins, and FEMA took over oversight from the state, and the months passed with a flurry of activity helping each refugee family move into their new home with the supplies they needed to start a new life.
“Lots of times the families are there that you are serving. The volunteers get to meet these sweet people,” Moon said. “My hope is they see the humanity of these people who are perceived as being different. That they are making the connection between them being refugees and our ancestors being refugees as well.”
She added, ”Serving in this way helps to break down their barriers, and helps with understanding and building compassion and greater love for those we don’t know.”
Somehow, word about the effort reached the United Nations. The U.N. Working Group on Resettlement did a site visit in Denver at the end of March. Moon helped present to the group about JustServe’s part in the collaboration.
Moon learned from the U.N. visitors that these collaborations sometimes don’t go very well, because contention or confusion can get in the way.
“But these resettlement agencies [in Colorado] work together and collaborate all the time,” said Moon. “That was our team — we are great friends. Everybody was taking one for the team. The collaboration was amazing. That’s what made this mission work so well, and that’s what caught the attention of the U.N. We were able to lift a huge burden off the resettlement agencies.”
Recently, Moon and the others from the coalition gave the same presentation to FEMA that they did to the U.N., and a representative from the African Community Center spoke about what it meant to them to receive so much help.
”It was really wonderful to be a part of that, and to be able to go out and serve and help our brothers and sisters, both those who were coming, and those who were trying to serve the refugees,” Moon said.
“It’s so good to see the Lord’s hand in these things and feel like we get to be His hands and His helpers.”