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JustServe platform creates structure for meeting refugees’ needs in Portland, Oregon

As refugees arrive in Portland from different countries, JustServe volunteers are there to help welcome them and meet their needs

In just the past few months, JustServe volunteers in Oregon have moved furniture and household goods into homes and apartments for 20 refugee families; collected school supplies, food, hygiene and cleaning kits; and greeted new refugees at the Portland International Airport with posters and gifts to welcome them to their new life in Oregon.

Resettlement agencies and nonprofit organizations list their needs on JustServe.org where volunteers can sign up to meet those needs. Kristi Park of the Lake Oswego Oregon Stake is one of three area JustServe refugee specialists, along with Paul and Kate Albertson of the Hillsboro Oregon Stake. 

Park has been building relationships with the organizations for several years. “Now they can’t get enough of JustServe,” she said. 

JustServe supports four resettlement agencies in the Portland area: Catholic Charities of Oregon, Lutheran Community Services NW, Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization and Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon. JustServe also supports two nonprofits in their support of resettlement agencies: Refugee Care Collective and Portland Refugee Support Group.

In the past, individuals hoping to volunteer would call the organizations and say they wanted to help out. But now the organizations are able to point people to their listings on JustServe’s website or app.

“Our goals were to bring awareness of the refugees and immigrants in the area, and we are doing that through speaking engagements and service opportunities,” Park said. “Through that awareness, we bring on long-term volunteers. That’s where real support is needed.” 

Kristi Park stands in 2022 with two Wilsonville High School students in Wilsonville, Oregon, whose families came from Central Africa Republic four years earlier as refugees. Both students want to be known just as average American high schoolers who love design and sports. | Provided by Kristi Park

Park and the Albertsons have spoken in sacrament meetings, fifth Sunday lessons, Relief Society activities, Christmas activities, to school groups and to businesses and others. 

Once wards and stakes learn about the needs, they send volunteers — as do many community organizations, scout groups, high school clubs, businesses and more. 

Projects include assembling kits for each room in a new home for a refugee family which include household items for those rooms. Park said it’s the top JustServe activity that many wards, stakes, business and scouting groups do. They assemble the supplies and include welcome notes. 

Another important project is helping families move from hotels into homes. Stakes assign a group of people to load furniture into a truck from the warehouse, while another group is assigned to unload the furniture at the home. 

Others go pick up food and groceries to fill a pantry for a family just moving in.

“That brings great awareness to the stakes and wards,” Park said. “They say, ‘We want to do more,’ and I tell them to go to JustServe where we have 20-30 listings in the Portland area for helping refugees.”

Lake Oswego Oregon Stake volunteers join with other JustServe volunteers to unload restart kits into the Refugee Care Collective warehouse in Portland, Oregon, in one of several similar efforts from 2022. | Paul Albertson
An early morning seminary class of West Linn High School students in West Linn, Oregon, puts together food kits from supplies donated to an Oregon refugee agency through grants from the bishops’ storehouse. This popular JustServe project was done by many groups in the latter months of 2022. | Bobbie Poppleton

One of the most crucial opportunities is mentoring refugee families. This is a more long-term effort.

“Awareness is the first piece, and that helps people become familiar with the JustServe platform and find the specific opportunity to help refugees or whatever they are passionate about,” Park said. Then the mentorship becomes ongoing and sustainable. 

Park said the volunteers are benefited as well from the service through improved mental health, social skills, networking, resume-building and more. Youth befriend the new students at school and see how similar they are.

“I have people that will come up to me months and even years later and say they never forget how they felt when they did that service, and it has encouraged them to continue to seek more service on JustServe and become mentors.”

These efforts and experiences are for anyone — Park said refugees are encouraged to serve others as well. 

“It’s been good for them to have a platform. That’s another thing about JustServe, is refugees want to give back, and this is a platform for them to use. They love the idea of giving back,” Park said.

Trillium Creek Ward Relief Society members assemble baby kits from donated items and items given to a refugee agency from a bishops’ storehouse grant in West Linn, Oregon, in one of several similar efforts done in the latter months of 2022. | Kristi Park
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