Featured Stories

JustServe Efforts in Colorado Catch the Attention of the U.N.

Community partners worked together to help resettle thousands of Afghan refugees in Colorado

Elder Chi Hong (Sam) Wong, General Authority Seventy and president of the North America Central Area, with his wife, Sister Carol Lu Wong, right, visit the refugee resettlement warehouse in Denver, Colorado, on February 11, 2022. Warehouse volunteers left to right: Amy Todd; Rachel Pomeroy; Janet Duerst; Rhonda Rankin; Katie Moon of JustServe; April Lipinski of FEMA; Lisa Zoeller, the site manager; and Joel Scoville. Photo courtesy of Erin Blake, courtesy of Church News.Alll rights reserved.

This story appears here courtesy of
TheChurchNews.com. It is not for use by other media.

By Mary Richards,
Church News

When Colorado received word that an influx of refugees from Afghanistan would be arriving in the state, local resettlement agencies began meeting 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.”

JustServe had partnered for years with the three major resettlement agencies in Colorado — International Rescue Committee, Lutheran Family Services and African Community Center.

They even had a specific page for refugee-related needs in the Denver area, JustServe.org/ColoradoRefugeeConnect. Agencies and organizations posted their needs on that page, and volunteers could go there to find opportunities to help that worked for them.

But in the fall of 2021, the groups did not have enough people to handle the number 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 into an apartment in the spring of 2022. Photo courtesy of Angie Riches, courtesy of Church News. Copyright 2022 Deseret News Publishing Company.

In the meetings with state agencies, it was determined that the biggest needs for resettlement agencies were having a warehouse to store goods to set up apartments and having teams to do the setup.

“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 members to see if anyone could commit to work one day a week for four hours for the next few months. Many people answered the call, including some who were not attending Church regularly anymore.

“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 January 10, 2022. Although AmeriCorps volunteers eventually took over, some JustServe volunteers stayed and continued to help.

A few of the men were especially skilled at repairing items. The agencies relied heavily on donated items, but some items, such as used furniture, were not in the best condition. Instead of throwing broken furniture out, the men brought their tools and fixed it on the spot or took it to their home workshops and repaired it there.

Warehouse volunteers Nolan Ogzewalla and John Halgren make repairs to some of the furniture so that it can be given to a refugee family moving to Denver, Colorado, in 2022. Photo courtesy of April Lipinski, courtesy of Church News.All rights reserved.

Team Rubicon, a disaster response organization, helped with move-ins, and FEMA lead oversight from the state. 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 contributed to a presentation to the group about JustServe’s part in the collaboration.

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. Photo courtesy of Barbara Conklin, courtesy of Church News.All rights reserved.

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 gave 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.”

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. Photo courtesy of Katie Moon, courtesy of Church News. All rights reserved.

Copyright 2022 Deseret News Publishing Company.

Style Guide Note:When reporting about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, please use the complete name of the Church in the first reference. For more information on the use of the name of the Church, go to our online Style Guide.