GILLETTE — The Gillette College Pronghorn Center was filled with more than 100 young people and youth leaders who raised awareness and prepared backpacks for refugees Wednesday evening as part of an “Interfaith Service Project for Youth and Refugees “.
The project brought together youth from three churches: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, St. Matthew’s Catholic Church, and New Life Wesleyan Church. Angi Klamm, Gillette Stake communications director for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said planning for the event began six months ago.
During the service project, the youth heard from Bertine Bahige, the principal of Stocktrail Elementary who came to America as a refugee from Congo, and Oksana Barchenko, a Ukrainian refugee who recently left the country.
Klamm said Barchenko spoke to everyone gathered about the importance of kindness and treating those who may look different or speak differently from others with the same love. Bahige accompanied the youngster through his life story, from his flight from the Congo to the processes he went through to become an American citizen and create his life here.
After the speakers, everyone gathered to fill 50 backpacks with the necessities the refugees would need when leaving their country. Items included things like a blanket, snacks, toiletries and water.
“We just wanted them to think and see what they (refugees) might need in a backpack,” Klamm said. “And understand that our lives can change at any time.”
The groups also held the event to raise awareness that Wyoming remains the only US state that does not have a refugee resettlement program or any way to help refugees within the state. Klamm didn’t know Wyoming had no way to help refugees before starting the project and now hopes the law can change to take care of those in need.
Without state support, she still believes that events like these can help in some way.
“Even without help from the state, I still feel like we can find ways to help and unite,” she said.
Since Wyoming does not have a center for refugees, the group will send all backpacks to Church World Service, a nonprofit organization that helps people in need.
“They will distribute (the backpacks) where the need is greatest,” Klamm said.
The project also functioned as a platform for young people to learn about Just Serve.
“It (the platform) raises awareness to seek opportunities to serve and volunteer in different communities,” Klamm said.
All backpacks and backpack items were sourced from community members and those who chose to help justserve.org and all the tie covers were assembled by young people.
Mariana Garcia, director of Hispanic ministry at St. Matthew’s; Dani Tew, the state representative for justserve.org; and Sarah McCormick, New Life’s youth pastor, all helped bring the event and the youth together.