Just three months before the coronavirus global pandemic upended everyone’s lives, Karin Brown and her family were going through a major job change that seemed overwhelming at the time. She asked herself, “What am I going to do now?” The answer for the entire Brown family was to seek out as many service projects they could do together to benefit refugees and neighbors.

“For the minutes and hours we spend serving, the world is lighter – COVID problems disappear,” said Brown. She has always tried to keep service part of family life, a way of living what they teach at home. As the five children in the Brown family have gotten older, it’s been a challenge to find projects that speak to the college, high school, junior high, and elementary-age kids in the house. 

In her search for service, Karin Brown found the Utah Refugee Connection, a non-profit organization that connects refugees with their new communities to help them develop self-sufficiency. The Browns made backpack kits for refugee students starting their first year of school in Utah in late July and early August, involving neighbors and friends in gathering the items. The Utah Refugee Connection (serverefugees.org) has donation drives for different items throughout the year, like kits to make Valentine’s Day cards and donations of gift cards for moms on Mother’s Day. They also hold free monthly Refugee Cultural Nights spotlighting traditions, food, music, and stories from refugees living in Utah.

“Every minute, 24 more people are displaced from their homes by conflict, violence, and persecution. These are not people moving from their country to get a better life, they’re fleeing for their lives,” said David Miliband, CEO of the International Rescue Committee, in a recent TED talk. The average length of displacement for refugees is ten years. The state of Utah welcomes approximately 1,100 refugees each year from countries such as Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Syria, Iraq, Vietnam, the former Soviet Union, and Burma. Salt Lake City schools with large refugee populations report over 30 languages spoken.

“This refugee crisis is also a test of our humanity. It is revealing of our values. Now is the time to embrace people who are victims of terror,” said Miliband.

“This has really helped us get out of our bubble to see what people are going through. It’s made my children more perceptive and compassionate,” said Brown. In her new college town, Brown’s oldest daughter is volunteering in an afterschool program for refugees. “She sought that out on her own. I’m pretty proud of her.” 

Karin Brown has an Instagram account @theawesomeproject where she posts service project ideas for families and communities.

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