The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is stepping out in humanitarian services and initiatives, fulfilling the teaching of the New Testament to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and care for the widow and downtrodden.
As part of its Immigrant Services Initiative, the LDS Church has opened more than a dozen welcome centers throughout North America.
The centers are designed to help immigrants and refugees integrate into their new communities.
Volunteers help immigrants find access to community legal services, improve their English, strengthen emotional resilience, progress on a path to citizenship and better understand American culture so they can obtain better jobs and live better lives. All these services (both in-person and virtual) are free for immigrants, according to a church statement.
Welcome centers are located is several locations in Texas, Arizona, Utah, Nevada and as far away as Canada. In Utah there are centers at Welfare Square in Salt Lake City, in Ogden, and two with smaller legal centers in Sugar House and Provo.
When Dan and Lorrie Curriden look at the faces of the immigrants they serve in Las Vegas, Nevada, they see the courage of their own immigrant grandparents.
Whether one is a new immigrant or five generations removed from one, Dan Curriden said, “We all benefit from the fact that somebody in our ancestry had the guts to leave the place where they came from, into the unknown, and find a better life for their children in this great country.”
The Curridens volunteer at a Welcome Center for the church in East Las Vegas. This is one of more than a dozen such centers throughout seven states and one Canadian province. All are part of the church’s Immigrant Services Initiative, which since 2015 has helped immigrants and refugees integrate into their new communities, according to church information.
“We connect our patrons with the resources in the community that they may need, whatever that resource might be,” Lorrie Curriden said. “It’s wonderful to offer a full slate of services based on what people need when they come through the door. Our goal is to help them determine their areas of greatest need and figure out a way we can help them.”
Because of the high number of Hispanics in Las Vegas (approximately 700,000 or nearly one in three residents), the Welcome Center there is tailored to serve that population.
Sister Arianna Mestre of Venezuela, a missionary who has learned English on her mission in the Western United States, helps immigrants in Las Vegas improve their English.
“It feels really good (to help people),” she said. “It’s the reason why I came on a mission — to love and to serve. It’s been amazing. I really like meeting new people every week and seeing the same people also coming and seeing them grow with their English. It’s really, really good to help them.”
In addition to the English courses, Las Vegas patron Juana Guzman said the class on immigration helped her understand the processing delays with her (citizenship) papers. “It will help me a lot because I’m waiting for my permanent residency,” she said. “It helped in understanding the timeline, that immigration is further delayed because of COVID.”
At the Mesa Welcome Center in Arizona, which also serves the Hispanic community, program coordinator Dinorah Alfaro Graham said the center’s beneficiaries have sometimes described the volunteers as angels.
“(It’s) a big responsibility to see that we are instruments of God,” Graham said. “When I came here and I saw all the people that were coming, I had this overwhelming feeling that testified to me, ‘These are the people that you must work with.’”
One of those people is Gesseca Hooeer of Ecuador, who said finding the Mesa Welcome Center was nothing short of a miracle.
“I was looking for resources around me (to help) learn the language with more people like me,” she said about her situation when she first came to America. “This was the last option — and my best option, my best decision.”
In 2020, the number of immigrants served at welcome centers rose by more than 15% thanks to technology. Going forward, welcome centers will continue to offer in-person and virtual services.
“This is a most wonderful opportunity to bless the lives of the Hispanic people,” said Elder Robert Jeffrey Parker, an Area Seventy in the North America Southwest Area. “Whether it be family history, whether it be job, whether it be addiction recovery, whether it be in life skills and life helps, they will be blessed in so many ways. … Everyone that’s engaged in this process will walk away … thrilled, uplifted and edified because that which they are doing is the work that Christ wants them to do.”
Fellow Area Seventy Elder Broc Hiatt said one must see far beyond the political and recognize the core identity of another — especially of immigrants.
“It doesn’t matter how they got here,” Hiatt said. “The concern is that they are children of Heavenly Father, and they need help. The church can provide it, and we’ve covenanted to provide it, Hiatt added.