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June 17, 2019

Meet the Grahams: How faith inspires one Utah family’s work with refugees


Dawn and Charles Graham’s humble journey to working with refugees in their community began a few years ago at a book club in Provo, Utah. It’s there they first met Leonard Bagwala, a former refugee from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and co-founder of Utah Valley Refugees, a nonprofit serving the local resettled community.

Leonard shared his story that evening and Dawn knew immediately she needed to get involved.

“I was so moved by his story,” Dawn recalled. “I really wanted to have our family figure out a way to work with refugees.”

Fast-forward a few years and today, Dawn, Charles and their children are a Family Alliance partner with Utah Valley Refugees. Partner families are connected with newly resettled refugee families in Provo and help them navigate the transition to their new community. 

The Grahams were introduced to Mitonzi, Donatira and their children, a refugee family originally from the Congo. 

Like other Family Alliance members, the Grahams helped Mitonzi and Donatira overcome challenges newly resettled families face: How do you apply for a job? How do you register your children for school? And what do you do when the heat in your house won’t come on during a Utah winter?

The Grahams and Mitonizi and Donatira.

Fortunately for Mitonzi and Donatira, the Graham family was just a phone call away.

While overcoming these challenges together, the relationship between the families deepened and the meaning of being a Family Alliance partner evolved.

“They're good friends now,” Charles shared. “They're friends of ours, and that's been one of the biggest blessings. We're helping them, yes, but we're friends.”

The Grahams are also blessed because they feel the support of their faith and their church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“Jesus Christ was a refugee when he went to Egypt. I think about Donatira and Mitonzi, and they were just trying to escape war,” said Charles. “They were trying to flee and find safety.”

The Church has a longstanding tradition of serving refugees around the world. This passion for service is rooted in an understanding of religiously-motivated persecution.

In recent years, the Church has challenged members to deepen their commitment to refugees at the local level.

For Sister Sharon Eubank, First Counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency, welcoming refugees and building more compassionate communities here in the United States has been a defining characteristic of her career with Latter-day Saint Charities.

“It's the one-to-one relationships with people, the friendships that we build and the ways that we help each other in small ways. That's where the power of the work is,” shared Sister Eubank.

The Graham family is a model of this call to act locally. They have wholeheartedly embraced this opportunity to build a meaning relationship with Mitonzi and Donatira.

“I’ve been empowered by these experiences,” said Dawn. “Working with refugees helps you realize that every culture has value and every person has value. Our community needs to reach out more. That's my strong feeling.”

How can you help? 

Latter-day Saint Charities has partnered with the UN Refugee Agency since 1991, bringing relief and comfort to millions of refugees around the world. Together, USA for UNHCR partners and donors not only help refugees in their greatest time of need, but their support builds awareness for resettled refugees living in the U.S. With your help, more refugees will have the opportunity to build a peaceful life and give their family a bright future.