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Parkite builds network of generosity and care for refugees

Local families made the holiday brighter for dozens of refugee families newly arrived in Utah from Afghanistan, Kenya and Somalia.
Tetiana Soares
Local families made the holiday brighter for dozens of refugee families newly arrived in Utah from Afghanistan, Kenya and Somalia.

Refugees come to the United States from all over the world. When they arrive, they’re often starting from scratch and may be traumatized by experiences in their homelands as they work to build new lives here. Compassion for those struggling in such circumstances has sparked a wave of generosity this season in Park City. Michelle Deininger talked with Parkite Domenique Smith about her recent work assisting refugees this season. Read that conversation here or listen to this story as it aired.

Michelle: Dominique Smith wanted to help people in need this season. She didn't have a clear sense of who or how at first; she just had a desire to give back and do something. Her search for a way to contribute to others' well-being led her to a network of people recently arrived in the US after leaving their homelands.

Domenique: Well, my background is as a philanthropic consultant, I stopped working when my second child is born led, which is six years ago. And I've just reached a point in my life where I could get back and get involved in causes that are important to me. So I spoke to my friend Kristin Andrus, who is very, very involved in the philanthropic community, mostly in Salt Lake. She's the wife of Jeremy Andrus, who's the CEO of Trager, which is how I know them because my husband works with Trager. And she let me know about some families that were in desperate need for help some refugee families. And it grew from there.

Michelle: She wound up sparking a groundswell of Park City-based support for refugees from Afghanistan, Kenya and Somalia, as more families got wind of her efforts and asked to join her. Without the oversight of an organized Refugee Assistance organization, Smith, her friends, and the growing network didn't have guidance on what people needed. So instead, they just tried to make their best guesses. They had their children helped by brainstorming what sorts of things they themselves thought they'd want, if they had just arrived in Utah. The result wound up being contributions covering a wide range.

Domenique: We had very little direction. And we had some moms doing things like crock pots with beans and rice and others that gave mattresses and cribs, and some who gave just kept it really fun was just toys for all the kids, blankets, food, lots of gift cards to Walmart. It really kind of was all over the board. If everything in your life had been taken away, what would be the three or four things you would want in cold Utah? So they got very involved, we had the ages of the kids so they could - I sort of would say here are some kids that kind of match your age, what are the sort of things that you would want? And they picked out blankets and coats and socks and hats and little toys for the kids. And they really had a lot of pleasure in that.

Michelle: The involvement of the children both in the giving and the receiving added layers of meaning and surprise. Smith said it was touching to watch kids being kids in so many ways, and that what her own children and the children of other donors learned through this work was invaluable.

Domenique: The report I kept hearing from friends was their reaction to their kids. We had one situation where a little girl emptied her bank account to buy an elderly woman a book. I love the stories of the little kids who showed up at the homes and took off their shoes because they were ready for the playdate. It was just- it was just lovely. And you know the conversations on the drive back were just so meaningful for us: "you've really opened our eyes to something, we're going to be doing this as a family much more regularly, thank you." The gratitude I've had for the opportunity to give to these families has just gotten overwhelming. I think that there's so many people in Park City who are hungry to give to other families. That sounds so basic, but it just I was it was it was so easy to find the people that made me realize that there was a real need here. And a real opportunity.

Michelle: A need to share.

Domenique: A need to have that feeling of getting back. A need to show their kids what philanthropy means. I need to... I feel like people's souls needed it.

Michelle: While focused on our work with the refugees, Smith and her three children all contracted COVID. That complicated their lives and sidelined them for a while, and resulted in the new network coming to their assistance as well.

Domenique: And here I was in bed with COVID and strangers are bringing not only things for the refugees, and for the kids at Parkside but for me, it's just it was amazing. We live in a really, really wonderful community."

Michelle: That was another part of your month that you probably would rather have done things differently with that. So you and all your children got COVID, Is that right?

Domenique: That's right. Yeah.

Michelle: And you were all vaccinated. So you all got breakthrough cases, is that correct?

Domenique: Well, my kids had not - they had it scheduled but they had not quite made it to their to their vaccine yet so they were not but I was.

Michelle: Were you vaxed and boosted?

Domenique: No, my booster was for that day. I was scheduled to have it the day after I was diagnosed.

Michelle: So how sick did you all get?

Domenique: I felt like I had the flu. My kids, again, like the flu. My little my 5-year-old-guy got actually really sick one night where he had a really hard time breathing was very frightening.

Michelle: And everybody's alright.

Domenique: Mm hmm. We're good, thankfully.

Michelle: Now this season's work is done, but the energy is still there. And Smith said it will be channeled into future philanthropic works. She envisions quarterly projects spearheaded by what she called the extremely informal group that's now known as the Park City karma mamas. She'll start a Facebook page by that name as soon as she catches her breath, and people who want to join can find it online.