Refugees a part of Park City fabric
Kumar Sanyasi was 13 years old when his family was forced out of Bhutan and into Nepal. For nearly two decades, Sanyasi was a refugee living in camps set up by the United Nations Human Rights Campaign. But not anymore. Now he works in Park City at the Glenwild Gold Course, one of several refugees working in the Park City area.
"I felt so happy when I got off the plane," Sanyasi said about his first memories of Utah. "It was night, but for me it felt like day. I saw that it was going to be OK, that (this place) was good."
This Saturday is World Refugee Day and the entire month of June is Utah’s Refugee Awareness Month, both an effort to highlight the nearly 30,000 refugees living in Utah, some of whom live and work in and around Park City. The International Rescue Committee, an international refugee assistance nonprofit, places refugees living in the United States in 16 cities, and one is Salt Lake City.
Nonprofits with refugee-centered missions are trying to find jobs in the Park City market, an effort that began four years ago with the Marriott Summit Watch. The Main Street resort was the first Park city employer to bring refugees on staff through the Salt Lake City nonprofit system, following in the footsteps of sister Marriott’s in the Salt Lake Valley.
"At the time, not one person spoke English," said Stephanie Johnston the Marriott Summit Watch General Manager. "We had to work through translators at first, but since then, I would say 90 percent of our housekeeping staff are refugees. Some have even been promoted some into supervisor and engineering roles. It’s been a wonderful experience partnering to bring refugees to work for us."
Several larger businesses in Park City have followed in the footsteps of the Marriott Summit Watch, opening mostly seasonal jobs to refugees. Two of the three ski resorts hire refugees each season. Glenwild Golf Course picks up seasonal employees for the summer period. Other businesses such as the Westgate Resort, the Hyatt Escala Lodge and Park City Dry Cleaning and Linen have refugees on staff.
Sanyasi just finished working at Deer Valley Resort this winter and is back for his second year with the Glenwild Golf Course, but said he’s not quite ready to tackle favorite Park City pastimes such as skiing.
"I feel very scared of this thought," he said. "Maybe two more years and I will do it."
Maintenance manager Ben Timmons said there was a learning curve at the start of the program none of his incoming staff had ever seen a golf course which meant he spent a lot of time in the first weeks teaching refugees basic skills such as how to drive the maintenance vehicles.
"It was difficult at first," Timmons said. " training for the most basic stuff. You can’t assume they might know one thing and not another. You have to show them and be patient, but they have a high desire to learn and to do a good job for us."
Sanyasi is one of 26 refugees employed at the golf course, which make up a majority of the maintenance staff. Fellow employee and Bhutan refugee Raghu Karki said he remembers the camps in Nepal, a place where he spent more than two thirds of his childhood, and his first job carrying quarried bricks on his back.
When he came to America and got a job at Glenwild, he was amazed with the equipment, a luxury he wasn’t used to.
"Refugees try very hard to do a good job, and there may be a lot of learning curves but once you have tackled those issues, you find the most dependable workers," said Lina Smith the Director of Refugee Services for the Asian Association, a refugee nonprofit based in Salt Lake City.
"What a refugee wants more than anything is a job," she added. "They want to feel like they can take care of their family again. For a refugee to find a job, it makes them feel like people again. It helps them achieve their ideas of what living in America means."
That’s what a handful of businesses in Park City are offering, but housing is still an issue for those refugees working in the area. Most either live in Heber City or commute fro Salt Lake City. And transportation costs take a huge bite out of their limited budgets. Even with the new Utah Transit Authority bus route, Smith said she worries whether or not it’s affordable enough.
"From what I’ve seen, employers are seeing that they stay at their jobs and there is not as much turnover," Smith added. "I wish there was some affordable housing because I know we could get a lot more people wanting to work up there."
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Park City leaders are poised to consider declaring June to be Pride Month in the community, a step that aligns with City Hall’s overall social equity efforts and the city’s long history of left-leaning politics.