Over the last several months, dozens of city staff have volunteered their time to support the migrant sheltering efforts in Denver.
Over the last several months, our neighbors in Denver saw a significant number of migrant arrivals which led Denver to issue an emergency declaration. With hundreds of new migrants and asylum seekers arriving and seeking shelter over a short period, Denver’s resources were put under severe pressure due to limited space and staffing.
In mid-January, the city announced a mutual aid volunteer opportunity for any city staff interested in supporting our partners in Denver during their time of need. Volunteers were offered a stipend for their service for up to three shifts per month.
“We recognize the migrant community is experiencing complex, difficult and challenging circumstances beyond what most of us can imagine,” shared Boulder City Manager Nuria Rivera-Vandermyde. “We are committed to supporting our local partners and fellow municipalities as they provide resources during this international humanitarian crisis.”
Our neighboring municipalities have come to Boulder’s aid many times during past disasters and emergencies in our community. The city was honored to be able to return the favor and dozens of city staff from various departments stepped up to volunteer their time to support Denver’s migrant shelter operations.
Fostering a Welcoming Environment
Many staff shared that they volunteered because they find this work meaningful and were driven by a desire to serve their community and to foster a welcoming environment for the migrants who faced various hardships on their journey to Denver.
“By providing a smile, a wave or a handshake I felt I could convey a welcoming feeling toward those who just risked their lives to come here,” said Lynette Badasarian.
Patrick Harbert believed that the migrants showing up [in Denver] would have been through an arduous, long journey and may not have had a very warm and welcoming experience when they arrived at the border. “I wanted to help bring some positive, kind, welcoming representation for our region, state and country.”
For some, the decision to volunteer was influenced by their personal connections to migrant and immigrant communities.
“As a migrant myself, I can relate to the complex and multilayered drivers that make someone leave their homeland, their families, and their roots behind,” shared Ingrid Castro-Campos. "I feel that [supporting these individuals] is a shared responsibility and I want to keep contributing to solutions that address immediate needs and focus more on creating long lasting impacts.”
Ilenia Vasquez added, “My parents were both immigrants from Mexico that came to the U.S., and I have seen the difficulties of acclimating to the U.S. within the Latino community. I wanted an opportunity to give back. I wanted to make a small impact on a person’s life by being kind when so many people have had such difficult journeys to get to where they are today.”
Strength and Resilience
Volunteers spoke about the strength, resilience and gratitude of the migrants staying at the shelters. Many were deeply impacted by the stories that the migrants shared of the arduous journey.
“Hearing people's stories about their journey was eye-opening. News reports and articles highlighted some experiences of migrants, but to hear it from the perspective of a human being stood out to me. These peoples' motivation for this journey is pure love, most trying to find work to support their families back at home,” shared Devyn Palm-Trujillo.
“What stood out to me the most about the people I met was the resilience and strength of these people,” Ilenia Vasquez recalled. “They have dealt with adversity time and time again but have never let their hope and dream die of having a safe place to live and be able to provide for their families. All the people I spoke to wanted an opportunity and work to pursue the American Dream, and I think that is so wholesome.”
Becoming Part of Our Community
Another highlight for those who volunteered was the eagerness of the new arrivals to provide a helping hand at the shelters and their desire to become part of our community.
Devin Saunders did not expect the pure kindness, excitement, happiness and helpfulness of the migrants themselves. “Everyone was so happy to be there, to be fed, to be clothed, to have a new opportunity at life. Many of the folks even went around the shelter to clean up, sweep, mop or do other “chores” to show their thankfulness. These folks truly are doing whatever they can to create a better life for themselves and their families.”
“What really stood out was the eagerness of those staying in the shelter to help in any way they could and the graciousness they showed when we provided clothing and supplies to them,” Lynette Badasarian shared.
Patrick Harbert was blown away by the general vibe of positivity and optimism. “Everyone was friendly, grateful, and very gracious with my poor Spanish. The eagerness to contribute was amazing. We had a small job fair and there were so many folks that couldn't wait to get to work,” he noted.
When asked about their time volunteering, staff repeatedly reflected that they were grateful to be able to bring dignity and respect to those seeking shelter and were thankful that the city gave them the flexibility to donate their time in this way.
An Ongoing Challenge
In addition to sharing the positives of their experience, many volunteers reflected on the challenges that we face both locally and nationally as we work to support those coming to the United States.
“There are simply not enough resources for any city or municipality to provide the highest level of care possible for unexpected migrant arrivals,” said Devin Saunders.
Ingrid Castro-Campos shared her concern that migrants may be unprepared for the cultural shock, language barriers and resource navigation challenges they will face when the shelters close.
Others highlighted the lack of other services, especially mental health services, available to migrants and the need for volunteers to be trained in handling a potential mental health crisis. We recognize this is likely to be an ongoing challenge in the months and years to come.
“Overall, the experience was phenomenal and quite humbling,” shared Devin Saunders. “I am so thankful to the City of Boulder and our City Manager for providing us this phenomenal opportunity to not only care for our neighbors, but to care for humanity.”