One BYU-Idaho employee is demonstrating what it means to be a disciple leader as she heeds the call of Church leaders to help refugees. After attending the General Women's Session of General Conference last April, Emmilie Whitlock, adjunct faculty member in the Department of Communication, and her husband, Eric, established "Rexburg for Refugees;" an organization aiming to help refugees relocated to Idaho and Utah.
"I just really felt the spirit prompting me, and it wouldn't leave my mind or heart, and I really felt I needed to do something to help these refugees," said Whitlock.
With this inspiration and desire, the Whitlocks sought opportunities to answer the call to help refugees, but without any refugees in Rexburg, they wondered how they would be able to help. So, without the opportunity to serve around the local community, they looked at the nearest locations where refugees are placed.
The Whitlocks found the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Salt Lake City, whom The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has partnered with, and the College of Southern Idaho Refugee Center in Twin Falls. Around 1,100 refugees are placed in Salt Lake City annually, and 300 in Twin Falls.
When they contacted the two centers, they found that both locations are in need of donations, so the Whitlocks traveled to each center to donate various household items.
"My husband had the idea to start a donation center in Rexburg, because we had the mindset that if we are having a problem giving donations, somebody else probably is too," Whitlock said. "We decided to jump in with both feet and start an organization that would both educate the community on what to donate, and serve as a place where people could donate."
The couple has since started, with a terrific response from the community, "Rexburg for Refugees." One of the ways the Whitlocks are helping Rexburg community members get involved is with a donation pick-up. Anyone with donations is now able to text Eric or Emmilie anytime, and they will pick up any donations Thursday evenings from 5-7 p.m. From there, they deliver them to either Salt Lake City or Twin Falls.
In addition to delivering donations, the Whitlocks also aim to educate the community on both the plight of the refugees and the best ways to help them. By holding informative seminars, "Rexburg for Refugees" is able to help the public understand the issues surrounding the refugee crisis on a more personal level. At these seminars, the Whitlocks have spoken alongside IRC directors, as well as BYU-Idaho students who are former refugees.
Some businesses around Rexburg have begun following the Whitlock's example in providing aid for the refugees. The Standard Journal has recently been created as drop-off point for donations, and donations can be dropped off at any time during its business hours. Pizza Hut is also holding a charity where every Monday in June all proceeds will go to "Rexburg for Refugees."