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Gov. Herbert, Thurl Bailey encourage Utahns to attend World Refugee Day festival

MILLCREEK — A dozen adult refugees learning English at Sunnyvale Neighborhood Center showed off their knowledge of Utah politics Thursday morning.

"Who is the leader of Utah?" asked English as a second language teacher Amie Rosenberg.

"Governor Herbert," the students responded in unison.

Herbert, who was touring the center, which serves refugee and immigrant children and their families, responded with a hearty "Welcome!"

Herbert and former Utah Jazz player and TV basketball analyst Thurl Bailey, who was recently named Utah's refugee ambassador by Herbert, visited the neighborhood center in part to encourage Utahns to attend the World Refugee Day celebration on Saturday at Liberty Park.

The events, which get underway at 8 a.m. with registration for a 5K fun run, will be followed by opening festivities at 10 a.m., when 15 refugees will be sworn in as American citizens.

A soccer tournament that has been underway throughout the week will culminate with the championship game at noon. Family activities such as face painting and crafts will be ongoing. There will also be booths selling food, crafts and providing information about agencies that serve refugees.

Admission is free, but the purchase of a $10 wristband buys unlimited entry to a bounce house, a slice of pizza, a drink, a snow cone and cotton candy.

Bailey, who was named ambassador in May, said he plans to attend the daylong event beginning at 9 a.m.

Bailey said he has been on a crash course to learn more about the nation's and the state's refugee population. Some 50,000 refugees have resettled in Utah since the end of the Vietnam War.

But there are tens of millions of refugees worldwide, so to be resettled in the United States, Bailey said, "it's like they hit the jackpot."

Most refugees in Utah live in Salt Lake County, yet Bailey said most Utahns are likely unfamiliar with the population.

There are many opportunities for volunteers to help refugees resettle in the Beehive State, he said.

"I encourage them to get involved. Utah is probably the best volunteer state there is. There's a lot we can do as a community to make these refugee families feel this is their home," Bailey said.

Herbert, a sixth-generation Utahn, said refugees are among the state's newest pioneers.

Utah's Mormon settlers came to the desert state because they were escaping religious persecution, he explained.

"We made Utah literally blossom as a rose. I see the same with you folks," Herbert said.