BY NATHAN DEAL, The Daily Sentinel, May 04, 2022
PHOTOS BY MCKENZIE LANGE
Grand Junction's name is derived from the junction of the Colorado and Gunnison rivers, but this past weekend, the city's name meant something else entirely.
The International Festival hosted by Canyon View Vineyard Church on Saturday was a showcase of how the region also serves as a grand junction of people from various countries and cultures all over the world, coming together in the Grand Valley.
"What I hope people see is that we have so many amazing ethnicities and countries of origin in this community," said event organizer Theresa Bloom. "It's really about being open and inclusive and welcoming to people, and just enjoying that we live in a community with this much opportunity."
This was the inaugural International Festival held by the Grand Valley Resettlement Program (GVRP), an organization dedicated to helping migrant families find their footing in Mesa County. The program began as an effort to help a family of refugees from Afghanistan relocate here after the Taliban's takeover of the country late last summer.
The GVRP is an offshoot of Joint Development Associates (JDA) International, Bob Hedlund's organization that helped 1,500 people escape Afghanistan after the government's fall. JDA International is helping all of those families relocate to the United States, with 10 of those families coming to Grand Junction.
The first such family arrived in February. The other nine continue to wait in Abu Dhabi for the U.S. government to facilitate their move to America, but the first migrant family was in attendance at Saturday's festival, soaking in a celebration of diversity and being welcomed with open arms.
"I think it's very, very amazing to be able to see something that we just envisioned four months ago, now we have such a huge turnout here, many different cultures representing the Grand Valley, and just the support for Afghans coming in the future," Hedlund said. "We're really hoping by the end of August that we'll have all the families here."
The resettlement program announced the International Festival at the start of April, having only a month to throw together an event that could comprehensively demonstrate the Grand Valley's diversity and how culturally diverse the world truly is.
Volunteers reached out across the community for vendors, performers and displays. The end result surpassed what Bloom anticipated for the first International Festival. There were two Mexican food trucks, Armando Tacos and La Preferida. One tent was dedicated to information about Afghanistan; another featured Cuba. Grand Junction High School was heavily involved in the festival with two displays.
French teacher Jodee Cronk and some of her students made crepes at a table, accompanied by a poster board presentation loaded with information about France and other French-speaking nations such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Teacher Justin Whiteford and student-teacher Yogi Holshoe oversaw a tent featuring multiple elaborate poster board presentations with information about Israel, Palestine and their conflict, as well as the ways in which each nation's primary religions, Judaism and Islam respectively, are similar. The Migrant Education Program had a tent at the festival, providing information on resources available to migrant families where at least one family member works in agriculture.
The program, which describes itself as a "Harvest of Hope," receives surveys that School District 51 sends to parents of new students, asking if each family has moved within the past three years and if at least one family members works in the field of agriculture. Based on survey results, the Migrant Education Program reaches out to some families to supplement any student or family needs
"This program is there to help those families with anything that they may need," said Ruben Pacheco, the program's lead recruiter. "It's usually educational, but we're also there for referrals. We're very well-connected to the community, so if the family needs rental assistance, we go and find that for them."
Just inside the church, a silent auction was held, with items ranging from ski equipment to oils and vinegars to blankets to packages of miscellaneous candies. All proceeds went toward the GVRP.
Among the musical performers was Javier de los Santos, who serenaded the festival with a classical guitar performance. There was even a mobile food station courtesy of two kids too young to drive, in the form of a "food bike" serving charcuterie and hummus trays. Bloom singled out two individuals that she credits with helping to bring the festival to fruition by volunteering for the physical work needed to transform the church and its parking lot into an area for international celebration: Noah Frazier, a Navy veteran who is attending Colorado Mesa University to become an electrician, and Canyon View Vineyard Church Senior Pastor Cory Sondrol.
"This is a blessing. God is so, so good in bring people out and bringing help," Bloom said.
In front of the church entrance was a map of the world where attendees could place a pin to show where they were born. While most attendees hailed from the United States, the map illuminated just how many people ended up in the Grand Valley after being born seemingly a world away. Among the nations pinned only an hour into the festival were Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Cambodia, South Korea, Hungary, Northern Ireland, Peru, Mexico, Germany, Panama and Ascension Island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean between Brazil and Africa.
"I think it's a really exciting day and time to see the community come out," Bloom said. "We just really want to celebrate that we live in the most amazing and most loving community on the Western Slope, if not the state."