World Refugee Day 2024: A Celebration of Community and Belonging!

On June 16th, 2024, Soft Landing Missoula hosted our favorite annual event- a celebration of World Refugee Day. For Soft Landing, this celebration is a way for us to say “Thank you” to the incredible community of refugees and immigrants that we get to work along-side each day. It is a way to show our gratitude and express our love for our new neighbors. We do this the ole’ fashioned way- though sport, amazing food, music and dancing, and of course gathering in conversation around shared tables. Each year, this joyous party has grown in size and festiveness as the refugee and immigrant community in Missoula has grown and it was a blast to celebrate with around 450 people this year!

With more players than we have ever had, the day kicked off with a friendly 7 vs 7 round-robin style soccer tournament that set the tone for the festivities. The teams are made up of whoever shows up and become a mix of nationalities, ages, skill, and friends new and old. It is wonderful to witness folks from all over the globe work together on the field- often for the first time and through multiple languages- emerge from the experience laughing, clasping hands, and asking when the next time they can play together will be. Congratulations to the champion Blue Team who proudly showed off their medals during dinner, mingling with the rest of the party-goers.

United We Eat” once again proved to be a culinary delight, offering an array of delicious and beautiful dishes prepared by talented refugee chefs and our kitchen staff. Their hard work and passion were evident in every bite, and attendees raved about the flavors and aromas that filled the air. It is no small feat to feed 450 people and every dish was a testament to the rich culinary traditions our refugee community brings to Missoula. And yes, we had lots of yummy treats and ice cream as well (Thanks Big Dipper!).

Adding to the festive spirit, Djebe Bara Community Dance and Drum brought together the crowd in their energetic live performance. Their rhythms and melodies, stemming from West African dance traditions, are driven by an infectious beat that had everyone swaying and dancing along. Djebe Bara has played each year we have hosted this party and is always a highlight of the evening that gets everyone up and moving- even with really full bellies! With both live and recorded music playing through the evening, we love watching folks across many cultural backgrounds dancing along together and sharing their own versions of dance, regardless of the origins of the music.

Along with the main activities, our youth team knocked it out of the park with fun experiences for the kids and adults alike! The balloon artist and face painting were once again a big hit and who doesn’t love giggling kiddos with bubbles and a little sidewalk chalk art?! It was also lovely to be joined again by representatives from the City of Missoula, interacting with folks at the event and sharing the many ways that our city is involved in and committed to welcoming refugees and immigrants.

It, of course, takes more than just our Soft Landing staff to pull off an event of this size. We are so full of gratitude for all of the volunteers that helped with every aspect of this celebration- on the soccer field, in the kitchen and food line, at the welcome table, helping set-up, helping clean-up, and on and on… While this event isn’t advertised or fully open to the public due to the size, we love being able to invite volunteers to share this day with us and see the huge impact they have. Special thanks as well to our sponsors: Clearwater Credit Union, Good Food Store, Jiffy Lube, and other generous supporters from the Missoula community. 

As we reflect on World Refugee Day 2024, we extend our heartfelt thanks to everyone and every family who joined us. This event not only acknowledges the many contributions of refugees and immigrants, but also reminds us of the strength and beauty that diversity brings to our lives. From the warm smiles at the welcome booth to the engaging activities and lively conversations, it was clear that this day was about more than just a celebration—it was about building connections and fostering a sense of belonging.

World Refugee Day at the Fort Missoula Pavillion

The Economic Impact of Refugees and Asylees

At Soft Landing Missoula, we recognize the many ways in which refugees and asylees contribute to our communities.

As Missoula families work and play alongside our new neighbors, we experience first-hand the benefits of a more diverse community. By sharing the richness of cultural practices and traditions, teaching us about experiences that create resilience and strength, and showing us a window to the increasingly global world we all live in, refugees and immigrants offer an essential perspective on what it means to be a good neighbor. This is especially important for a rural state like Montana. 

Economic Contributions of Refugees and Asylees

According to a recent study conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), refugees and asylees also provide significant economic benefit to our communities. This study reveals the remarkable contributions of refugees and asylees to the American economy and sheds light on the invaluable role these individuals play in shaping our nation’s economic landscape.

Refugees and asylees have not only contributed significantly to government revenues but have brought a fiscal benefit to both federal and state governments across the US. Over a 15-year period, refugees and asylees have made a substantial fiscal impact of nearly $124 billion, with approximately $92.3 billion benefiting state and local governments and $31.5 billion benefiting the federal government. These figures highlight the overwhelmingly positive influence refugees and asylees have on our economy.

This study also helps to debunk the misconceptions surrounding the economic burden often associated with refugee resettlement. Refugees and asylees have proven to be positive contributors, surpassing the cost of public services through their tax contributions. Over the 15-year period examined, their tax payments totaled a staggering $581 billion, far surpassing the $457.2 billion spent on government services. As Robin Dunn Marcos, HHS Deputy Assistant Secretary for Humanitarian Services, aptly stated, “We have witnessed for years the significant contributions that refugees and asylees provide to our communities and workplaces.” Indeed, the report serves as a testament to the resilience, entrepreneurial spirit, and economic dynamism of refugee and asylee populations.

Addressing Workforce Challenges in Montana

Economic impacts of refugees and immigrants can be especially significant in Montana where our aging population is leading to a decline in labor force participation. Montana is among the top 10 states in the nation with the highest percentage of residents 65 and older. The 2023 Montana State Plan on Aging underscores this rising percentage, highlighting the pressing need for solutions to sustain the workforce. Retirements have led to a decline in labor force participation, as noted in the 2023 Montana Labor Day Report, exacerbating workforce shortages. Refugee and asylee families, often young and dynamic, engage in bolstering the local economy. While they may not be the sole solution to this challenge, they certainly play an essential role in addressing the economic implications of Montana’s aging population. By actively participating in the workforce, they bring fresh energy and skills, offering a promising outlook for combatting the economic challenges presented by our state’s demographic shifts.

As we celebrate the profound positive impact that refugees and asylees bring to their new American home- economic and otherwise- we can see how important it is to foster inclusive communities where newcomers can thrive and contribute their talents. We are hopeful the insights from this new report can be a part of informing evidence-based decision-making and advancing policies that uphold America’s tradition of welcoming vulnerable families from around the globe. Together, we can continue creating a more inclusive and welcoming America for generations to come.