Luke Glaze, executive director of Salem for Refugees, speaks about the organization's goals in a donation room at the new Welcome Center at 1440 Broadway St. N.E. on Wednesday, March 23, 2022 (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

When Jules Lipanda came to Salem at 18, he was told he had six months to complete a high school diploma, despite not speaking a word of English. 

Lipanda, a Congolese refugee who had most recently lived in Mozambique, went to North Salem High School and got credit for his previous French-language coursework. He found commonalities with many of the school’s Latino students and ended up picking up Spanish more quickly than English. 

“My parents were like, ‘What are you doing?’” he laughed. But he earned his diploma, then a social services degree from Chemeketa Community College. 

Now 23, Lipanda is a case manager at Salem for Refugees, hired in mid-2021 as the organization became an independent nonprofit and refugee resettlement agency. 

He’s among the longest-tenured staff at the rapidly-growing organization. 

“If you’ve been here for seven months, you’re old now,” said executive director Luke Glaze, who started his job in June. (Disclosure: Glaze is also the landlord for Salem Reporter’s office.) 

As the organization sees a large influx of Afghani refugees and builds its operations, Glaze is turning to the Salem community for support to buy their own building, refurbish their former office space into a home for recently resettled families, and eventually build an apartment complex to house refugees. 

The “Welcome Home” campaign is seeking to raise $630,000 in the short-term to buy the building they’re currently leasing, with a second $1 million fundraising goal for a longer-term housing project down the road. 

Last week, the organization’s staff moved from an increasingly crowded house in the Grant neighborhood to 1440 Broadway St. N.E., the former temporary home of the Salem Public Library. 

Employees were settling into offices and donated furniture was piled high in the room that housed shelves of book holds awaiting pickup months ago. The entrance hallway, which used to house checkout desks and shelves of featured books, now serves as a “welcome center,” with couches for meetings and a small children’s play area. The west side of the building has a classroom for lessons refugees get when they arrive about U.S. culture and laws. 

Furniture donations piled high at Salem for Refugees' new office at 1440 Broadway St. N.E. on Wednesday, March 23, 2022 (Rachel Alexander/Salem Rpeorter)

A roll-up door and loading area will make it easier for people to deliver furniture and other large items new families often need when moving into their first apartment or home. 

“This is going to be a great space,” Glaze said. 

Salem for Refugees was established in 2016 with help from the Salem Leadership Foundation and Salem Alliance Church as Portland-based refugee resettlement agencies began placing families in Salem because of escalating housing costs in Portland. 

Until last summer, the group operated under the leadership foundation and didn’t have its own contracts with the federal government to resettle refugees. 

Since October, Salem for Refugees has resettled about 100 refugees, all Afghani. The agency expects to receive about 200 to 225 people though the end of the federal fiscal year on Sept. 30. 

Abdul Qader Safi, 25, is among the organization’s newer staff. He worked as a translator for U.S. forces in Afghanistan and arrived in Salem on a special immigrant visa early this year with his wife. Now, he’s working as a case aide and interpreter, speaking Dari and Pashto, the primary languages in Afghanistan, and helping newly-arrived refugees find work. 

“I like helping people,” he said. 

With Salem for Refugees staff now moved out of their old office, a four-bedroom home across the street, Glaze said the organization plans to transform that house into a short-term housing option for refugee families. 

The average family resettled in Salem has five people, but larger families are not uncommon. 

“Often we don’t have volunteers that have enough room for a family of nine,” Glaze said. 

Salem for Refugees case aide Abdul Qader Safi, right, and case worker Jules Lipanda, top right, eat lunch on the first day in the organization's new office on Wednesday, March 23, 2022 (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

The home will give those families a place to stay as housing workers help them find more permanent accommodations. 

Their longer-term plan is a nearby affordable housing building to be constructed on three adjacent lots owned by Salem Alliance, Glaze said. That could include 24 units, mostly larger two- and three-bedroom apartments designed for larger refugee families. 

“One bedroom is not ideal, studios are not ideal and that’s a lot of the inventory that’s coming out in Salem,” Glaze said. 

The location would keep housing available near the organization’s Welcome Center, and within easy reach of Waldo Middle School and North Salem High School, which host the district’s programs for refugee students. 

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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