By Patty Guerra

TURLOCK — It’s pretty simple to dislike an entire group of people — an ethniticy, an age group, a religion. It’s harder to hold a grudge against Bob, the guy you’ve just met.

That’s the thinking behind a World Refugee Day celebration, set for today at Monte Vista Chapel.

“It’s really about spreading awareness, and getting the opportunity to meet people,” said Brittney Boone, volunteer coordinator for World Relief Modesto, which is sponsoring the event. “It will give people the opportunity to see that we’re all the same, we all struggle with the same things, and we’re all in this together.”

Families are invited to bring picnic lunches to the event, which will offer children’s activities, dessert and drinks as a background to messages organizers hope to deliver.

Among those messages is the distinction between refugees and immigrants.

“There’s such a stigma to immigration,” Boone said. “Refugees are people who were persecuted in their homeland, as opposed to those who came to this country for economic opportunity or something.”

Stanislaus County is home to the country’s third-largest Iraqi refugee population, according to World Relief. Other refugees living here came from Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and the former Soviet Union.

Speakers today will include author and Cambodian refugee Peter Sareth Pen, Modesto Police Chief Mike Harden and Lindsey Bird, a teacher at Davis High School who works closely with refugees and immigrants.

Bird will bring a student who came to Stanislaus County from Iraq, and who now is fluent in English and is taking advanced placement classes.

Other organizations will be on hand, and cultural music and dance performances are planned.

Boone said she hopes attendees will learn the value refugees bring to the community as well as the opportunities to help those who have left dangerous homelands.

“It’s not just a problem on TV,” she said. “These people are in our community and they want to be friends.”

The World Refugee Day celebration will be from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. today at Monte Vista Chapel, 1619 E. Monte Vista Ave., Turlock. For more information, visit or call (209) 491-2712.

Bee staff writer Patty Guerra can be reached at or (209) 578-2343.