On A Mission

How the Regis community is living Magis by helping asylum seekers from Venezuela

As they prepared to leave Venezuela for the United States last September, Angelo Nunez-Pulgar’s parents told him he would have to be very brave. They told the 10-year-old that there would be no electronic games for a while. They told him they were going on a long camping trip.

Technically, that was true. For four months, as the family walked through multiple countries, they would often be sleeping outside, on the ground, in the cold. Despite the hardships they knew lay ahead, Angelo’s parents Meilyn Pulgar Rivero and Alexander David Caridad Nuñez headed to the United States to escape turmoil and food shortages in their own country, and to provide Angelo a safer home and a better education.

The family narrowly avoided death every day as they traversed notorious jungles between Colombia and Panama, stayed alert for kidnappings and nearly froze riding a freight train through Mexico. They also encountered kindness from church groups in Mexico and from people in Costa Rica who offered money — each an act that sustained them through the treacherous trip.

After they made it to El Paso, Texas, Meilyn and Alexander worked odd jobs there just long enough to buy bus tickets to Denver. They did not know what awaited them in the Mile High City.

What they found was good fortune at Regis University.

Within hours of receiving a call from Denver Mayor Michael Hancock last January, Regis President Salvador Aceves, Ed.D., had mobilized the campus community. The result was a temporary shelter on the Northwest Denver Campus, dubbed the Regis Welcome Center.

So, when the Nuñez-Pulgar family — and nearly 50 other families, all of whom had made the same long journey from Venezuela — arrived at Regis’ Northwest Denver Campus, they found cots, blankets, a warm place to sleep and the help of faculty, staff and students, along with Spanish-speakers who could translate for them. They also found heartfelt encouragement from one Regis staff member.

Twenty three years ago, Ludy Yevara immigrated to the United States from Venezuela. Now project management director in Regis’ marketing and communications department, Yevara made sure she was at the Welcome Center when the families arrived.

“I wanted to be the first face that they saw… also because for me, it was very emotional. It was fulfilling because they are people from Venezuela,” she said.

As she greeted them that first day, she told them, in Spanish, “You're okay, you're safe, you're welcome. Just relax during the time that you're here.”

Inside the Welcome Center families slept side-by-side on the cots, using blankets and pillows donated to the shelter just hours before by community members. After just a few days, the donations of clothes and blankets piled so high that Regis began offering them to other shelters temporarily housing families in the city.

A small child sleeps peacefully among blankets and pillows at the Regis Welcome Center.
The Regis Welcome Center gave families a safe, warm place to rest after the long journey from Venezuela. Photo: Skip Stewart

The donation room was also lined with tables of food for the families, from oatmeal to fruit and vegetables. To keep warm in the January weather, families bundled up in donated coats and sweatshirts. In each room, toys, coloring books and games were strewn about, keeping children busy as their parents went about the about the hard work of establishing new lives. The parents also met with an immigration attorney – the spouse of a Regis faculty member who donated her time – and Denver officials.

While federal immigration policy is in almost constant flux, the Department of Homeland Security has granted Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to asylum seekers from Venezuela through March 10, 2024. Under TPS, Venezuelans who qualify cannot be deported or detained and may be able to obtain employment authorization.

For a week, the families rested at the Welcome Center and stocked up on donated supplies, before some left for destinations across the United States and Canada. The Nuñez-Pulgar family, however, felt welcome in Denver, and began working to make a new life and home here.


As a bus filled with families leaving the Welcome Center prepared to depart, Ludy Yevara stood in front of the temporary shelter, waving to guests and wishing them well. She had been working with the families all week, helping them connect with resources, including housing and transportation to new destinations. Though she had only known them for a week, the families were close to her heart.

Yevara had helped Venezuelan families even before the Welcome Center opened at Regis, volunteering at temporary shelters set up for asylum seekers across Denver.

Between December 2022 and the end of February, more than 5,000 migrants, many from Venezuela, arrived in Denver, according to city data. The week Regis housed Venezuelan families, the city counted 1,848 migrants. Thousands more have arrived in the city since.

The Nuñez-Pulgar family and Ludy Yevara sit at a table in an apartment playing Monopoly, laughing and enjoying snacks.
Regis staff member Ludy Yevara kept in touch with the Nuñez-Pulgar family, even joining them for a game of Monopoly at their new apartment. Photo: Barry “Bear” Gutierrez

City officials have said there may be several reasons why so many have come to Denver, including connections between aid agencies in El Paso and Denver. In December, Evan Dreyer, Mayor Hancock’s deputy chief of staff, told reporters there is no evidence of “anything that was organized by another government entity to direct people specifically to Denver.” He said some of those staying at a city-run emergency shelter told workers they organized on social media to come to Denver.

Regardless of whatever brought them to Denver, the families were part of a massive wave of people who have fled Venezuela in the past several years. Venezuela, which sits atop the richest oil reserves in the world, once was one of South America’s wealthiest nations. However, corruption, the country’s increasingly authoritarian government and other factors have ignited the violence and turmoil that has brought the country to the brink of social and economic collapse. As a result, millions have become refugees in neighboring South American countries and in the United States.

Yevara said she views helping families as an extension of Regis’ Jesuit values and that she was proud of the way the University community pulled resources together quickly to help. But she knew the assistance work was far from complete. The path ahead will be a long one, Yevara said, as families prepare to integrate into American society.

As she waved goodbye to the people on the bus in January, she resolved to stay in touch with the families. She did, and kept updated on their victories and setbacks, all the while offering them the same support and messages of welcome.

“This is something that we do because we want to do more, because this is Magis,” Yevara said.



When Regis opened its doors to asylum seekers, freshman Metzy Morales Jurado didn’t hesitate to help. Morales Jurado, who is fluent in Spanish, knew she could put her translation skills to use.

It didn’t take long for her role to evolve. On her first day at the welcome center, Morales Jurado translated for a family whose 1-year-old boy had been battling pneumonia since he and his family arrived in Mexico. “It was heartbreaking because he was so little,” Morales Jurado said.

Morales Jurado accompanied the family to Children’s Hospital Colorado, where she bridged the language gap between the child’s parents and his doctors. Doctors prescribed antibiotics and sent the boy back with his parents to the shelter to recover.

Morales Jurado, a neuroscience major at Regis, plans to become a pediatric neurologist, treating children who have nervous system conditions. Helping at the shelter reinforced her desire to care for children. Morales Jurado has received the Magis and First Scholars scholarships, administered by Regis, as well as three external scholarships.

“I like to help people and just knowing that I couldn't do anything for him at the moment was hard,” Morales Jurado said. “But then knowing that there were other medical professionals out there who have the capabilities of helping, and seeing that care that he was given, really just reinforced my idea of wanting to go into pediatrics and helping future children.”

A small boy sits on the floor enjoying crayons and a coloring book among cots at the Regis Welcome Center.
For many of the children who stayed there, the Regis Welcome Center provided the first opportunity in weeks to relax, play or read. Photo: Skip Stewart

When Morales Jurado enrolled at Regis, she sought out groups that highlight Latino heritage, including SOMOS Regis — or We Are Regis — which celebrates Latino culture and supports Latino students. Morales Jurado learned about the volunteering opportunity through SOMOS Regis.

Morales Jurado, whose parents came to the United States from Mexico, said she knows first-hand the struggles that many families face when they leave their home countries. The experience helping the families will stay with her, she said.

“Regardless of the situation that they were going through, you would always see them with a smile on their face,” Morales Jurado said. “And that honestly was such a beautiful thing to see.”

Since families began arriving in the United States, other Regis students have answered the call to help.

For Regis junior Eric Novelo, a neuroscience and philosophy double major who volunteered at the shelter, it felt important to document the stories of the Regis guests. As he visited the shelter, he recorded interviews with families. He wanted their stories heard beyond the walls of the Regis Welcome Center.

“People are currently migrating through multiple countries because of economic instability,” he said. “And that that is not something that we should be ignorant about. But also, it’s something that we could so easily be experiencing, as well.”

For Novelo, capturing interviews on video means preserving stories that may change perspectives.

Regis educators have made helping the families a priority both inside and outside the classroom. Jason Taylor, director of First Year Experience at Regis, said three students enrolled in the University’s En/Route program have assisted families with translation at the West Colfax Lampstand, a housing nonprofit where some Venezuelan families have been staying.

Taylor, who helped at the shelter, said the efforts have allowed students to make a difference in an immediate way. En/Route, an optional class that has been available to first-year students for a decade, sends students into nonprofits to assist. Students take their experiences back to the classroom to reflect on them.

“It's a really interesting experience because they're being super helpful in very tangible and immediate ways, which feels good,” Taylor said. “It's a learning space for students and ideally what the students are doing is bringing that experience back into the classroom.”


When Regis alumni Chad and Shantelle Mulliniks tore down their former home in Denver’s West Colfax neighborhood more than a year ago, they replaced it with a 20-unit apartment complex. Their goal: Offer affordable housing to low-income families in the community, specifically those with children, who have been displaced by skyrocketing housing costs.

Nearly 10 years before opening the apartment complex, the couple had moved out of their former home and built townhomes they envisioned would become a community that highlights Christian values. As families moved into the townhomes, they saw the need for more affordable housing in their neighborhood. Working with neighborhood schools and local organizations, their nonprofit, West Colfax Lampstand, built relationships to help families get into stable housing via the new apartments. Soon, West Colfax families began calling the Lampstand apartment complex home.

Shantelle and Chad Mulliniks portrait
Regis alumni Shantelle and Chad Mulliniks believe helping families “makes us better as humans.” Photo: Barry “Bear” Gutierrez

“We have a family focus, specifically trying to get elementary-age kids into the local schools,” Shantelle Mulliniks said.

Over the next year, the apartment complex opened its doors to another population in need: refugees and asylum seekers. In addition to serving families from the community, the couple worked closely with the African Community Center in Denver to welcome refugees from Afghanistan who fled the country after the war ended in 2021. The complex housed three Afghan families as they searched for jobs and enrolled their children in school.

“We got to experience that program of onboarding some refugees into the community,” Shantelle Mulliniks said. That meant “getting them help with doing job applications, IDs, getting kids in school.” After staying at Lampstand, each family moved into permanent housing.

Soon, the couple, who both graduated from Regis in 2003, wanted to help the flood of people coming to Denver from Venezuela. They contacted a friend, Regis College Academic Program Coordinator Quinn Waller. The Lampstand opened its doors to a total of five Venezuelan families, including two who previously stayed at Regis.

Helping the families makes the crisis that brought them here feel close to home, Shantelle Mulliniks said. “I think it makes us better as humans,” she said. “This isn't an issue happening at the border, happening somewhere else. It’s not a political thing. It's our neighbors, who we know, and we see their kids, and we walk up to school together.”

The couple quickly learned that each population has different needs. Unlike refugees from Afghanistan, who arrived at the Lampstand via national programs and who each received six months of free housing, the asylum seekers from Venezuela got no such support. Shantelle Mulliniks said the nonprofit is providing three free months of housing to the families and is seeking donations to provide an additional three months.

“The goal is to give them a period of time to stabilize and be able to get jobs,” she said. “The other part is connecting to wraparound services. So, making sure they're connected to all the things that they need,” including immigration legal services, doctor’s appointments, transportation and school.

For all the populations the Lampstand serves, the need for housing remains as pressing as ever. As of this spring, the Lampstand was at capacity. The couple said they could use support in the form of donations to the Housing Assistance Fund to give an additional three months of housing to the families and volunteers who may be able to assist with transportation to appointments.

For Chad and Shantelle, helping families in need reflects values prominent during their time at Regis. The family remains connected with other Regis alumni who live the Jesuit mission.

“It’s really cool to think that there's the central thing that binds us, and we see…Regis as a place where there is value being created,” Chad Mulliniks said. “Some of the most important people and relationships that we built came out of Regis and continue to be relationships that we have.”


In February, just two months after crossing into the United States, the Nuñez-Pulgar family was settling into a space at the West Colfax Lampstand. With the help of translators, the family soon began the work of building a new life in Denver.

For months, the Nuñez-Pulgar family’s goal was simply to get to the United States. Then, they thought they might keep moving throughout the country. But after they had a chance to catch their breath in Denver, they found themselves surrounded by a community so welcoming that they decided to stay. In January, the family had a new goal: to get into a warm, safe house and make sure their son was safe.

Angelo Nuñez-Pulgar portrait
Creating a better life for their son, Angelo, is a big part of what drove the Nuñez-Pulgar family to leave Venezuela for the United States. Photo: Barry “Bear” Gutierrez

By February, they had achieved that and more. They had a safe place to stay. Alexander found a job in construction. Meilyn volunteered in the community. They enrolled Angelo in the fourth grade, where he soon began making friends. His class is 50 percent Spanish-speaking and 50 percent English-speaking. Before he started school, Angelo met another Venezuelan boy in his class and had a chance to meet his other classmates.

His love of electronics continues: Angelo’s goal is to one day work with computers, and he already has his sights set on a university — Regis.

“The beginning was very hard because of the situation. We didn't have a job,” Meilyn said as Yevara translated. “But we were always grateful because we have a house and also food.” Things got even better once they moved into the Lampstand.

“And thanks to Chad and Shantelle,” Meilyn said. “We are very grateful because we don't need anything at this point.”

The family still has a long path ahead as they seek stability. But the past few months have been a chance to find peace. Meilyn still often thinks about family she left behind in Venezuela, as well as the people she met on her travels to the United States. In Venezeula, Meilyn worked as a dental assistant; now her goal is to become a dentist, and to offer the same support her family received.

“When I'm able to have a job, I (would) like to support my family,” she said. “I met so many people in my path…I know that these people need help. So, somehow, I need to find a way to help them.”