Thursday, March 12, 2015

Girl Scouts

Girl Scouts outreach aims to give girls from low income areas and opportunity to become a Girl Scout. Not only do they get to participate in a social program that they would have otherwise not had the opportunity to do, but they also learn STEM, finance, and leadership skills that will help them busy and out of trouble. The Girl Scouts Outreach program can really make a difference in the lives of many girls.
Volunteers also get to enjoy the fun activities that Girl Scouts offers. Volunteer troop leaders can take the girls on trips to the museum, go camping, have parties, or even go outside and play sports with them. It is a great feeling to watch the girls tell the volunteer how much they love coming to Girl Scouts. The enthusiasm that the Girls get when they organize and execute a plan is priceless. They learn how great it is to accomplish their goals. Girl Scouts really provides these girls with a chance to succeed.
The Girl Scouts Outreach program combines meaningful skills like, leadership, friendship, and many others with fun and rewarding activities. It allow the girls to learn while having fun. The program also brings out the best in all the girls. The quiet girls begin to speak up, the outgoing ones learn to give others a chance to express their opinions. It is an amazing program that leads Girls into success.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Environmental Action Team

The toasty autumn sun on your cheeks, the feel of soil as it crumbles in your fingers, the clean scent of fresh morning dew, lush green vegetation in a vast expanse, and the thumping of your heart after a long morning of volunteer work. It does not get more hands on than this.

Last October, volunteers from the Environmental Action Team worked on an urban farm located right on the outskirts of downtown Salt Lake City. This farm is part of a program called Real Food Rising, which is an initiative with Utahns Against Hunger. This initiative is aimed at providing sustainable agriculture and hunger relief for the community.  

The food that Real Food Rising grows gets donated to food pantries, sold at local farm stands, and some being sold to restaurants. As members of the Environmental Action team, our primary goal is to help improve the quality of our environment through service. In doing this, you will learn valuable new skills by participating in conservation and sustainability projects here
in Utah. Volunteering with Real Food Rising was a great opportunity for us to incorporate all of the goals of EAT into something both tangible and rewarding.

Being able to learn about sustainable agriculture and working hands on really made me feel the difference that we were making as a group, and it motivated many of us to want to be more involved and active with environmental sustainability. After a long morning of work, the volunteers from EAT weeded, cultivated, and sowed 1200 square feet of organic vegetable crops on the farm.

This is just a small taste of what we do at EAT, if you are interested in volunteering with us, please reach out to Kate at

Kate Zhao
Program Director
Environmental Action Team 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Teen's Night Out

Teen’s Night Out (TNO) serves the youth residents at The Road Home.  Along with

The Road Home’s mission we aim to “help people step out of homelessness and back

into our community”.  TNO contributes to this mission by providing weekly

activities for The Road Home’s youth.  Our activities focus on allowing homeless

teens to forget the hardships of being homeless, and focus more on being a teenager.

The teens we serve appear, and act like any other group of teenagers.  They

attend school, hate homework, play sports, and think they can drive a ten-passenger

van.  What makes them different are the dangers that surround them.  These

dangers come in the form of drugs, violence, hunger, oppression, discrimination, and

the elements.  These teens in their situational poverty are limited by homelessness,

and their environment blinds them from a brighter future.  TNO offers a glimpse to a

brighter, more secure future.  We allow them to see and experience things that

poverty would never allow them to see, and for a moment they overcome poverty.

At the moment they are still limited to what poverty can provide.  TNO

continues to provide that weekly glimpse into a brighter future.  We hope that the

teens experiences and interactions at TNO will be that moment where poverty

doesn’t exist for out teens.

If you're interested in volunteering with the Teen's Night Out program, or are looking for more information, check out our Volunteer Now tab on our website, 

Logan Prince
Program Director
Teen's Night Out, The Road Home 

Monday, October 27, 2014

Weekly Words from our Director: 10/27

Happy Halloween week! Here's a message from our awesome director, Dean. 

Good Morning!

Artist, actress, and all-around funny woman Lily Tomlin once quipped, "I always wondered why somebody didn't do something about that.  Then I realized I was somebody.” 
This semester, I have been blown away by the amazing students at the University of Utah who seem to instinctively know that they are indeed the "somebody" needed to do "something."  The Bennion Center continues to attract and educate a tremendous cadre of young people who are improving our communities, leading change, inspiring others, and making a big difference in people’s lives.
Last Tuesday, I got to participate in the Service House Dialogue where students Gina Ha, Oliver Anderson, and Taylor Stratford, facilitated a stimulating discussion on the role of art and artists in civic engagement.     They adeptly provided a well-researched introduction about how art has, is, and will continue to generate important social commentary and civic action.  The ensuing conversations touched on themes of art as a social connector,  the speed and breadth of art dissemination through new technologies, and the ways in which art mobilizes individuals to create social change and help people in need.
On Wednesday, student leaders Emily Garfield and Kyleigh Kinzie stepped up with poise and professionalism to rally support and enthusiasm for our Project Youth among the Salt Lake School District principals.  Next spring semester, these two dynamic student leaders will welcome more than 1,000 sixth graders from area Title I schools to the University of Utah to experience a small taste of college life at the .  Emily and Kyleigh will coordinate hundreds of college student volunteers to serve as "mentors for a day" and share their educational journeys while they lead campus tours and activities.  These young ladies have their work cut out for them, but after I witnessed them in action at the School District Building, I know the project is in good, capable hands.   They’ve already had an overwhelming response from principals!
On Friday and Saturday, the Bennion Center’s amazing Student Board hosted a Fall Retreat for interested volunteers which included fun team building, food, dancing, and an important garden service project.  I had fun getting to know more students in a townhall question and answer session.  The students prepared thoughtful and interesting questions that triggered winning conversations.  I look forward to working with these students to dream, design,and implement a great future for the Bennion Center.   

Each student, in her or his own way, embodies the Bennion Center mission to foster lifelong service and civic participation by engaging the University of Utah with the community in action, change, and learning.  And, each appears to have had the same epiphany as Lily Tomlin... that they are the "somebodies" here to make a difference.  

Have a terrific week!
Warm Regards,

Monday, October 6, 2014

Weekly Word from Our Director: 10/6

Here's this week's email and wisdom from Dean! We hope your week starts off wonderfully.
Happy Monday!

October already?  This autumn weather has just been spectacular, hasn't it?  Last Wednesday evening you might have noticed the sun shining brightly on the valley while a huge wall of ominous looking clouds hung over the Wasatch Range. Of course,Thursday morning the most lovely dusting of snow topped the highest peaks within view from Salt Lake City.  Impossible not to enjoy that against a bright blue autumn sky all day long on Thursday

I've been re-reading  Jim Collins 2005 book entitled "Good to Great."  If you've read it you know that the thesis of the book is quite simple-- organizations should exude greatness.  Collins believes that almost any particular organization can substantially improve its results and performance, perhaps even become great, if it conscientiously applies the frameworks that great organizations use. While of course becoming "great" is rarely as simple as following a script or a "how to" manual, the book does outline some of the things that Collins has found as common themes of great organizations.

Two of my favorite concepts are the “Flywheel” and “Doom Loop.”  These two ideas represent positive and negative momentum and might have some applicability to our work at the Bennion Center. As you may know, a flywheel is a heavy wheel used in machinery to store energy and then release it consistently over time. A flywheel takes a lot of energy to set it in motion - to do so usually requires constant, steady work, rather than a quick acceleration. Think of a wind-up toy. Our youngest son, Harrison, still loves them (and so do I).  It can take a lot of effort and patience to get them wound up properly, and there really is no shortcut, but all that energy is stored in the flywheel of the toy then it's all released for our enjoyment as the marvelous toy scrambles across the floor.  Usually cheap, toy flywheels exhaust their potential energy in seconds; but good strong industrial strength flywheels can continue for hours or days or weeks once they're wound up properly and can actually create their own energy.

Great organizations undergo transformations like this as well. There is most often no magic recipe or no spectacular moment when everything changed. Rather, with lots of steady and consistent work, the wind up occurs and slowly gets the great organization going faster and better. Once it’s in motion, all that stored energy tends to keep it moving in the right direction.

Conversely, Collins describes the “doom loop” as the vicious cycle that unsuccessful organizations fall into.  Often they find themselves rushing first in one direction, then another, in the hope of creating a sudden, sharp break with the past that will propel them to success.  A quick fix or "get-rich-quick" scheme.  Sort of like choosing a fad diet rather than a long term wellness strategy.  Some organizations attempt to do this through acquisitions, some move locations, others through bringing in new leaders or personnel who decide to change direction completely, often in a direction incompatible with the organizational mission or the vision created by its founders, stakeholders, and constituents. Collins argues that the results are rarely good over the long-term for organizations that follow the doom loop.

The difference between the two approaches is characterized by the slow, steady, methodical preparation inherent in the flywheel, as compared to abrupt, radical, and often revolutionary, rather than evolutionary, changes that can be tempting but often fatal.  I agree with Collins that greatness is first and foremost a process.  It is not a destination. No matter where we are (or where we think we are) on the good to great continuum, there is always room for continuous learning and improvement. 

Some food for thought as the Bennion Center continues its steady evolution toward greatness and into its 28th year as a shining star among university-based public service centers across the globe. 

Have a terrific week!

Warm Regards,

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Costa Rica Spring Course & Trip

The Bennion Center is known for its wonderful Alternative Breaks program; our program was actually honored with the Program of the Year award. (see this video for the interview our staff partner Kris Fenn and student board representative Nisha Kavalam talking with ABC 4 about it here)

One of the really awesome programs we offer is a course every spring and partnering spring break trip to COSTA RICA! This is a very unique opportunity to really put service learning into actual work, as well as traveling to a beautiful, wonderful country.

So about the course...
The political science course is offered every Spring Semester and is worth 3 credit hours. The course fulfills the international requirement and is service-learning (Community Engaged Learning) designated. The course is cross-listed at the graduate level. One third of participants are graduate students. We draw heavily from MPA, MPP, MIAGE, PRT programs, among others. The academic content of this course is an introduction to International Development and Aid theories. We explore practical solutions and alternatives to traditional development aid theories and subsequent challenges.

And then of course, the trip!
The spring break trip goes down to the Monteverde region of Costa Rica. This component involves immersion in village culture, community and service-learning.

 Students will learn from first hand experiences that highlight:
1. the role of women in development
2. fair trade agriculture
3. eco-tourism
4. sustainable development
5. conservation biology
6. cooperative business management
7. micro-enterprise
8. payment for environmental services

Applications for this course and trip are available now here. If you have questions, please feel free to contact Gina Russo at

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Weekly Words from Our Director: 9/29

As you may be aware, we've started off this year with a new director in the Bennion Center, Dean McGovern. The past few weeks, Dean has started off our Monday mornings with stories, poems, and other musings to get us ready for the week. As a way to get to know him a bit better, and to also keep your spirits up through the week, we wanted to share those emails with you! So here's a piece from what we got today. We're are so thrilled to have Dean in the BC, leading us and starting a new chapter. Enjoy!

Good Morning!

Last week I was privileged to attend the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Conference in Washington, DC.   A specific presentation caught my attention.  Dr. David Campbell, professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame, spoke about his co-authored book titled American Grace, which examines a powerful, and somewhat surprising, source of unity in civil society — religion.   

My recent move to the far more religiously diverse Salt Lake City from a relatively homogeneous Montana has had me thinking a lot about religion’s role in our civil society—where it unites and where it divides us.   For example, chronic and acute conflicts around the world often flare in the name of religion or religious differences. Families can spar over how members practice or do not practice their faiths.   Communities can sometimes segregate themselves and their activities by church affiliation. 

Conversely, data are showing that faith-based communities— churches, temples, synagogues, mosques, and others— account for the most common form of volunteerism.  In the U.S. more people volunteer on faith-based projects than any other type of service.   So, if our goal is to get more people, especially students, engaged with the issues in their communities we might take a lesson or two from the faith community.   But, don’t Catholics just volunteer with Catholics?  Isn’t it just Jews serving together with other Jews?  Mormons volunteering with Mormons?  Buddhists with Buddhists?  Muslims with Muslims? Evangelical Christians with other Evangelical Christians?  Is there a civic component to any of this in which we can show people coming together across faiths to serve and improve and advance their civic communities and not just their faith communities?   

According to Campbell and his colleague, Robert Putnam, the answer is YES, but more could be done.  While Americans hold intense beliefs and belong to many different faiths and denominations, data indicate that religion can work as a kind of “civic glue” that unites rather than divides the population.  The next question is WHY might religion have this effect?

The U.S. Constitution of course protects religious freedoms. But Campbell and Putnam say the answer lies with your Aunt Susan.  That is to say that most Americans seem to have someone in their family—an aunt, uncle, cousin, brother, etc… who in spite of the fact that he or she doesn’t practice the family’s traditional faith, still deserves a place in heaven.   We feel Aunt Susan is a wonderful person even though she doesn’t believe, pray, practice, or worship, the way we do.  Many of us also have dear friends who practice another faith or have no religious affiliation at all.  The rise in loving and successful interfaith marriages also contributes to the Aunt Susan theory.  All of the interfaith relationships that we have warm us to other faiths, beliefs, or non-beliefs, and solidify the potential for a civil society in a religiously diverse world.   

I think this type of work is teeming with possibility for the Bennion Center.   The conference highlighted interfaith community service and how it brings together different religious and non-religious backgrounds to tackle community challenges – for example, Protestants and Catholics, Hindus and Jews, and Muslims and non-believers -- building a Habitat for Humanity house together.  It shed light on  utilizing different faith traditions to thematically undergird projects (i.e., Golden Rule; My Brother’s Keeper; asking Big Questions).  Certainly, interfaith service can impact specific community challenges that we have in Salt Lake City, from homelessness to illiteracy to refugee integration to environmental degradation, while creating social capital and civic prosperity.  Please give some thought to how and where we might make this work in a welcoming, inviting, non-threatening, and non-proselytizing manner.  Let’s begin the conversation. 

Have a terrific week!

Warm Regards,