Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Bennion Center Service Corps

Bennion Center Service Corps has proved the most rewarding experience of college thus far.  Approached by a friend with an idea to begin a group that helps with service projects whenever needed, I was soon after approached by Linda with an idea to form a Service Corps that recruits volunteers for miscellaneous project ideas that come to the Bennion Center.
The purpose of the Corps is to recruit student volunteers who prefer to volunteer on a less consistent basis, and help with a wide variety of monthly projects.  The Service Corps has seemed to fill a need previously unfulfilled as non-profits and various individuals have requested for volunteers, and we have been able to recruit and deliver student volunteers to get projects done!  We have helped at The American Cancer Society Gala, KUED phone in donation night, The Road Home’s Chili Night, Salt Lake City Health Fair, and other non-profit events.  Additionally, we have really enjoyed generating our own projects and also helping individuals throughout the Salt Lake community in need of a paint job on their house, someone to visit, or a meal delivered to them. 

In October we had the amazing opportunity to provide volunteers to paint a woman named Alma’s house.  Alma is a mother of 6, a volunteer at schools in the Granite School District, and an advocate for higher education in her community.  When informed that she needed a stucco and paint job on her house, Beau (co-chair of the BCSC) arranged for a stucco job and recruited volunteers for painting.  We spent a Saturday painting Alma’s home, and were able to meet her and her family.  I saw how pleasantly surprised and relieved Alma was to have the job done.  Her happiness continues motivating me to seek out those in need and provide help for them; doing so doesn’t take much effort, and rewards me with substantial feelings of accomplishment and fulfillment.  This first semester has been full of many projects for the Service Corps.  

Taking a step back at each of these projects, I have seen volunteers, my peers, and those being served all in a state of extreme happiness.  These projects have provided an opportunity for the BCSC volunteers to connect with people from all areas, backgrounds, and non-profit organizations from the area.  I couldn't be more excited for the projects coming up this semester, and for the connections and friends I anticipate making in the process.
-Jessie Du Pre, BCSC co-chair

Monday, February 11, 2013

Soaring Eagles

Soaring Eagles is a volunteer program at Mountain View Elementary a title 1 school located on the west side of Salt Lake City.  I am the program director (PD) for this program. The Bennion center has a partnership with Mountain View and also works with a few other programs at this school. The purpose of this program is to help students stay on task, learn, and have a mentor outside of the traditional methods (other than a teacher) it gives them support through someone who is connected with the university on a more direct level. The student-volunteer relationship establishes a network for the student to feel more comfortable and be excited to learn and think about attending college, using resources, and being a support system for the students. 

Volunteers work with kids in k-5th grade and have the chance to be able to be able to do different kinds of volunteering which include In-Class Support, Supervision, Clerical, Homework Help, and Recess/Lunch Supervision. Volunteering at Mountain View provides many benefits to the community and personal growth. In my personal experience I have been able to connect with people I would not normally get to know if I was just going to school without my extra volunteer work. It is beneficial to the community by providing a service that is so important to the development of a child’s life. Being able to show a child that you want them to succeed in their schooling and afforded the educational opportunities that they should be able to take advantage of is an irreplaceable service. Current volunteers in my program have told me that they really enjoy working with these kids and they are going to continue their service for the second semester. It is also beneficial to be able to understand and work with a diverse group of people, and be able to relate to children and adults, as well as other college students who are interested in the same things as you are.

Sometimes it’s not easy feeling like you have made an impact on a child’s life , some days are better than others but it’s definitely worth it to be able to have one good impact instead of none at all. To be able to create the sort of bond and support in a child’s life is really important to their development and growth. Students volunteer at least 1 hour a week (sometimes more) for a least a semester (or from the time they start to the end of the semester) any time between 8am-6pm Mon-Fri.

Mountain View Elementary is a very diverse school that makes it unique, in addition to the soaring eagles program there is also a school garden where families of the kids that attend the school can learn how to grow their own food and prepare it, this is also a very important skill for children (and anyone) to learn to enhance their lives.

Being able to work so closely with children and community partners has really helped me to be able to understand people that come from all walks of life. As the year has progressed I have been able to learn so much from students at Mountain View, the bennion center, and staff and community partners. University students are welcome to bring their own creativity to the classroom or to provide feedback to teachers so that if there is a problem changes can be made and volunteers, teachers, and students can all feel like they are in a safe space.

I would highly recommend this program if you like working with kids, are interested in education and diversity, or are just looking for something different to try. 

- Kylie Farris, Soaring Eagles Program Director

Monday, February 4, 2013

Social Justice Gardens - Jackson Elementary

Top 10 best things about volunteering with Social Justice Gardens:
  1. Learning gardening skills (learning how to garden!)
  2. Interacting with families and community members
  3. Working with kids
  4. The joy and pride gained from planting something and watching it grow
  5. Being outside
  6. Tasting fresh garden vegetables
  7. Learning and doing something about food injustice 
  8. A sense of connection with the environment and community that surrounds you 
  9. Watering plants! 
  10. The opportunity to meet new people

Social Justice and Relationship Building through Food:
The Social Justice Gardens project has one major goal: to bring community members and schools together, through food. We work collaboratively with a team of parents, teachers, school administrators, and university/high school students to create community-classroom gardens. These gardens are acts of resistance, in which community members reclaim public land as a space for congregating, relationship building, and food production. They are educational; teachers, university and high school students use these gardens to learn about nutrition, environmental justice, math, and earth science. And, they are spaces made by the community for the community. We are lucky to have partnerships with a number of organizations including the Bennion Center, Wasatch Community Gardens, the Mestizo Arts and Activism Collective, and Adelante. However, we do not see our work as service. Our work is part of the struggle for historically marginalized communities to gain access and opportunity for a higher education, healthy food, and beautiful neighborhoods. We participate in this multifaceted/multi-faced work in a small way by providing space, supplies, and support for horticulture at Jackson Elementary and Mountain View Elementary.

Why I volunteer:
   Volunteering in any context offers a slew benefits to those not only receiving the help, but for the volunteer themselves. Any person who has participated in volunteer work as extensive as projects through the Bennion Center or as small as offering to care for a neighbor’s yard while they’re away knows how extensive the effects of volunteer work truly can be. Though I know I’m guaranteed the warm feelings of helping out a person or project, the volunteer experience is more far reaching than one could ever attempt to predict.
   I volunteer because I never know just what I’m getting myself into. At the garden, the Co-Directors and their volunteers meet with people of all backgrounds, all ages, and even a diverse range of their own intentions for the gardens. The Bennion Center crew encounter obstacles and triumphs perpetually. This kind of collaboration is rewarding and fulfilling, and I couldn’t think of a better way to get that thrill from working with people than while helping out a great program.
 - Dyana, volunteer

A Day in the Life of a Volunteer:
   My day at the garden starts early: 9 o’clock, a daunting time for the night owl that I am.  To my surprise, I love volunteering and gardening in the early morning.  The early sun’s warmth, the earthly smell of homegrown vegetables, and the realization that my day has started with a purpose usually leave me with an indescribable feeling that lasts throughout and brightens my day.
   A volunteer at the Cougar garden encounters lots of quirky tasks -one task being tomato harvesting.  It is challenging to harvest tomatoes in the garden without consulting our resident “tomato-whisperer” Sena.  A master, Sena will show you the tricks to finding and harvesting elusive small cherry tomatoes.  When there is nothing left to harvest, everyone engages in mini tug-of-wars with the plants as we winterize the garden by uprooting the wilting crops.  Squashes are the worst with their vines, strong and prickly, deeply rooted within the soil.
   Of course, the day is not complete without the most important part of the garden: the families of Jackson Elementary.   Volunteering in the morning, I get to meet and talk to many parent gardeners.  Learning more about the community I am serving and knowing that I contribute to the garden’s overall impact are also rewarding aspects of my day.