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,

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Student Leader Positions Available!

Are interested in getting more involved with the Bennion Center? Do you need some leadership experience? 

Bennion Center Student Board, 2014-15
We still have several student leader positions open for this 2014-2015 school year! The Bennion Center would be nothing without service-minded, engaged students like you driving our mission forward. One of the things that sets the BC apart from other community service centers on campuses across the nation is the fact that we are a student-run organization. We are extremely lucky to have the talented, diverse, supportive staff as our scaffolding in the BC, but the bulk of leadership is through students. So, if you want a bit more of your college experience, apply for one of these positions today!

Listed below are the positions we still are looking to fill and a brief description of what the position entails. Feel free to hop over to our website, for more information, or reach out to us on Facebook, Twitter, or comment hear, and we'll get you the information you need! 

Education and Advocacy:

Bud Bailey Apartment Community Tutoring (Program Director position) 
  • Recruit students to participate in this program
  • Act as the leader to assist in organizing tutoring activities
  • Attend weekly tutoring sessions
  • Assist in evaluating the efficacy of the program and track participation
  • Coordinate with Services Coordinator to ensure appropriate and successful engagement with participant
SOARE  (Program Director position)
  • Meet with Mountain View teachers to assess needs and plan
  • Use or make contacts on campus willing to host field trips
  • Coordinate hosts and Mountain View
  • Report success to Bennion Center
  • Manage volunteers
  • Act as chaperone on field trips

Health and Ability: 

Meals on Wheels (Program Director position)
  • Coordinate and schedule volunteers to deliver meals.
  • Ensure that meals are delivered in a timely manner.
  • Plan for back-up volunteers in the event that a volunteer cannot make it to his/her assigned day.
  • Meals will be delivered to the Bennion Center by 10:00am Monday-Friday. Volunteers have until 2:00pm to deliver 8-10 meals to homes located near the University of Utah Campus. The Student Program Director is expected to serve as a volunteer within the program.
VA Nursing Home (Program Director position)
  • Volunteer at least once a week for two hours.
  • Schedule volunteers to fill time slots (at least 2 hours/day).
  • Recruit/maintain an email list of all volunteering UofU (BC) students.
  • Plan at least one volunteer project for the Activities Department.
  • Act in a professional and respectful manner.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Back-Farms Program with Green Urban Lunchbox

We’re spotlighting our Back-Farms program with Green Urban Lunchbox, which is a program where we pair up volunteers with low income senior citizens that have the room for a garden. Volunteers learn new gardening techniques every week as well as getting to take home a third of the harvest! In all of the programs with Green Urban Lunchbox, the remaining harvest is taken to food banks around the city.
The program had 30 volunteers that rendered a collective 90 hours of service this past June. 16 gardens were maintained, and from those gardens, 200 pounds of cherries were donated to Meals on Wheels, and 400 apricots were harvested and donated! Program Director Courtney Dean reflected on the service:
“In June we harvested pounds and pounds of cherries. Most of the grade A fruit went to Meals on Wheels who delivers meals to seniors all around our city. The seniors were more than ecstatic about receiving the fresh fruit! The Green Urban Lunchbox was featured in the Salt Lake Tribune for making a contribution to senior's lives by simple providing fresh fruit for their enjoyment. Many of whom had not had fresh fruit, especially cherries in quite some time. Providing something as simple as fruit, which I buy weekly for myself, to someone who doesn't have the financial privilege to buy such things is an amazing feeling. People simply don't have access to health food, even if they wanted to live a healthier life style it cannot always be incorporated into their daily lives. Seniors have a set budget without much room for wiggle, providing them with something that is a standard for living should be a goal of every community.”

For more information on the program, check out their website here, and if you're interested in volunteering with the program, check out the link here to sign up with us at the Bennion Center! 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Welcome, 2014-2015!

Welcome back to another great year, Utes!

Here in the Bennion Center we're SO excited to get going and give you all the resources and information you need to be an engaged citizen in your communities. We have tons of awesome events to start off the year, first off which is the Service Social tonight, August 27th, at the Officers' Gazebo in housing. Here's a little video we prepared with Adobe Voice to give you an idea of what's in store!

Be on the lookout for events, updates, and information from us through our various social media sites!

You can find us on...

  • Twitter: @bennioncenter
  • Facebook:
  • Instagram: @bennioncenter
  • Our blog:
  • Our website:
  • In the Union, Room 101! We have super comfy couches and tea. 
We're here to help you, and get you everything you could possibly need to be an active and prepared volunteer. Please feel free to always stop by with questions and inquires, or hit us up on social media. We'll get you what you need as soon as possible. 

Finally, THANK YOU for being awesome, and giving your time to service. Being in college is demanding, so it's incredible to have so many of you busy, engaged students part of such great efforts! 

Friday, February 28, 2014

Alumni Fellowship

The Bennion Center/Alumni Fellowship. This was one of the best experiences of my entire life. 

I got to choose where to go, anywhere I wanted and I chose Arcata, California. I got my inspiration to go here from two things: 
1. Alternative Spring Break
2. My friend who lived there for a while said, "I think you would like it here."
After these two events occurred, I researched more into the city and the organization, Friends of the Dunes. 
After the application and interview, I was excited to hear that I was being offered the fellowship, I began prepping to move for the summer.
Due to a family emergency, I had to leave just a few days after school ended and head to the Sacramento Valley, where I spent about a week. From there, I headed up to Arcata. I had previously made housing arrangements through Craigslist, Skyping them to make sure they wanted to live with me and I with them. So when I arrived, I kind of knew what to expect, but I was still extremely nervous. My new roommates greeted me with warm, open hearts.
A couple days later, I started my new position. Everyone at Friend of the Dunes was so thankful I was there and I was so thankful to be there. I worked Tuesday-Saturday, usually 40-45 hours a week. I did everything from entering contact lists to planning events to restoration. On one of the first days I was there, we had to close the nature center because of a downed cable line, but thankfully a co-worker and I found a great alternative thing to do that day, we saw the Kinetic Sculpture Race, which included gems like this:  
I helped plan Ocean Day, this is where 900+ elementary school kids came out and did restoration for half the day, did a beach clean up, then were assembled to get into formation that looked like a squid from a bird's-eye view.  
Another thing I got to do was lead weekly restoration projects, where a group of people from the community would come in and help remove invasive species for a few hours a day. It was so great to go out and do this with people who knew how important it is to keep our dunes free of invasives and were willing to commit to our environment.
Yet another exciting day in the life of my summer, I got to help save a sea bird that was tangled in fishing line with a buoy stuck in its breast.
I loved my job so much, being out in nature every single day was amazing, I could not have asked for anything more. I learned so many things this summer and was adopted into a loving new culture and was embraced by the redwood forest around me.
There is no way to fully express my experience with Friends of the Dunes, but I urge you to apply for this Fellowship because it changed my life and it may change yours as well!

More information and application available online.

P.S. I got to lick this slug, too.

-Allison Weichmann

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Top Five Reasons to Volunteer with Project Youth

It’s an incredible cause: Here you are, a University of Utah student surrounded by the best in higher education. You’re here for a purpose: to increase your skills, opportunities, and relationships for a brighter future. Project Youth exists for the same purpose, with the added importance of making the future brighter for kids who may not have considered college. Their future starts with you.

It’s an ego boost: Think back to when you were in sixth grade. Didn’t you feel like the coolest chump in the school? You also probably had a hero that you would have given anything to meet. You can be that hero for these kids, even for just one day. From the moment they set foot on the U campus, you are their mentor, and they will adore you.

It’s schedule friendly: As a college kid, you are juggling theoretical calculus, a lawn-mowing job, snarky roommates, car trouble and a dozen other demands, not to mention a social life. With Project Youth, you can still get the satisfaction of volunteering without the stress of a long-term and potentially draining commitment. Only have a few hours? Come to orientation and then the day of. Want to be a little more involved? Contact the Bennion Center for opportunities to help with planning and school outreach. Be warned: if you’re like me, you’ll love it enough to stay involved for your entire college experience.

It’s a resume builder, but not just a resume builder: No employer likes it when they can tell an applicant has simply tried to pad their resume for length’s sake. But with Project Youth, you can participate in something that not only shows your generosity and involvement, but actually helps develop transferable skills like organizational leadership and public speaking. Kudos to you, kid.

It’s all about the love: Know from day one that our visiting elementary students will love you. However, you just might find romance, too. Two years ago, two colleagues of mine from a student group met at Project Youth; they are now only a few weeks from getting married and as giddy as Opus penguin learning to fly. It’s happened before, and maybe it could happen to you too, but either way, you’ll come out of this volunteer experience with a handful of burgeoning friendships.

-Megan Gessel Brewster, Project Youth 2013 Co-Director