Partners in the Park helps build west-side relations

Sometimes creating community can be as easy as sharing pizza.

On Tuesday, the U Alumni Association served dinner and bingo to more than 100 west-side residents in Poplar Grove Park (1200 West 800 South).

The event is part of the U’s efforts to connect the state’s flagship university and Salt Lake City’s west side.

Mata Tukuafu, an employee of Sorenson Multicultural Center, which co-sponsored the event, said casual events like these are successful at building bridges. “It’s things like this that actually bring kids out and get family involvement. It’s a really great opportunity for the west-side community to interact with the U.”

Tukuafu, who grew up and has family on the west side, hopes other children from the area will have the chance to go to college as she did. She attributes part of her success to the athletic scholarship that brought her to the U. Tukuafu said she was lucky. “[West-side kids] think about the future, but it’s not given to them. If you don’t have good networks, chances aren’t as great to go to college.”

Javier Barraza, a west-side resident and native of Mexico, also enjoyed the event. Barraza is a volunteer soccer coach with the Sorenson Center. Several of his players also attended the dinner.

Coaching has helped Barraza instill important values into his team. He emphasizes cooperation rather than competition on the field-teaching the kids to see each other as peers and not enemies. He tells his players, “If you are all friends, you’ll find more friends [in other places] in your life.” Coaching and being involved in the community has also made Barraza happier-it can be a bright side to some of the harder challenges he faces in his day-to-day life.

Both the Sorenson Center and UNP provided tables with literature on these types of sports classes and activities, as well as brochures and handouts to help parents get involved and plan for their children’s education. Most of the evening’s activities were presented in both Spanish and English.

However, the face painting, free pizza dinner, and bingo games seemed to be the highlights of the evening.

The Alumni Association’s Terri Winkler painted colorful butterflies, snakes and monsters on many of the younger children’s faces.

A tae kwan do class from the center performed as older youth played volleyball and basketball. People in their cars slowed down to watch kids try to kick their way through a block of wood.

Marcie Bunker, assistant director of the evening’s activities, said events like Partners in the Park help people at the U open their eyes. “It brings us into the community more. We’re so isolated at the U, we don’t realize how much is out there.”

Every Tuesday evening this summer, from June 15 to August 24, a University Neighborhood Partners program, called Partners in the Parks, will bring together different organizations from the west side of Salt Lake City and partner them with various groups from the U campus to co-host evening events, food and activities in west-side city parks.

Some of the goals of Partners in the Parks are to increase interaction with the U and west-side organizations and to expose west-side families and residents to educational programs at the U. Partners in the Parks is designed to incorporate this into a fun, social setting. And as community activist and UNP west-side ambassador Carolyn Hoskins said, “Partners in the Parks is nice because we don’t get to sit down, talk, and just eat together much anymore.”

Sometimes sharing pizza can be a way to begin creating community.

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