Bennion Center cuts positions

By Isabella Bravo, Staff Writer

Tara Poelzing said she loves her job, coordinating the Bend-in-the-River Project, a group that promotes environmental education and conservation, but because of budget cuts, the Bennion Center will cut back on paid staff positions8212;beginning with her.

The Bennion Community Service Center will see a $40,000 dip in its budget next year because of cuts in state and endowment funding.

Linda Dunn, Bennion Center director, said that of the center’s three streams of funding, all three have been hit hard by the economic recession. Dunn said she has redesigned the budget to minimally affect the services provided by the center.

“All areas are not going to be what they have been,” Dunn said. “But you won’t see any changes.”

She said the center will put more focus on its mission to create engaged student leaders.

“This means cutting back on programs with more staff, like Bend-in-the-River,” she said.

Dunn added that these programs are highly valuable, but she feels that a reduction in staff support will force students and community partners to become more involved on site.

“I want more faculty and researchers to help in taking care of the land,” Dunn said. “The loss of funding is forcing us to do what we should have done a long time ago.”

Poelzing, who helps the center with fundraising, said the donations she solicits at Bend-in-the-River events total about $3,000 per year, which help fund the maintenance of the site. Poelzing said the most costly part of running the Bend-in-the-River program is the staff position. The organization will replace Poelzing with a part-time coordinator.

The Bend-in-the-River site is located at 1030 West and 1100 South on the Jordan River.

“The Jordan River is not the healthiest stream on earth, but has improved a lot and has a long way to go,” she said. “The Bend’s work is helping to slow soil erosion8212;which adds to reducing water quality8212;and improving the habitat for the native wildlife and feral cats. They come with the urban setting.”

Poelzing said it will be essential for her replacement to have an in-depth knowledge of ecological restoration.

“Say a disease hits a plant,” she said. “I don’t know that my three interns would be able to recognize it and have a quick response.”

Poelzing said she hopes to find someone to replace her before she leaves the center at the end of April. Otherwise, she fears that a gap in the program’s leadership will cause a decline in the volunteer and partnership base that she’s built over the past three years.

“If people are left without a response, they will go somewhere else, and there goes our volunteer corps,” Poelzing said.

Last year, the Bend program was responsible for 2,877 volunteer hours and 1,612 education hours for service-learning classes.

Poelzing organizes monthly weekend volunteer opportunities for U students as well as weekly natural science classes at the Bend for a nearby elementary school.

For this month’s event, Poelzing decided to cap the sign-up at 110 volunteers. Someone celebrating a birthday enrolled in the weekend clean-up with her 15 friends.

Josh Stovall, an AmeriCorps intern with the Bend, said that the combined work of the interns does not match Poelzing’s workload.

“I don’t know why they call her a coordinator,” said Stovall. “It’s a director position. That is a full-time position.”

The Bend’s AmeriCorps interns are not allowed to work more than their scheduled program hours, Poelzing said.

Stovall, a junior in political science and environmental studies, said he has the most program hours and works at the Bend 10 hours a week. Most interns work an average of five to six hours a week, Poelzing said.

In recent years the Bend program has had a full-time coordinator, a fellowship position and two interns. Stovall, who has been working at the Bend for six months, said he doesn’t expect the program to offer a fellowship next year.

“Without the qualified leadership of a full-time position, I don’t think interns will be able to perform the maintenance,” Stovall said.

Every week, Poelzing tends to the plant life and the river bed. Stovall said some of the best memories he has in the Bend are his walks through the site with Poelzing, getting to know the plants and animals that live there.

Poelzing said she will miss her job, but is looking for a similar position outside the U.

“I really like to work in an urban setting connecting urban folks with nature,” Poelzing said. “I’d like people to see that nature is a part of their everyday lives, that they don’t have to go to the mountains for that. A lot of people don’t have the means to travel to the mountains even though they are so close. Social station shouldn’t dictate whether people can live near open space and in healthy environments.”

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Tara Poelzing

Tara Poelzing loves helping out with the Bennion Center?s service projects, yet budget cuts are forcing the center to dial back programs like Bend-in-the-River. The center will focus more on engaging student leaders in the next year.