Michael Adam Fondren
To honor Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy and to kick-off MLK Week at the University of Utah, over 250 student volunteers spent the morning of Saturday, Jan. 19 working on 12 different service projects throughout the Greater Salt Lake community.
This year marks the fifth year of the Bennion Center’s MLK Day of Service. Projects took place at over eight locations around the valley, from the Utah Food Bank to the Crossroads Urban Center and even in the Student Union. According to social work major and current student chair for the Bennion Center MLK Saturday Service Project Erika Gee, junior, students had the opportunity to work with several existing community partners, as well as some more recent community partners such as the Crossroads Urban Center and For The Kids.
Crossroads Urban Center is an incredible organization in Salt Lake City that operates two emergency food pantries and a low-cost thrift store and engages in advocacy to address the root causes of hunger and poverty in Utah. “So many people still have no idea who Crossroads Urban Center is and what they do,” said Gee. “This Saturday Service Project was an opportunity to learn from those change-makers in the community.”
For The Kids is a nonprofit organization that feeds hungry children with community donations and volunteers. Their goal is to fill kids’ bodies with nutrition so they can learn and concentrate better throughout the school week and help them have a better start to a successful life. The Bennion Center even has an Alternative Break service trip group working with For The Kids.
After completing their projects, many of the student volunteers engaged in group reflections about their volunteer experiences that day. Rena Adair is a senior majoring in communication science disorders at the U. “I’m super impressed with the work that Crossroads Urban Center does and how they accomplish so much and advocate for the community through politics. They are addressing root problems up on the Hill, while also fulfilling everyday needs in various areas like transportation, housing and food through the services that they offer.”
“We had more people wanting to volunteer than we had spots for, so we created a few more project opportunities,” said Gee.
In the Union building, volunteers worked on projects associated with Bags to Beds, Knitting Necessities and the YWCA.
Gee said, “We even had long-term volunteers with the several of the programs show up who are actually retired now, but just came for fun and to help teach newer volunteers about the programs.”
Integrative health science major, Sheva Mozafari, volunteered with Knitting Necessities for the first time. With this project, Mozafari helped make hats to donate to babies and children at Primary Children’s Hospital.
“I’ve always believed in people having civic responsibility in serving their communities even if it’s in small ways,” Mozafari said. “It shows that you are willing to give to your community. While a project might not seem ‘life-changing,’ you realize that something small is still pretty impactful in the bigger picture.”
Bags to Beds is a recent program created by U student Kaitlin McLean that aims to reduce waste and increase awareness of social issues while bringing the community together. Volunteers help accomplish this by turning plastic bags into “plarn” (plastic yarn) which can then be crocheted into sleeping mats that will be donated to homeless shelters.
The Bennion Center’s Service Corner is the university’s walk-in service program. According to their website, students can come to the Bennion Center in the Union Building Room 101 anytime Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and serve whenever they have time, even if it’s only a few minutes between classes. Walk-in projects include: Bags to Beds, knitting (hats, scarves or whatever else you would like) and making cards and writing letters to service members.
Michaela Lemen, a senior studying biology, emphasizes that “although there are many things happening this weekend from the Women’s March to speeches and stuff like that, it’s really important for us to come out and do this work on the field about the issues that we care about because that’s actually what’s going to get things done. We can protest, we can write to our senators, we can attend speeches and lectures, but when we have people who actually get up and do the work, things begin to change.”
Bennion Center Saturday Service Projects offer opportunities for students to create lasting partnerships and connections with their community. If you are interested in getting further involved with volunteering in the community, students from all majors are encouraged to stop by the Bennion Center office. Applications for open Bennion Center leadership positions can also be accessed through the Bennion Center website. The next Saturday Service Project will take place on Saturday, Feb. 23 and will involve service projects centered around healthcare in the community.