Utah’s Youth are Making Service Cool

By Ellen Fagg Weist

Direct one-on-one service is meaningful, no matter what size or scope of project you participate in. 

But youth on UServeUtah’s high school and college councils also learn how to develop and execute a project that fills a need in their local community. They learn about project management and recruiting volunteers, and along the way, they’re also developing life skills, says Judy Hut, community engagement program manager for UServeUtah, the state’s commission on service and volunteerism. “We encourage them to go out and find an organization to partner with,” Hut says. “This is about more impact.”

Encouraging generational service is at the heart of new initiatives the commission is developing along with Gov. Spencer J. Cox and Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson.  “Service, and having people join in, is the new normal,” one service-engaged Skyline High School student said at Gov. Spencer J. Cox’s recent symposium. “It’s like what the cool people do now.”

The Utah Department of Cultural & Community Engagement is seeking state funds to fund these ambitious initiatives to be managed by UServeUtah, the state’s commission on service and volunteerism. 

CCE is requesting $3 million for UServeUtah to fund a multi-year pilot program for four high school districts and one statewide charter school. The initiative, as proposed by Lt. Gov. Henderson, asks local schools to design programs to serve local needs. 

Legislation proposed by Sen. Ann Millner and Rep. Val Peterson requests $2 million in one-time funding, plus $1.3 million ongoing, for UServeUtah to launch the One Utah Service Fellowship. The initiative will connect college students with nonprofits for meaningful service opportunities while earning living costs and a tuition stipend. It’s estimated the program will work with 750 fellows in the pilot phase of the program. To qualify, fellows will be Utah residents within five years of high school graduation who are committed to working with local non-profits and community organizations.

Through years of work with AmeriCorps programs throughout our state, UServeUtah leaders have seen firsthand the positive impact of early-career service on individuals and organizations. Seasons Espinoza is an AmeriCorps member currently serving as a math mentor in the public school system. 

“In the last two years, I’ve helped build a mentorship program at my Title One elementary school and mentored more than 90 students,” Espinoza reports. “These students have built confidence and shown improvement and growth, which we’ve been able to chart through a tracker created specifically for our school. Being a part of this Math Mentorship program has also improved my own skills and personal growth mindset.

Find more information about UServeUtah programs here. To strategically plan your volunteer service, take the Community Engagement Pathways survey.