By Renée Leta
685 hours in a year – that’s the amount of volunteer service hours in one year that UServeUtah’s youth leaders invested in addressing local community needs. Those youth encouraged their friends and family to participate in their volunteer projects, which led a more-than-double multiplier effect of more than 1,444 total volunteer hours invested in community service projects.
UServeUtah, the state’s commission on service and volunteerism, offers training and mentorship to members of its High School and College Community Engagement councils. Then those rising leaders from throughout Utah plan volunteer projects in their communities.
Research shows that volunteering can reduce depression and stress and create a sense of belonging. “We have outlined goals and strategies to provide support, resources, and awareness to help those who face mental health challenges,” said Loggins Merrill, director, UServeUtah.
In 2022, 15 members on the two councils developed individual projects addressing mental health, homelessness, refugee and international service, art, and the environment.
Makayla Larkins, who attends the University of Utah, was motivated to help teens who are homeless. She noted that more than 15,500 students were recently identified as homeless in Utah, an increase of some 34 percent in the past few years.
“Whether these students don’t have a home or are housing insecure, they need help,” Larkins wrote in explaining her project raising funds and donations for school teen centers. “It is more difficult for students to find success in the classroom when they are lacking basic necessities.”
Makayla sought donations of money and hygiene items for the Davis Education Foundation’s school teen centers. She enlisted volunteers to pick up donations, shop for hygiene items and then assemble kits. She signed up friends and family to donate, and then to advocate for teen centers and homeless youth on social media. “It’s hard enough to be a teenager without having your basic needs met,” she said.
Nicholas Johnstone, then a student at Park City High School, organized a food and clothing drive with support from the local food bank and Christian center. Through his passion for service, Nicholas enlisted 14 of his peers to participate in the project.
“The drive not only made a tangible difference in the lives of the less fortunate but also fostered a sense of empathy and togetherness among us,” Johnstone wrote in his project report. “ It was a powerful reminder of our ability to create positive change and support one another.”