Summertime alternatives for Salt Lake Valley teenagers

Story By Lauren Gutierrez

School’s almost out for the summer, making it the perfect time for teens across Salt Lake Valley to keep busy while having fun, making friends and learning something new. Rather than staying home and vegging out, local youth can start building their resumes by getting involved in one of several summer programs in the community.

Teens are in that transitional phase between childhood and adulthood where they begin thinking about part time jobs and preparing to apply to college. Luckily there are programs in our community that act as the foundations from which teens can go on to do bigger and better things.

Real Food Rising

One such organization is Real Food Rising, a community garden in Salt Lake City that hires youth ages 14-17 and teaches them about sustainable agriculture and leadership. Teens go through a competitive application process. Once hired on, they help with the farm work and earn a paycheck every two weeks. Aside from on the job duties, Adam Ellowitz the program coordinator says, “We teach our students about public speaking, to explore confidence and assertiveness within themselves.”

The Real Food Rising initiative is part of the Salt Lake Community Action Program which offers housing assistance, education and nutrition. Through this program, youth can learn how to be more engaged in the community. Ellowitz says, “We teach workshops on homelessness and poverty, we teach them about nutrition in workshops, figure out good skills for interviewing and writing resumes on top of teaching them about sustainable agriculture.”

Last year Real Food Rising cultivated 12,000 pounds of organic fruits and vegetables over a plot of 1.25 acres of land. The majority of the food that is harvested is donated and the rest is sold to local restaurants, stores and community members via the produce basket or farm stand.

The community garden is in its fifth growing season and they usually hire students consecutively each season. They are working on putting together an internship for the students once they turn 18 years old. However if farming isn’t their thing then there are plenty of other programs to participate in this summer.

Sorenson Multicultural Center

If sports are more up their alley then the recreation centers like the Sorenson Multicultural Center are affordable and offer lots of variety. The Sorenson Multicultural Center offers swimming lessons, dance, basketball and boxing among a variety of different sports activities. Need-based discounts and scholarships are also available if students or their parents cannot afford the full fee.

Coincidentally, the Sorenson recreation center is located in Glendale which is one of the “food desert” neighborhoods in the Salt Lake Valley that Real Food Rising aims to serve. The center offers meals at their Kids Cafe every weekday at 5:00 pm where they serve dinner that’s delivered by the Utah Food Bank. The center also participates in the Backpack Program which gives kids a sack of food each Friday that will last them over the weekend. This is important in a community in which at least half of the kids in after school programs receive free or reduced breakfast and lunch at school.

The teenagers that come to the recreation center could be considered at-risk youth but because they have a place to go they stay out of trouble. Some of the kids who were once regulars at the center are now volunteering or working part time at the front desk, coaching, or life guarding at the pool.

Spy Hop Productions

On the other side of the spectrum there are summer sessions offered at Spy Hop Productions a digital media arts studio that mentors youth ages 10-19 and teaches them to express themselves through the production of design, music and film. Because of their team of grant writers, most of the summer sessions are free and the girls-only coding classes are sponsored by Wild Works, which is an interactive gaming company for kids.

Jana Davis, the program coordinator says, “We try and go directly to the students to do our outreach. We go to junior high and high schools, ask them what they’re interested in.”

For example, every Friday Spy Hop offers a free music session, open mic where teens can go create and record music. They can use the studio’s audio equipment, instruments, and at the end produce their own .mp3 file. If students are looking for a more intensive program, they have the 801 Session, which is a paid apprenticeship that gives students the opportunity to learn how to book bands, design fliers, produce videos and record music. They work behind the scenes with industry professionals in the Brown Bag Concert Series and Twilight Concert Series.

Davis says, “In all of [the classes] they work on collaborating with peers and expressing creativity through film, audio, and graphic design. A ton of different skills.”

Aside from the practical skills learned in these programs, participants also develop work ethic, confidence and independence. Teens can use their experiences in these programs to build their resume for future jobs or request letters of recommendation for college admissions.