SALT LAKE CITY─ Since 1987, the Lowell Bennion Community Service Center has been a valuable resource by aiding the Salt Lake Community. The Bennion Center provides service to others living in the region, with many University of Utah students involved in the process. The mission statement of the Bennion Center reflects that there are strong values rooted within the center such as integrity, collaboration, diversity, engagement, and optimism to name a few. Six office spaces, a conference room, and a few couches constitute the space where students make items for the homeless or construct sustainable gardens. The center itself is extremely small compared to the impact it has on the Salt Lake Community.
The Bennion Center delivers service to address a variety of issues in the community including hunger, homelessness, illiteracy, sustainability, and health care. The people that work to make these areas in the Salt Lake Community better have bought into the mission of the Bennion Center and the work that comes along with it. Not only does the Bennion Center extend its outreach in Utah, but students and staff have done service work in many other areas in the Country. In addition, there are two service trips that are located in Cuba and Costa Rica. The outreach to these areas are inspired by a spirit of wanting to help communities that have people and environments in need. The community of the Bennion Center draws students who have want to take action in service.
“So I was kind of involved with volunteer work in high school and wanted to continue doing volunteer work in college,” says Eric Nhem, a 22-year-old University student from West Valley City and Bennion Center volunteer. “My friend texted me one day and sheasked if I wanted to do this thing through the Bennion center,” Nhem continued, “I said what the heck is the Bennion Center?”
That “thing” turned out to be a once a month assignment with Project Youth, which helped Title I students learn about higher education. Nhem eventually became the director of Project Youth after two consecutive years of volunteering with them which lead him to become a student programs coordinator with the Bennion Center. Nhem’s role is vital for the Bennion Center and the work that is done there.
“Basically, my job is to coordinate with students about service projects they wish to participate in and then guide them about what needs to be done. For example, what resources they might need or who they need to take talk to,” says Nehm. “Those two areas are usually what needs to be tackled first in order for the projects to get going.”
Regardless of who needs to talk to who or what the students need, there needs to be a level of optimism brought to the table. This sense of optimism is needed for student run projects to flourish and along with enthusiasm for the service to continue. The students display optimism in their work and and are enthusiastic about it every day and those elements are what brought Nhem to the Bennion Center originally.
“I fell in love with one program that had a mission I believed in,” Nhem stated.
Believing is something that holds the Bennion Center together, as communications specialist, Jennifer Jones, will attest. As the communications specialist, it is Jones responsibility to make other aware of the great work being done at the Center.
“My job is awesome because I get to brag about all the fantastic things students are doing here!” says Jones, and there is no shortage of work to be discussed. “Just the other day we had a group of students ironing plastic bags to make beanies for hospitalized infants and sleeping mats for the homeless. That is the kind of stuff that tends to take place in the Bennion Center on a day to day basis.”
Jones is particular proud of the people she works with. “What motivates me to do my work is everyone who is involved with the Bennion Center. We have so many students from a plethora of backgrounds who are passionate about their work,” she says.
On a given evening, the Bennion Center is bustling with activity. This night, students sit on couches and huddle around a coffee table discussing their current work and planning out future projects. Nhem and Jones have their own workspaces where they speak to students or other parties about current or future projects. What goes on in the Bennion Center on a day to day basis continues to change the Salt Lake Community in a positive way.
The mission of the Bennion Center is “to foster lifelong service and civic participation by engaging the university with the greater community in action, change and learning.” This mission is being accomplished routinely through the meaningful work by students at the U with the help of staff members such as Nhem and Jones. Lifelong service is being given and will continue to be given as long as the belief in projects exists along with the drive to help others and make the local community of Salt Lake City a better place.