By Jennifer Jones, communications specialist, Bennion Community Service Center
Grab a muffin, a carton of chocolate milk or a cup of coffee, and let’s get to work. That was the scenario Sept. 26 at Salt Lake City’s Glendale Middle School for the 12th annual University of Utah Legacy of Lowell Day of Service.
More than 600 volunteers gave up a beautiful Saturday morning to spend their time helping someone else. Ashley Nichols has done it for the past three years. She and her mother leant their sewing skills to the Kenya Keys project. They made sanitary napkins from fabric, as well as storage bags, for Kenyan women they will likely never know.
Nichole Faught, a transfer student from California, made tiny knitted caps for newborns. “You get to meet people and help the community,” she said. “How could I say no?”
“Lowell Bennion was always asking, ‘How can I help?’” said Dean McGovern, director of the U’s Bennion Center. Bennion, a former University of Utah professor, had a reputation for organizing students and neighbors to provide community service. “To honor Lowell Bennion’s lifelong contributions and inspire people to lend a hand where help is needed, the Bennion Center annually hosts the Legacy of Lowell Day of Service,” McGovern said.
This year volunteers had more than two dozen different projects to choose from, everything from yard work for elderly homeowners to literacy kits at Horizonte School. Bryce Williams, student coordinator at the Bennion Center, said it takes almost a full year of planning to make the event come together.
“It really does bring the community and campus together,” Williams said. “You have people from all walks of life who want to participate and give back. This may be the one thing they participate in as far as community service goes.”
Williams said the Legacy of Lowell event was one of the first projects he participated in as a U student. But the event was meaningful to him personally. “A lot of the organizations or populations we serve are from the Glendale and Rose Park neighborhoods I grew up in. In some ways, it’s kind of a full circle because I get to help the community that was a big part of getting me to the university.”
Volunteers worked in community gardens, made quilts for refugees and helped to organize and stock shelves at Habitat for Humanity’s Re-store. They weeded flower beds at the Glendale Middle School and conducted soccer clinics for children. Students worked at Bend-in-the-River to beautify the area and protect native trees. They built miniature greenhouses and provided home renovations at seven South Salt Lake homes.
“I was amazed by how many different impactful projects were happening all at the same time,” said Morgan Byrne, Bennion Center’s development officer. This was Byrne’s first experience with Legacy of Lowell. “I was also blown away by how dedicated and focused the students were. They really wanted to get things done.”
“There was a lot of excitement around all of the projects,” student Courtney Dean said. “But people working on the greenhouses were really excited to go above and beyond.” Dean said the greenhouses, and the volunteers who care for them, help provide area senior citizens with fresh produce throughout winter.
Meanwhile, Williams is still tallying up the numbers. He knows 10 quilts were completed, seven homes were improved, 600 volunteers participated and more than 1,800 hours of service were donated. What he might never know is how many lives were changed because University of Utah students didn’t just ask, “How can I help?” They stepped up and acted.