by Jennifer Smith

Guest Blogger, Executive Vice President
and Director of Banking Operations

Zions Bankcorporation, UWSL Board Member

I knew this board retreat would be different as soon as I walked into the Columbus Center in South Salt Lake. First, we were meeting right where United Way’s work is palpable and transformative. South Salt Lake, a community engaged in social collaboration, is measurably changing outcomes for children and families. Bill Crim promised us this would be the best board meeting we had ever attended. He was right.

This is a blog post, so I won’t bore you with the details of the business side of the meeting.  Wait, maybe what I want to share with you is the business side of United Way.  The business of going into communities to discover the magic that creates cohesion and unleashes the wisdom that already lives in each person.   Yes, this is the business of United Way and how we spent a good portion of our day.   Board members hopped on a bus to visit 4 of our community centers in South Salt Lake.

This was my first visit to our community center at Granite Park Junior High. It has been over 25 years since I was in junior high, and times have changed! Posters are plastered around the school encouraging students to attend college, and beautiful ethnic diversity is everywhere. But the heart of the school resides in their principal, Dr. Taran Chun and the AVID Program.  AVID is a national research based college readiness program. Two ninth graders, who definitely were non-conformists, shared their experiences in AVID. They were becoming ready for college and finding potential in themselves that they had not imagined. Statistically speaking, these two boys should not be going to college.  But the man who leads this school believes in them, and that changes everything.

The visit kept getting better!   Jose Enriquez, executive director at Latinos in Action, introduced us to a program that has resulted in a 100% graduation rate for its students. These students would not accept the graduation rate of around 50% for Latinos. How? First, by supporting one another in and outside of class. Second, by giving back through mentoring of younger Latinos in elementary school. Finally, through engaging with adult mentors to support their success. They use their “two tongues” to influence young children and their peers. After a few LIA students performed a cultural dance for the Board, United Way of Salt Lake shared with Jose that we had just approved a $50,000 grant to their program!

This could become a very long blog post….too many great experiences. I’ll end where it all began for me.  Where I saw that Community Learning Centers changed the odds for a whole community – the Hser Ner Moo Community and Welcome Center. A few years ago, it was a small dingy townhome where dozens of community leaders came together to say no more.   No more isolation.  No more crime.  No more kids who do not do well in school.  No more disinterest.  The center is now vibrant, twice as large, serving 75-100 children a day.  Crime has plummeted and young children’s educational achievement is skyrocketing!

Now that is real business!

Thank you to United Way of Salt Lake for putting together such a wonderful board retreat!  It was amazing to see how our work is changing our neighborhoods and communities!

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