By Kelly Schmidt, content manager for United Way of Salt Lake

There is a big misconception about when kids actually start to think about what they want to be when they grow up, said Milton Collins, principal of Lincoln Elementary School.

Although students are asked from the time they can talk about what they want to be, Collins said most adults don’t take their answers seriously until they hit high school.

“It really starts out here (in elementary school),” Collins said to dozens of volunteers before the starts of Lincoln’s Children’s Career Fair. “And it starts out as dreams. That is what we try to do here — we encourage them to dream big!”

The career fair was one of four other projects happening at the school as part of United Way of Salt Lake’s 2018 Day of Caring, which took place on Thursday Sept. 13. Volunteers read to young students, helped organize the school’s new food pantry, and also painted a map of the United States on the school’s playground.

UWSL supported more than 2,600 volunteers from 70 companies who volunteered more than 11,000 hours at 84 projects across the Wasatch Front during this year’s Day of Caring. More than 1,000 of those volunteers from 29 companies focused on 32 projects in UWSL community schools and Promise South Salt Lake — a partnership between the organization and the city to help identify barriers to success for low-income students and families.

Several projects focused on the educational outcomes UWSL strives to improve in its schools and communities, including reading, STEM, college and career readiness, and basic needs. In addition to Lincoln’s career readiness project, Kearns High School hosted volunteers from Savage and Dominion Energy — both corporate sponsors for this year’s event — who hosted a resume building workshop for students to help with applying for jobs and colleges.

“We are committed to connecting volunteers to the opportunities that have the biggest impact on the lives of the kids and families we serve,” said Heather MacDonald, senior director of volunteer engagement at UWSL. “The impact of a day like Day of Caring could simply be connected to large numbers and massive projects, but we have worked with our schools,  partners, and companies who bring volunteers to focus their work on projects that can help us achieve the outcomes that provide the greatest impact to the students and our community.”

Lincoln Elementary’s career fair could be the first step for a student to start to see their interests and talents in a profession that could become a real job, MacDonald added. At the high school level, we then offer opportunities such as mock interviews and resume building workshops, like what Savage and Dominion provided, to help students continue on their path to success outside of the classroom, she said.

About 650 students attend Lincoln Elementary, a UWSL community school, which has a diverse population comprised of many immigrant and refugee families. Nearly 95 percent of its students qualify for free or reduced lunch, there are about 25 language spoken at the school, and English isn’t the first language of many Lincoln students.

At the career fair, there were more than a dozen professions represented, all of which had interactive booths. Students were able to test out medical equipment with health professionals, hold a gavel with an actual judge, operate a small-scale excavator truck, try on firefighter equipment, and interact with several types of digital media equipment. There was also a dog from Salt Lake County Animal Services, who taught the young students how best to meet an animal. 

Spy Hop Productions, a digital media education center in Salt Lake City, showed kids some of the basics of video game design, audio editing, sound mixing, and some examples of films created by students in its youth programs. Students filled the Lincoln’s gym with electronic beats they made themselves at one of the Spy Hop stations and were all smiles while waiting their turn at the video game volunteers brought. 

“It’s our mission to get gear, equipment, and other digital media into the hands of youth so they can learns these skills and develop and share their voice with their community,” said outreach coordinator Connor Estes. “We want to provide that opportunity to communities and kids that otherwise may not have access or be exposed to digital media.”

Our community needs volunteers more than just one day a year. There are many ongoing volunteer opportunities for families, kids, and adults to connect to through United Way of Salt Lake. One of our most impactful opportunities is to become a mentor or tutor. Volunteers will work one-on-one or in small groups with students to help improve literacy and math skills, recover academic credits required for graduation, work on improving attendance issues, and support the work of teachers in schools! Sign up today at