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TAYLORSVILLE — From carrying reusable water bottles to eliminate single-use plastics to combating racial and religious discrimination, middle school-age students brainstormed ideas on how they can improve their own communities.
At the single-day Multicultural Youth Leadership Summit at Salt Lake Community College’s Redwood campus in Taylorsville on Monday, over 1,000 students grades seven through nine gathered as educators motivated them to pursue higher education and to become leaders.
During a breakout session titled “Engage for Change: Making a Difference in Your Community,” students from Wahlquist Junior High School in Farr West discussed how to improve their tutoring efforts.
Wahlquist student Giovanni Garcia, 14, envisioned planning a fundraiser to provide books to students he tutors at Farr West Elementary School, and adding more subjects beyond reading and math.
Fourteen-year-old Brianna Chadaz, a ninth grader at Wahlquist, suggested being “more social with kids” during tutoring sessions to get to know them.
During the session, students were introduced to six pathways of public service and civic engagement, including direct service, community-engaged learning and research, community organizing and activism, philanthropy, and social entrepreneurship.
At the end of the brainstorming session, students from various Utah schools and educational programs stepped up to the microphone one by one to share their ideas, including providing warm coats for elementary-age students, suggesting accessible opportunities to education through online classes, and using apps to limit students’ cellphone use.
Jacob Johnson, community engagement manager for UServeUtah, the Utah Commission on Service and Volunteerism, said oftentimes it’s expected that adults are the ones who solve issues, and one must be an adult to do so. But he’s found that young people have the power and interest to solve community issues, too.
“They have a lot of creativity when it comes to the issue, more than adults would. They bring a lot of new ideas to solving community issues. It’s a really powerful opportunity for youth to be engaged in the solution,” he said.
Tinesha Zandamela, community engagement program specialist for UServeUtah, said it was important for youth to know their voices are valued.
“No one knows what issues are affecting youth the way that youth do,” she said. “It’s most important for them to come up with what’s affecting their communities and to be able to find ways to address that, because they know best in that particular area.”
To be successful in the future and avoid poverty, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert advised young people at the summit to focus on getting a good education, finding a job, getting married and having children — all in that order.
Herbert defined a good education as “having the skills necessary that line up with the demands of the marketplace.”
“You just have to make that decision, have the determination and the persistence to make it happen,” he said.
Herbert also encouraged students to pursue a career that fits their interests so that every day at work feels like a holiday.
“I would encourage you to believe in yourself, set your goals and then work hard to achieve them,” he said. “You have a bright future, but it does take effort.”
Rozanna Benally-Sagg, program specialist for the Utah Division of Multicultural Affairs, said program organizers were intentional about the types of subjects and sessions covered at the summit, like addressing mental health due to the state’s high percentage of youth suicides.
“We wanted to do it in a way to help give them tools to find those resources or within themselves,” she said.
Claudia Loayza, special projects and community engagement coordinator for the Utah Division of Multicultural Affairs, said schools and programs with students who might not have the opportunity to step on a college campus were approached to attend the summit.
“We are trying to get into these students’ minds that success isn’t a mold,” she said, but something students should feel empowered about.
She said the conference provides a pathway to connect students to educational resources and influences them to think about the future.
It’s an influence Loayza has seen in her own family. As the first in her household to graduate from college, Loayza has seen a “ripple effect” on her younger brother, who attended the conference and visited different college booths.