SALT LAKE CITY — A University of Utah program that helps facilitate connections with underserved west side communities recently won a $20,000 prize for its outreach efforts.
University Neighborhood Partners won the C. Peter Magrath Community Engagement Scholarship Award presented by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities as announced during the association's annual meeting on Wednesday.
"We applaud the University of Utah for its comprehensive approach to community engagement," said association president Peter McPherson in a news release. "Working with their communities to identify and address challenges is a core part of public universities' mission."
UNP director Jennifer Mayer-Glenn, who has headed the organization for about 18 months, told KSL.com UNP is "thrilled" with the result. "When we found out that we were the winners, there was much joy and pride, and everybody feeling very grateful for the recognition of 20 years of work," Mayer-Glenn said.
The program was founded in 2001, Mayer-Glenn said, "as a response to the (west side) community saying, 'Where are you, University of Utah?'" The U. conducted a year of meetings and interviews with community leaders to find out how the university could be of service. It turns out UNP has not only changed and helped west side communities, but the university itself.
Many students who were involved in UNP partner programs as youth later went on to attend the university, according to a video UNP created for the award competition. It has also inspired new university courses.
"We don't run programs," Mayer-Glenn explained. "Rather, we're a convener — bringing partners to the table to share ideas, identify goals and create their own initiatives."
One example is UNP's work with Comunidad Materna en Utah, which helps expectant mothers from the west side Hispanic community with resources, information and prenatal education. It even began a doula program this year.
The program has been a valuable resource for Comunidad Materna, according to executive director Mayra Sanchez. Through UNP's "startup incubator," Comunidad Materna gets access to mentorship and more information about starting and running a nonprofit, she said.
"Having one more resource in our community is the goal," Sanchez said. "And the support, with the building, we use an office space here where we have a printer, computers, a meeting room, and that has been very helpful for a startup."
UNP has a physical west side location called the Hartland Partnership Center, which is located in Glendale at 1578 W. 1700 South, out of which Comunidad Materna and other nonprofits are based.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenge for UNP and all its partner organizations, Mayer-Glenn said, but UNP has been of service by providing coronavirus information in multiple languages, giving out masks and food, holding testing in the Hartland Partnership Center parking lot, and even giving some direct assistance to west side residents most affected.
"I can say, honestly, having been a partner of UNP before (I became the director), that the work is incredible," Mayer-Glenn said. "It's not typical for an organization working with a community to center community voices, and to co-create knowledge with community members, the way UNP does."