Service a year round focus in Utah

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Utah has topped the charts in philanthropy reports ranking among the highest in monetary donations and number of volunteer hours for the past several years. While the donations are often largely attributed to the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ commandment to pay tithing, Utah nonetheless remains number one in volunteerism.

T.O.P.S. student coordinators Hal Nielson, Michael Carter and Christine Morrow dedicate their time to Provo schools and join the fight for better education. (Photo courtesy James Holden)

Volunteering in America, an organization that measures national philanthropy statistics every three years, released that for reports of their most current data Utah is the state most committed to volunteering. The report indicated that while the national average for volunteers in each state hovered around 26.5 percent, Utah boasted a significantly higher 44.5 percent.

Jake Murakami, the Utah director of the Corporation for National and Community Service, noted that young and old play pivotal roles in volunteerism in the state of Utah.

“There is a strong culture and ethic of service in Utah,” Murakami said. “It is instilled in Utahns at a young age, and I believe it is also related to Utah’s pioneering spirit and its long history of people stepping up to help those in need.”

LeDawn Stoddard, director of the Utah Commission of Volunteers, identified several ways that people with varied interests across the state get involved.

“Our largest volunteer programs in the state usually deal with food banks and other volunteer efforts with youth,’ Stoddard said. “We have many tutoring programs where volunteers can work with kids in some capacity. Lots of people are interested in health, there are volunteer caregivers, and environmental projects cleaning up parks.”

The United Way is yet another nonprofit organization highly involved in the state of Utah and particularly in Utah County.

Bill Hulterstrom, the president and CEO of the Utah County chapter, reported statistics from data gathered by the United Way, which identified Utah County among the highest in volunteer hours in America.

According to those statistics, Utah County residents average around nearly 151 volunteer hours per year. Of those 151 hours, nearly 64.2 percent are committed to tutoring and teaching and promoting higher education. Compared to the national average, which is around 18.7 percent, Utah County is nearly three times higher in its focus on education in volunteerism.

“Provo is a highly educated area, and BYU has a history of being very involved in the community,” Hulterstrom said. “Food drives on the campus date back to the 1930s and 1940s when students brought cans for entrance to dances.”

Many volunteers come out during the holidays as well and the United Way hopes to build on those traditions of giving.

“Our goal is to turn holiday volunteers into year-long volunteers,” Hulterstrom said. “To help them really take that holiday passion and have it continue as they commit to other volunteer programs.”

For students the holidays can prove to be a particularly busy time as they anxiously work to finish up last minute assignments and prepare for grueling finals and the end of a long semester. However, with the start of a new year and a new semester many have more time and willingness to get involved and make a difference.

Hal Nielson, a junior at BYU from Parma, Idaho, and a Russian studies major, serves as the coordinator for Tutor Outreach to Provo Schools (TOPS), a program dedicated to improving education in the local community.

“Students volunteer with us for a lot of different reasons,” Nielson said. “Your education is a foundation that everyone has to build on. You need an education to go out and do all other things you want to, and we’re helping build that education for others.”

Ellen Karren, a senior from Valencia, Calif., studying elementary education, first got involved with TOPS last Fall. Her desire to serve reflects a commitment that many in Utah seem to share.

“There are so many ways we can serve in Utah, in and out of the Church so many of us belong to,” Karren said. “There is so much that we can do to help, and the one who’s serving always seems to get the better end of the deal. It’s the spirit of giving, that we hear about so much during Christmas, but it’s a spirit that can last the whole year.”

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