Boys & Girls Clubs teens team up for environmental service project

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 24 2013 9:32 p.m. MDT

Abdi, 15, unloads a wheelbarrow full of branches as Neil Dombrowski, a botanist and the natural area crew leader at Salt Lake City's Red Butte Garden, prepares for the branches to be unloaded on his ATV. Nearly 30 members of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Salt Lake team up for a service project to reduce the fuel load for wildfires by gathering and picking up dried wood Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2013

Matt Gade, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Thirty teenagers braved the dirt, abundant bugs and even a tarantula’s surprise visit to help clean up the natural area of Red Butte Garden for a Boys & Girls Clubs service project Tuesday afternoon.

They came from four clubs in the greater Salt Lake area to do a service project together — an example of a city known for its generosity.

Salt Lake City was ranked as the third most generous city in the country, based on voluntarism and donations, according to NerdWallet. Ahead of Salt Lake City were two other Utah cities — Provo and Ogden.

“We’re very proud that our kids have contributed to this ranking, and we’re honored to provide the youth an opportunity to be part of this culture of giving back,” said Mike Harmond, spokesman for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Salt Lake. “Our goal is to encourage youth to be volunteers for life, so hopefully our kids will help Salt Lake City stay as an example for the nation when it comes to volunteering.”

Tuesday’s immediate goal was to clear out downed, dead and dying wood that could make a fire worse. The teenagers spent the afternoon taking wood out of the natural area by the wheelbarrow and the armfuls.

“I think it’s a nice way to give back,” 17-year-old Aaliya said. “It’s good to help people and help the environment.”

The Boys & Girls Club provides a safe place for children to go after school. About 90 percent of the children in the Capitol West and Lied area clubs are considered at-risk or low income.

“Part of what the Boys & Girls Club really tries to focus on is giving the kids the sense that they can make an impact,” Harmond said. “Giving back to the community gives them a sense of power that they can make a difference. … They feel oftentimes powerless because of their family situations or income situations, so this is a really good opportunity.”

Even though they had to make an unexpected hike in and do some rigorous work, they kept up good attitudes.

“I think it’s a whole lot of fun, except for the spider thing,” said Rylie, 14, the Tooele club’s youth of the year. “I like doing it because it gets me out there and gives me something to do. Plus, I’m helping the community, and we get to keep this forest pretty.”

Jack, 16, has been a member of the Boys & Girls Club for five years and said he learns teamwork at all the service activities, such as working with a partner to carry out the big branches Tuesday afternoon.

“(Service) teaches them not to be selfish. If you’re selfish, you can’t care about your community,” said Judy Ray, who has been a youth development professional at the Tooele teen center for six years. “Even though it is hard work carrying wood around and hiking up these trails, they’re still having fun doing it, and they’re learning to work as a team.”

The Boys & Girls Club has helped Latiana, 15, meet new people, and Tony, 15, to practice his English. The clubs provide daily homework help, physical activities, healthy snacks and service opportunities at least once a month.

“I like to help out because I want to help nature,” Nyariang, 12, said. “There are too many bugs, but it’s all right. I like doing service because it helps people.”

Email: madbrown@deseretnews.com

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