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High-schoolers help provide Christmas for 200 people with intellectual disabilities

Published: Thursday, Dec. 12 2013 5:40 p.m. MST

Rachel Hansen, left, Rachel Jalovier, Katie Wade (in front), Cassie Conrad, Courtney Winegar and Nauleo Johnson help load $15,000 worth of Christmas gifts onto a truck to be delivered to about 200 individuals with intellectual disabilities with the Peer Leadership Team at Corner Canyon High School in Draper on Thursday, Dec. 12, 2013.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

DRAPER — About $15,000 worth of Christmas gifts sat in a pile, ready to be shipped.

As Lydia Lee, 16, surveyed the scene, she said it looked like Santa’s workshop right before Christmas. Lee and her classmates have been busy elves since October.

On Thursday afternoon, Lee and more than 50 high school juniors and seniors loaded a truck full of Christmas donations for 200 people with intellectual disabilities.

The students of the Peer Leadership Team and Service Learning class at Corner Canyon High School coordinated the donation drive as a class project for the Utah Association for the Intellectually Disabled.

Together they gave 750 hours of service — organizing and cleaning the warehouse, helping to send out mass mailers, sorting donated items and wrapping presents.

“It makes you so grateful for everything you have,” said Kayley Cheminant, a senior and a project leader. “It was a really good experience. … A lot of people don’t have anything, and this is what they want for Christmas, the basic needs, and it’s just cool to see that we can make such a big difference.”

Cheminant and her peers enlisted the help of community members to provide Christmas for the individuals they “adopted.” Each student “adopted” at least four people. All they had was the first name, age, intellectual age, sometimes a photo, and a list of basic needs and gift ideas.

“I just talked to my neighbors and told them what it was, that they’d be giving them a Christmas they wouldn’t otherwise be getting, and they were really receptive,” said Lee, a junior who facilitated Christmas for 11 people.

Lee said she’s really appreciative of her community for helping make it possible.

The service-oriented elective class focuses on leadership skills and service learning. Besides this project, the class has also worked on teen driving safety and teaching elementary school students refusal skills, such as saying no to alcohol and drugs.

“We want to do as much service as we can for different organizations and people,” said Russ Boyer, who the class along with Steve Park. “We really want them to learn leadership skills, organizational skills and how to collaborate with others and how to go through the whole process to make a difference.”

The students are required to give 30 hours of service per semester — 60 hours by the end of the year.

The donation is the largest the holiday gift box program has received since it was founded five years ago, said Kathy Scott, executive director of the Utah Association for the Intellectually Disabled.

The organization still has 425 individuals who have not been “adopted” yet, out of 1,400. Scott estimates that 40,000 Utahns would easily qualify for the program —meaning they are low-income and have documentable intellectual or developmental disabilities, such as Down syndrome or a traumatic brain injury.

The Utah Association for the Intellectually Disabled was founded by Scott five years ago and is donor-based and volunteer-driven.

Scott said Utah is unique because “everybody is raised helping,” and she’s not worried about an increase in people coming to the organization for help because Utahns always help meet needs of others.

“(The students) raised about $15,000 worth of presents, so it’s 200 individuals that wouldn’t have gotten gifts for the holiday,” Scott said. “It’s pretty impressive what these kids have done. It’s huge to see these are our young leaders that are coming up.”

The Utah Association for the Intellectually Disabled will hold its Emergency Day event Dec. 19-20. The organization will help anyone who walks in the door at the Kearns location, 5415 S. 4270 West, by giving out leftover items and gently used closing. Last year, 106 people received help on Emergency Day.

“There’s no qualifying,” Scott said. “We don’t care what the situation is. If they walk in the door, we’re on it.”

People interested in volunteering or donating are asked to contact Scott at kathy@uaidutah.org or 801-970-1930. They can also stop by the locations in Kearns and Salt Lake City, 1453 S. Major St., or visit uaidutah.org.

Twitter: madeleine6

Email: madbrown@deseretnews.com

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