Serving others builds bridges. But none of those bridges are as important as the ones built for America's youths.

That message was delivered by Peter A. Gallagher, president and chief executive officer of America's Promise - The Alliance for Youth, during the keynote address Wednesday at the 1998 Utah Conference on Volunteerism awards dinner at the Salt Palace."Building bridges through service means building bridges between people. It means bridging economic, social, racial and ethnic gaps. It also means bridging gaps between generations," Gallagher said.

"Here in Utah, you know all about working together as a community to advance larger goals. From pioneer days to the present, working together has enabled you to make the desert to `blossom like the rose' in the words of the Old Testament prophet."

That sense of community in Utah was once pervasive throughout the United States, Gallagher said.

"But after several decades of celebrating individualism - in which `doing your thing' was the order of the day - our sense of collective responsibility has diminished. So at this point in our history we are trying to re-knit our social fabric and recover our traditional pride in being a nation of caring neighbors."

For youngsters to learn moral values, someone has to teach them, he said. Someone has to steer youngsters away from drugs, crime, violence, irresponsible sex and other pitfalls of modern life.

"They can't work hard unless someone gives them a hand in learning skills," Gallagher said. "They can't grow up healthy and strong unless someone helps them to decent medical care. They can't find their place in the world of successful adults unless someone shows them the opportunities that lie outside the mean streets and gritty inner-city neighborhoods that hem them in.

"In short, they can't believe in the American dream, they can't grow up to become caring and responsible members of society, until they know that someone believes in them - that someone cares."

Gallagher said America's Promise, a national campaign to show that someone does care about kids, has identified five basic resources that young people need to grow up into capable self-supporting adults:

- A caring adult role model or mentor.

- Safe places with structured activities where they can learn and grow during nonschool hours.

- A healthy start and a healthy future.

- A marketable skill through effective education.

- An opportunity to give back through community service.

The mission of America's Promise is to give at least 2 million disadvantaged youngsters their "minimum daily requirements" by the year 2000, Gallagher said.

Among those honored at the banquet were Gaye Littleton with the Governor's Lifetime Achievement Award; Kim Sutherland of LifeCare as Volunteer Administrator of the Year; Prevent Blindness Utah with the Helping Hands Nonprofit Volunteer Program of the Year; and Ben Libick with the Civic Volunteer of the Year Award.