Jon Williams is sweating hard as he erects the frame for an abutment that will hold a footbridge spanning the Jordan River. Across the narrow expanse of water, dozens of youths are raking dry grass from around a group of trees. Others are picking up garbage.
Katie Osvold, 15, and Sogand Groger, 12, take a short break to pour water from their bottles over their heads. Then they start raking again.It's a vacation of sorts - with lots of heart - for the 60 or so youths and the dozen adults who work alongside them. On Friday, Salt Lake International Youth Service Day, they gathered to work on the bridge and complete what will be a community park, complete with new, full-grown trees.
It's a joint effort of multiple groups, some from as far away as Alaska and Indiana. The Youth City Government, the Utah Association of Youth Council, The Utah Federation for Youth, the Baha'i Color Me Human campaign, PeaceTrees and others have banded together to link the two neighborhoods split by the waters of the Jordan as they run through 1150 West and 1700 South.
They will erect the abutments for the footbridge across the water. This week, the National Guard will bring in crews to move an existing bridge from a less-ideal location to the new site. And children from both sides of the river will be able to cross over and play together.
Williams, one of the adult volunteers, got involved because his daughter Michel (pronounced My-Chel) was a PeaceTrees kid herself, traveling to India to work on environmental projects. (Last year the group cleared minefields in Vietnam.)
Now dozens of PeaceTrees youth are in Salt Lake, staying at Camp Williams where they have taken seminars on conflict resolution and talked about not only what it feels like to be discriminated against, but the ways in which they, too, have discriminated against others. They took the Army's rappelling course to learn to conquer their fears. And they plan to work with the other groups to erect a Peace Pole and a plaque in the park they are creating, reminding people in 12 languages to "Let Peace Prevail," said adult volunteer Sara Eubank.
Baha'i youths are also on hand, working hard. Osvold, of Ashland, Ore., and Groger, San Francisco, have had the chance to get to know youths from the Indiana Dawn-breakers, a Baha'i group that leaves Indiana once a year to do a community service project somewhere far away. One of their leaders, Dan Enslow, sports a T-shirt that says "Our Differences Make Us Strong," as he talks about the value of community service.
They know they picked the right location for a community service project. Vandals told them so when they wrecked some of the work already done. Eubank said the groups have invited neighborhood people down to help - and to take ownership of the project when it is completed.
It's an invitation that has slowly been accepted by neighborhood kids, who rake and shovel and dig with the others, "having a blast."