It started with a safari trip to Kenya that Judy Zone took with her daughter Sara.
It wasn’t specifically a service trip, said Judy Zone, a secondary school and college teacher, but it was impactful. In Kenya, in addition to seeing animals, the mother and daughter spent time with people. Zone said they saw the needs of the locals and realized that those needs are the same all over the world — from Kenya to Utah.
During high school, her daughter gave service regularly, feeding the homeless in Salt Lake City.
“Her friends for some reason thought it was great fun at 4 o’clock in the morning on Sundays to go feed the homeless,” Judy Zone said with a laugh. Regardless of the weather — they wore ski outfits over their clothes in the winter — the teens were dedicated to volunteering.
“I think she (Sara) knew every homeless person in Salt Lake by name,” Judy Zone said.
In Kenya, Zone said, she saw her teenage daughter bridge local and international service. Zone decided to figure out a way to help other teens make that connection.
To combine local and international service, Zone founded Youthlinc — a Utah-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to “creating lifetime humanitarians.”
Youthlinc connects teen volunteers to service opportunities locally with a variety of organizations, and teens also plan international service opportunities, showing there is no lack of ways teenagers can serve and help others.
“And we do it!” Zone said. According to alumni surveys Youthlinc collects, 60 to 85 percent of former students continue to serve in their communities, she said.
Two former students who joined as 17-year-olds are coming back to serve with Youthlinc as 22-year-olds, she said, and they still serve in their communities.
Johanna de Gennaro, 22, started volunteering with U-Fit, a program based at the University of Utah, through Youthlinc as a high school student, and now the college student is a supervisor with U-Fit and an assistant team leader for an upcoming Youthlinc service trip.
Mecham Groneman, 22, said he has been serving constantly through church or other organizations since he joined Youthlinc five years ago.
“Can’t stop!” he said with a laugh. “Once you start, you can’t go back.”
When Youthlinc was founded in 1999, the team had 16 students from Murray High School. This year, there are 234 students, said Jerika Mays, the organization's local service director. According to Youthlinc.org, 2,250 students have contributed 150,000 hours of service in Utah communities since 1999. This year, another 20,000 hours will be added to that amount, Zone said.
High school and college students who participate in the Youthlinc service complete 80 hours of local service through area organizations before they go on an international service trip.
The “secret sauce” that makes Youthlinc successful, Zone said, is that Youthlinc requires 40 of the 80 service hours to be at one site working hands-on with people. This is because research shows that emotional connections and relationships bond individuals to service, Zone said.
“You form relationships and you naturally start to feel committed to that cause,” Zone explained.
As an educator, she said, she has noticed that many service opportunities are scattered and varied — half an hour here, another hour there, a toy drive here or a food drive there. She said that kind of service is OK and fills a need, but it does not really change volunteers and provide ongoing help to service agencies.
“People need time, energy, your service,” she said.
Statistics show giving service is something at which Utahns excel. Utah has been ranked first in the nation in volunteerism for the past 10 consecutive years, according to a Deseret News article published in December. According to data collected by the Corporation for National Community Service, in 2014, 46 percent of Utah residents said they volunteer. Katie Barlow, the strategic initiatives coordinator at the Utah Commission on Service and Volunteerism, estimates that number to be much higher.
“I believe that we’re put here on this Earth to help each other,” Zone said, adding that helping others is the “secret to a fulfilling life.”
It’s the secret for teens, too, she said.
“When they (teens) get out into the world, they lose track of their own issues in their head and they start to focus on others,” she said. “It makes them happy, without fail.”
She said she has seen how service has changed the lives of the thousands of teens she has worked with.
For Youthlinc volunteer Groneman, he has seen how he can change lives.
“People’s whole lives can change by the actions of one person,” he said. “If that can be me, then that would make me extremely happy.”
It’s important to find a place where you enjoy serving, de Gennaro said.
“Find something that you enjoy doing,” Groneman said, suggesting that volunteers focus on one area. “You don’t have to do everything.”
De Gennaro added that it’s OK to keep trying if you don’t love the first place you try to volunteer because there are many places to try.
The Utah Commission on Service and Volunteerism lists opportunities by county online at heritage.utah.gov/userveutah/find-volunteer-opportunities.
In addition, Youthlinc has been collecting data from the various sites where its students have volunteered. It currently has around 200 partners in the database, Mays said. The database, which is online at youthlinc.org/localservicedirectory, can be searched by region or by interest.
Local volunteering opportunities for teens
Following are some of the organizations in the Youthlinc directory that teens can volunteer with in the community. Note: This is not an all-inclusive list; it is a place with suggestions to start the search.
• The Red Cross in Utah has youth service programs in Provo, Salt Lake City and Ogden. Each program has three committees: preparedness, military and international.
Programs and projects are run completely by students, said Skip Morgan, who has been volunteering with the Red Cross for more than 45 years and is now over the youth programs. He got involved in 1971 during his junior year of high school.
Each group meets monthly to discuss and work on projects. Some projects include disaster service training, visiting veterans, and raising money for measles and rubella vaccinations in developing countries.
Volunteers are usually high school age. For more information, visit redcross.org/local/utah/volunteer/youth-volunteers/youth-services-program.
• Volunteering at a BeeHive home (care home for the elderly) does not require a specific skill set and there isn’t an age requirement, said Tasha Lopez, administrator and executive director at the BeeHive in Herriman.
“They just interact with the residents,” she said. This interaction can be in the form of playing music, playing games, reading books, painting fingernails or even just listening to residents’ stories.
There are almost 30 BeeHive homes in Utah, and they are all independently owned and operated. Lopez suggested reaching out to a local home. See beehivehomes.com/locations or contact a local nursing home to learn about its needs.
• Arts-Kids uses art to connect with youths in an afterschool developmental program, according to Jenny Krompel, the executive director. They have programs for elementary, middle and high schools in Summit, Wasatch and Salt Lake counties as well as in Midvale and on the Ute Reservation.
Krompel said the nonprofit organization relies heavily on volunteers. Most of its teen volunteers are 14 or older. Teens can assist in a variety of ways, including working with other youths during art projects, volunteering at the organization’s office, or helping organize art supplies at the organization’s storage unit.
To get involved, fill out the form at arts-kids.org/contact, and someone from the organization will respond with additional information.
• Big Brothers Big Sisters of Utah currently has a campaign called 60 Men 60 Days to recruit men to volunteer as mentors for the 295 boys currently on BBBSU’s waiting list, according to a news release.
Young high school men (and women) are also invited to join.
“The more teenagers we have, the more children we can serve and the more lives we can change,” said Abram Sherrod, the school programs coordinator.
Teens can participate in the school-based mentoring program and are matched with students from first to fifth grade. The “bigs” meet with their “littles” on a weekly basis to help with homework or just be a “special friend,” Sherrod said.
To get involved, visit bbbsu.org and fill out the volunteer form. Someone from BBBSU will be in touch with more information.
• Judy Hut, the outreach volunteer manager for Special Olympics Utah, said volunteering helps “create inclusive communities.” Special Olympics provides year-round sports training and competition for individuals with intellectual disabilities, Hut said.
Many teens volunteer with Special Olympics, often at events. Teens must be 16 or older to volunteer on their own, but those ages 12-15 can volunteer with an adult. Jobs at events can include scoring, timing and assisting athletes, Hut said.
Groups of teens, such as from clubs, teams, youth groups and families, also often volunteer, Hut said. She recommends that group advisers and leaders contact the outreach volunteer manager directly at email@example.com to volunteer.
To learn more, see sout.org/get-involved/become-a-volunteer and fill out the online form.