Mindfulness and holistic wellness blossoms in Salt Lake City’s Latinx community

Story and photo by JASMINE BARLOW

Sacred Energy Empowerment Center (SEEC) and Latino Behavioral Health Services are creating dynamic, inclusive, and accessible spaces for Latinx individuals in the Salt Lake City area to explore holistic health options.

Jomar Hernandez, an accredited holistic coach from Venezuela, is leading Spanish-speaking group meditations and healing circles at SEEC. Additionally, Hernandez offers private coaching and organizes large-scale events. She says her events are amassing an impressive turnout, and she is excited for future projects.

Hernandez’s unwavering passion and commitment to holistic wellness stem from her bravery of battling an early phase of cancer, diagnosed in 2013. “I was very scared of what was going on and how it will affect my family,” Hernandez says. “I returned to my meditation practice and participated in healing circles for comfort, like I did back in Venezuela.”

Hernandez recalls an “empowering treatment experience” during her stay at the Sanoviv Holistic Institute in Mexico. A variety of holistic-based treatments were implemented, a type of medical experience unfamiliar to Western societies. “It was there I began to connect with health coaches, and I fell in love [with this path],” Hernandez says.

Jomar Hernandezsmall

When it comes to addressing individual client needs, she has a simple approach: “The biggest question I ask [my clients] is this: ‘How open are you?’ And that’s where the process of true healing begins.” In relation to her Latin American roots, she feels the overarching culture surrounding holistic healing in Latin America is an “ancient practice,” and says she is honored to bring this essence of sacredness to helping Latinx women, her target client demographic.

Her line of work is not exempt from challenges, with difficulties ranging from establishing a client network to tackling misconceptions surrounding coaching. “It has been a little bit complicated because the people really don’t know about how a coach can help,” Hernandez says. “They usually come to me if they want to lose weight. [However], when [the clients] start asking questions about their health problems and diet, they realize there is an emotional part that we need to go deeper into.”

Hernandez believes her “Before and After” photo approach is a highly-effective tool, where clients can see a physical manifestation of emotional progression and positive change in their demeanor following a session. “It brings me so much joy to see how much they are glowing and growing,” she says.

Healing takes many forms, and mental health therapy is a crucial aspect of the holistic equation. For Latinx communities, there is a dimension of unique importance. Latino Behavioral Health Services (LBHS) serves such a purpose in the heart of Salt Lake City. It is dedicated to helping vulnerable members of Utah’s Latinx community recover from mental illness and addiction.

Diana Aguilera, a Peer Programs coordinator at LBHS, describes the foundational incentive in creating the award-winning, nonprofit organization: “[LBHS] saw the need for mental health services in Spanish,” she says. “It is a peer-run organization, helping substance abuse and mental health issues for individuals and family members.” Deemed a “softer approach,” Aguilera finds that peer mentorship “makes it easier for people to open up, as if everyone in the room completely understands you.”

Aguilera says deep stigma and economic barriers are prominent factors that may discourage the local Latinx community from seeking help. “Mental health services are so unapproachable,” she says. “You are calling someone up, saying you need help. It’s hard for people to do. On top of that, it can be very expensive.”

Aguilera believes that Latinx cultures may view mental health as a “character weakness” or something that is chosen. “We have families come in, where parents feel they have failed as caretakers,” she says. Empathizing and addressing these commonly-held beliefs, LBHS offers a rich variety of mental health education and support classes to deconstruct stigma and strengthen connection with the self and others. Additionally, therapy services are offered by licensed professionals at a reduced cost to accommodate all economic levels.

Despite these challenges, Aguilera says she believes there is positive progress being made. “In the grand scheme, mental health is gradually becoming more accessible. At [LBHS], we are creating a wonderful community to heal. We don’t have the power to do it all, but we are creating a space where we are not ashamed to share our stories.”

Whether an individual’s healing journey aligns with mental health therapy, holistic health coaching, or both, Aguilera and Jomar Hernandez both emphasize the importance of spreading awareness and strengthening local outreach. These efforts cast a welcoming net to reach those who can benefit from their guidance and resources.

The Green Urban Lunch Box brings creative ways to solve hunger

Story by NINA YU

What started as a school bus converted into a mobile greenhouse, The Green Urban Lunch Box (GULB) quickly has become a local source that challenges communities to look at natural resources right in their backyard. The nonprofit is based in Salt Lake City and has multiple gardens across the Valley.

According to the GULB website, the mission is to “empower people to connect to their food and community by revitalizing urban spaces and building a resilient food culture. We envision a strong network of communities centered on the cultivation of food.” The farm is located on 3188 S. 1100 West.

The nonprofit focuses on allowing people to engage in local food production, urban agriculture, or fruit gleaning by using resources that are available in their community. The GULB tries to connect neighborhoods to the resources and opportunities. At the same time, the organization revitalizes urban spaces that have been neglected by growing food and sharing the crops with the broader community.

The Back-Farms program connects seniors to volunteers, who help with gardening. Photo Courtesy of GULB.

The GULB promotes three programs on the website. One of those programs is Back-Farms, which connects senior citizens with volunteers who help build and maintain gardens in the seniors’ backyards.

“The Back-Farms program is a free gardening program that we do with senior citizens,” said Katie Nelson, the executive director at GULB, in a phone interview. “We partner with seniors who are generally lower or fixed income, who are unable to take care of their yards. We come in with our staff and volunteers and teach people how to garden while gardening those seniors’ yards.”

The GULB shares the gardened produce with the seniors and volunteers. The Green Urban Lunch Box also offers markets at senior centers where the produce is free.

“We have 40 gardens in the Back-Farms program. They’re all over the community,” Nelson said. “We have several in Rose Park, a few in Fair Park, and some in Glendale. With our community partners, the GULB is able to go to senior centers all over Salt Lake County.”

Senior citizens are given a consistent amount of produce throughout the summer so they can rely on fresh vegetables and fruit. Any seniors who have a neglected garden they want to utilize can contact the GULB.

The FruitShare program is a partnership between fruit tree owners and volunteers who help harvest and distribute fresh fruit that would otherwise go to waste. An individual wanting to participate would have to register their fruit trees, request a scout when the tree is ready, and harvest the fruit. The fruit is distributed in three ways: the homeowner, volunteers, and toward hunger relief.

The last program that the GULB runs is the Small Farm Initiative. According to the site, it is “an urban training program that teaches people how to farm in urban spaces using sustainable growing practices and make money doing so.” The initiative is for those who want to learn more about farming and gardening. Prospective students can apply to the 8.5-month Farm Apprenticeship and School that focuses on space-intensive vegetable production. Students are taught organic gardening methods, business aspects of running a farm and hands-on activities from farm instructors.

People who are looking for a less intensive schedule can pick the On-Farm Internship, which teaches participants how to grow a lot of produce in a small amount of space. Successful participants have the opportunity to continue their studies with their farmer training program.

The GULB also recruits volunteers every season. In 2019, Nelson saw hundreds of volunteers coming in to help.

“Volunteers are the foundation of our organization,” she said. “Everyone usually contributes three to five hours a season. They are the reason for how much food we can produce and get into the community. They’re building gardens. They’re harvesting gardens. They’re also learning something in the process.”

This engagement aligns with the nonprofit’s mission statement. The GULB wants volunteers to immerse themselves in connecting with their food and being able to share the knowledge with family and friends. They also hope volunteers are able to teach others how to garden or explain the types of produce to spark interest.

Photo courtesy of GULB.

The farm has a team of staff members who direct volunteers. The team includes garden leaders who have an extensive grasp on gardening and being able to grow food. They also help facilitate events and maintain a good relationship with the senior citizens in the Back-Farms program. They see the seniors twice a week and bring the community to them. This way, senior citizens feel connected even if they are homebound.

In 2011, when Shawn Peterson founded the GULB, he wanted to challenge the way people thought food was grown. He purchased a bus, took the ceiling off and converted it into a greenhouse. The bus went to community events to show people that food can be grown in anything. It was also taken to classrooms to teach children about growing food. Now that the bus is not driven around anymore, it is used to grow seedlings for the farm.

The GULB works with different organizations throughout the county, like International Rescue Committee, Intermountain Medical Center, food banks, and multiple food pantries to help bring fresh produce to them every week.

“We’re trying to help the Latina population right now,” Nelson said. “We’re getting them engaged on our farm and providing them fruits and vegetables.”

The farm starts preparing for the season in spring. In early June, the organization starts producing food so that markets are ready to be opened in mid-July. The growing season usually ends in October, when the GULB members regroup and prepare for next season.

Local pantries struggle to meet the demand of COVID-19 virus in Utah

Story by ELLIE COOK

The hoarding situation that arose upon the arrival of the COVID-19 virus has only increased following the 5.7 earthquake that rattled the Salt Lake Valley on March 18, 2020. While the public hunts across the state for items such as toilet paper and paper towels, pantries in the community struggle to keep their shelves stocked to ensure those in need get the supplies not only needed for quarantine but also everyday survival. The organizations in the western area of Salt Lake City are scrambling to focus on inventory, while also having to serve many more people and adjust their protocols to meet safety needs implemented by the state of Utah. 

The community consists of many working-class and/or impoverished families, many of whom have a yearly income of less than $80,000 a year, said David Wright, director and educator of the Earth Community Garden & Food Pantry, in an email interview. Organizations that provide food security already serve a great population within the area, but the need only seems to be growing. The pantries have seen a significant increase in clientele since The Road Home, the main homeless shelter in Salt Lake City, closed downtown. Now as the virus forces more businesses to close, making the unemployment rates skyrocket and the earthquake damaging some homes, these organizations are struggling to find enough supplies and volunteers to tend to the large crowds pursuing their services. 

When asked about plans regarding situations such as natural disasters or other national emergencies, Captain Rob Lawler of The Salvation Army said in an email, “The Salvation Army has always been ready to respond to disasters and crisis since 1906 in Galveston, Texas, when we first responded as a response agency. You might say it is in our DNA!” 

However, it seems with the cards stacked against the state of Utah, just being prepared isn’t enough for anybody. While toiletries and other health/cleaning items are always in demand, the panic and hoarding issue the pandemic has caused has only made them even scarcer. “We do have an increased demand at this time,” said Kate Corr, the communications coordinator at Utah Community Action, in an email. “Right now, many clients are in greatest need of emergency services, primarily food, housing, and utility assistance. … At this time we will continue to do everything we can to keep providing essential emergency services to our children, families, and clients.”

While the inventory remains an issue, the ability to serve the community promptly has become hard as well, due to safety measures being taken to protect volunteers and the public. This becomes tough as everyone is short-staffed and in need of volunteers. It’s also time-consuming to take on new help because they must be screened to be sure they do not put people’s health at risk. 

Some organizations are no longer accepting new volunteers to protect current staff from exposure. “Our protocol is much more controlled and strict,” said David Wright. “We no longer have lines and instead are having clients with cars stay in their vehicles. Those without cars stay 10 feet away from each other.” The Earth Community Garden & Food Pantry, The Salvation Army and other organizations have also taken on drive-by pickup services. 

With the COVID-19 pandemic having an unknown end, and still in recovery from the earthquake, how can the public get help? Is there any assurance that people can get necessities, and also ensure that nonprofits can attend to the growing amount of clients? “As we see the fallout from businesses closing and people either losing jobs or having reduced work hours, our organization recommends that people consider applying for SNAP (otherwise known as food stamps),” said Gina Cornia, the executive director of Utahns Against Hunger, in an email. Utahns Against Hunger also provides lists of places where people can obtain essential items if they are not receiving an income. 

For the rest of us, any donations from food, cleaning supplies, and perhaps the most coveted item of all, some good old toilet paper, will be gladly received by any local pantry (please see list below). If you require assistance concerning food or other home essentials, reach out to Utahns Against Hunger or any of the listed sources. 

Earth Community Garden & Food Pantry

“We are looking for gardeners for this season. Growing your own, locally sourced food is proving to be more and more vital. Do not harm those around you. As an organization, we extend our services with no regards to; class, race, color, national origin, religion, sex, age, disability, gender identity, immigration status, or social/political ideology, and we encourage others to extend themselves and their services (groups or individually) in the same way.”

Utahns Against Hunger 

“The benefits people get to purchase food have an immediate positive impact on the economy and that money circulates throughout every community.”

The Salvation Army

“We are making about 400 meals a day to take home, we are operating 7 days a week.”

 

Mestizo Coffeehouse provides spaces for community projects

Story and gallery by MEG CLASPER

Sometimes the best places are hard to find. Mestizo Coffeehouse, tucked in the Citifront Apartments at 641 W. North Temple, is one such hidden gem. It offers more than just coffee and pastries. It also supports causes.

Established 12 years ago, Mestizo filled a community need for a public meeting space. Since then over 50 organizations have met at the coffeehouse. “Someone said, ‘You do so much.’ We don’t do anything, we just provide the space for it,” said owner David Galván. 

Not everything that goes on at Mestizo is based around an issue or a cause. Many activities happen just for fun. Single people from the local congregation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints hold frequent comedy nights there. Clubs and groups meet at Mestizo. Many check-ins on its Facebook page come from bible study groups. Other events such as concerts and art walks are scheduled there too.

Gallery

The gallery is the largest meeting space in the coffeehouse. Two moveable wall sections allow for the room to be opened up to the main area. A small sitting area in the center of the gallery features a couch, coffee table and two large chairs. A piano and bass sit across from the couch allowing the room to be used for meetings or music. 

The walls of the gallery are home to pieces of art by local artists. Three month-long exhibits are scheduled to start in April. Each follows an overarching theme of displacement and gentrification: “March for Our Lives,” “Youth Custody,” “Tower of Stories.” They tell the story of how the west side of Salt Lake City is impacted by the school-to-prison pipeline. 

Events such as yoga, tango, musical performances, and larger gatherings are able to use the gallery. With the advantage of moveable walls, the gallery can be used along with the other spaces at Mestizo.

Secondary Space

The secondary meeting space is filled with tall tables. Bar chairs surround the tables leaving room for an additional standing crowd. A floor to ceiling window connects to the emergency exit. The window allows natural light into the space highlighting the blue, orange and red walls.

A stage area is reserved in the front left corner of the room. Two speakers are set up to allow those conducting events or meetings to be heard over the crowd. Events such as karaoke and comedy nights are held in this room, Galván said.

A doorway to Mestizo

The outside seating area is the first thing all visitors see when approaching the business. Hand-painted metal tables and chairs surround the rust-colored awning above the door. Each chair has its own color and designs that add character. The front door is framed by two windows, one of which is decaled with the poem “Mestizo” by Francisco X. Alarcon.

This space in addition to the main seating are more casual areas. Customers can sit, chat, relax, or even work in any area that isn’t reserved at the time.  

Atmosphere of Mestizo Coffeehouse

A large chalkboard calendar sits above the condiment bar. The calendar shows upcoming and weekly meetings. For example, tango happens every Sunday, an open mic night every Wednesday and a meeting of Furries (a group that enjoys animal cosplay) every Friday. This is able to show visitors to the coffeehouse what events are coming up that they might find interesting.

In the main sitting area of the coffeehouse, next to the ordering counter, is a mural depicting several people of all types in the same space. One man is playing a guitar, a woman is painting on a canvas, a few other people are conversing over a cup of coffee. The top of the mural reads MESTIZO (MIXED). In Spanish, mestizo means “mixed” in reference to cultures and families.

“A huge number of people end up here because of diversity,” Galván said.

Mestizo is known by many different groups around Salt Lake City. Students and staff at the University of Utah know the place well.

“Mestizo is an invaluable community space. They are always willing to host activity events, and they have great art and coffee too!” said Bryn Dayton, a senior at the U who works with social justice organizations on campus.

With the coffeehouse’s support and ability to provide space for them, organizations can connect and move forward. Its location is just on the border between west and east Salt Lake City, making it a convenient spot for groups from both sides to interact, work together, or enjoy a cup of coffee or a chai latte. The idea of mestizo in the surrounding community is supported by the coffeeshop. Mestizo Coffeehouse is an inspiration and invaluable space to the community of Salt Lake City.

Even in good times: the west side struggles

Story and photos by SPENCER BUCHANAN 

In February 2020, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., stirred up controversy when she said in part, “It’s a physical impossibility to lift yourself up by a bootstrap, by your shoelaces.”

Ocasio-Cortez and others explained further that the original meaning of the idiom “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” was meant as a joke and that the narrative has driven out good policy in helping struggling people. The narrative the idiom formed is one that disregards the barriers that the working-class and marginalized have to deal with, despite the recent economic gains and the shrinking unemployment rate. 

It can be hard to break into the job market. It can be particularly difficult for immigrants and refugees to find stable, well-paying employment. Many struggle to apply for jobs and even more face structural challenges in acquiring the skills and training necessary to qualify for positions. These problems can be found nationwide but the impact can be seen on the west side of Salt Lake City.

The west side has long been a working-class neighborhood and in recent years has become increasingly diverse. With large immigrant and refugee populations, residents of the west side often have to make huge adjustments to enter the American job market.

Organizations like the University Neighborhood Partners (UNP) Hartland Partnership Center, the Rose Park Neighborhood Center, and the Utah Department of Workforce Services work to help west-side residents deal with barriers that are commonly overlooked.

“Individuals come in seeking support in finding jobs. So that can vary in need. Sometimes we’ll make resumes. We have a lot of templates and we’ll actually help make the resumes with individuals. And often we’ll just help apply for jobs,” said Amelia Cope, an intern at Hartland and social work student at the University of Utah.

Cope explained that those who come to Hartland need help with several issues. Many clients don’t have an email account or computer access, several don’t have transportation, and many speak English as a second language. 

The Rose Park Neighborhood Center at 754 N. 800 West.

Lenn Rodriguez, a site coordinator at Hartland, stated that beyond the technology gap and language difficulties, many recent immigrants and refugees have experienced or are experiencing trauma that can be debilitating. According to Rodriguez, this is why the Hartland Partnership Center also provides counseling and therapy for many new immigrants and refugees.

“A lot of the people that are coming here have trauma from wherever they came and haven’t processed that. That affects your ability to seek out employment and other services,” Rodriguez said. 

But a major problem that Rodriguez sees is the lack of “good jobs” and training for immigrants and refugees.

 “We work with a lot of professionals, also with people that hold degrees in other countries like engineers, doctors, teachers, from Iraq, from Syria, from El Salvador. They come here and they can’t work in that field that they studied. So they become cleaners, they work at the airport, and hotels,” Rodriguez said.

The University Neighborhood Partners Hartland Partnership Center, located at 1578 W. 1700 South.

Rodriguez stated that many professionals have to start again in education and training if they want to work in their original field. Unfortunately, many job seekers in the west side are suffering from a wider issue in the market.

“The problem is: it’s very difficult to do training,” said Cihan Bilginsoy, a professor in economics at the University of Utah who specializes in labor issues.

According to Bilginsoy, the nature of training and educating would-be job seekers is a costly and lengthy process. This process keeps many employers from implementing the necessary training or education that can lead to more stable, fulfilling, and well-paying jobs.

This cost and investment draws companies away from creating large training programs. He said many employers will instead invest in a few seasoned professionals and have other positions filled with very specifically trained but generally low-skilled employees. These “task-oriented” workers are put in vulnerable positions without marketable skills.

“These semi-skilled workers can be shed very easily, they receive low wages, they’re marginal and dispensable,” Bilgonsoy said.

The Associated General Contractors of Utah is one of the few organizations in the state that provides professional training.

In his research, Bilgonsoy has found that most western nations have a skills gap issue. Nations like Germany or Australia have created social and government structures that organize stakeholders like the government, the unions, and employers to cooperate and fund training in various fields. There have been pushes by the federal and some state governments to incentivize training programs mostly in the form of tax credits and work programs, but what’s being offered is often insufficient for companies to wholly invest into programs.

“We need to provide incentives for employers to provide training, we need to solve the problem of market failure in training. International evidence shows that states, or federal governments need to take a leading role in bringing together employers and trade unions, so these stakeholders share the risk,” Bilgonsoy said.

The challenges facing west-side residents go beyond Salt Lake City. The struggles that new immigrants, refugees, and the working-class have in finding gainful employment can be linked to a lack of skills necessary for an ever-advancing economy. Organizations like the Hartland Partnership Center do well to help west-side residents meet the basic needs for job seeking, but a large market and social change is necessary to meet the needs of the residents.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Utah’s Youth Resource Center is a goldmine for the youths experiencing homelessness

Story by NINA YU 

It’s a pleasant afternoon as teens filter through the doors of Utah’s Youth Resource Center. The large windows allow plenty of natural light and the walls are decorated with LGBTQ+ flags and informational posters that promote inclusivity.

For the youth who are experiencing homelessness in Utah, the Volunteers of America Youth Resource Center (YRC) enters as a first-step program to help these young lives get a boost when starting anew.

The Youth Resource Center in Salt Lake City. Photo courtesy of Volunteers of America.

The YRC is a resource center and emergency shelter that serves youth ages 15-23 who are experiencing homelessness or are at risk. People are allowed to drop-in at any time before 7:30 p.m. to receive the help they need. It is located on 888 S. 400 West in Salt Lake City.

The center provides all the necessities for someone experiencing homelessness: essential basic need items, a food pantry, laundry, and showers.

Volunteers help serve three good meals a day. The YRC also has many divisions that help the youth with life skills, housing and employment, legal services, mental health, and access to medical care provided by Fourth Street Clinic.

Every day from 7:30 p.m. to 8:30 a.m., the YRC becomes an emergency shelter with 30 beds. Most of these are either first-come, first-serve, or they’re made available through a randomized lottery system.

“We have a three-month program called the Self-Reliance Program (SRP) that will guarantee 15 people a bed,” said Byron Paulsen, the YRC program director. “They’re required to stay in the shelter a certain amount of nights. If someone enrolls for SRP and doesn’t show up, we don’t hold that bed for them when there are other youths waiting.”

The goal of the SRP is to help the youth experiencing homelessness to learn skills and overcome barriers that will then help integrate them back into the community and live life on their own. The program is operated by a clinician who offers mental health and substance abuse services. The SRP also helps youth with their education, if they choose to take advantage of it.

“One of the youths, who’s in the program, is working on getting his GED,” Paulsen said. “He’s super excited about it and is doing extremely well.”

Since the SRP is a program that requires the individual to be proactive in making progress toward getting out of homelessness, the center has strict requirements. Youths who are in the program are required to stay at the shelter four out of the seven nights per week. They are allowed to miss three nights but must communicate this to the shelter coordinator. Youths must set goals and are expected to continually make progress. They are encouraged to attend group sessions at the center that teach things such as independence but must attend weekly sessions with the program coordinator and a youth advocate. In 2019, approximately 700 youth accessed the services provided at the YRC.

If a youth fails to maintain these standards, they can be dismissed from the program and the position will be given to someone on the waitlist. Many of the youth who are either at-risk or destitute can have issues with timing, which is why the center encourages them to reapply in the future.

Although this may sound rigorous for these youths who are already experiencing homelessness, the YRC is not a place where the youth can just come and hang out. Volunteers and program coordinators strongly recommend taking advantage of all the services the center provides such as legal help, group meetings, or programs that help with getting out of homelessness.

The Youth Resource Center, located at 888 S. 400 West in Salt Lake City. Photo courtesy of Volunteers of America.

With a huge resource space like the YRC, there are 20-35 volunteers who come in daily to assist with various tasks and activities. Volunteers learn about Volunteers of America Utah from word-of-mouth, outreach programs, social media, and donors.

“Volunteers help serve three meals a day at the YRC. They usually stay and help for two hours, but there are a few that help out 10-20 hours a week,” said Alexis Brown-Brotherton, the corporate relations & volunteer engagement director, during a phone interview.

Many volunteering positions are open to those who want to help out, but Brown-Brotherton says they only consider positions for people 16 and older. Volunteer services also provide a one-on-one program, the Amplified Mentoring Program (AMP), that connects youth with a personal mentor who can help with skill development, attain self-sufficiency, and eventually build the youth into a successful member of the community.

Volunteers who are approved to be in AMP must go through a thorough background check and be committed to meeting up with their mentee once or twice a week. Brown-Brotherton says volunteers are always needed at the YRC and other centers. Currently, the organization is seeking more volunteers to serve meals at the Women’s Resource Center and the Center for Women and Children.

A department that is housed at the YRC is the Prevention Team. Prevention does not work with the YRC directly. Instead, it is an outreach program that helps at-risk youth with substance abuse and violence prevention. The team works with schools and other state-run programs to prevent youth from having to come to the YRC.

“With our partnership with the Division of Child and Family Services, we serve youth aging out of foster care,” said Alexa Wrench, the director of prevention services. “We help connect these youths to housing options in order to prevent them from experiencing homelessness.”

The Prevention Team’s outreach program looks for youths in second grade to high school who have a low attachment to their community, high levels of family conflict, and academic failure. Prevention also collaborates with the Youth Empowered Solutions to Succeed Program (YESS). Case managers work with teens to find stable housing and employment. It’s another program youth can take advantage of, if they need mental health therapy and support.

Mental health service access is limited in Salt Lake’s west side 

Story and photos by JACOB RUEDA

Residents in Salt Lake City’s west side face a lack of access to mental health and drug rehabilitation services. The area’s poverty level could affect residents’ access to care, although the immediate causal factor is undetermined. Other issues such as cost of treatment or zoning could explain why the area has an insufficient number of resources available. 

The Salt Lake County Health Department website says the county provides substance abuse prevention services through “community-based providers” by distributing information regarding drug abuse and prevention. However, the county itself does not provide treatment.

Child and Family Empowerment Services, at 1578 W. 1700 South, Suite 200, is one of the few mental health clinics in Salt Lake City’s west side.

Humberto Franco works at Social Model Recovery Systems, a nonprofit treatment facility in Los Angeles. Franco, a licensed professional in the healing arts, previously worked for a community-based health organization helping addicts in one of the poorest areas of the city. He says the cost of rehabilitation can impact access to it, especially in lower-income areas. But even with greater access, Franco says getting and maintaining qualified staff is a challenge facing treatment centers all around.

“People need to get that background in addiction and not only in psychology” in order for facilities to properly focus on treatment and rehabilitation, Franco says. Certifying and educating staff costs money, which raises the cost of services. With mental health and substance abuse issues becoming more prevalent, government has stepped in to help facilities in their treatment and rehabilitation efforts.

In September 2019, the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration awarded each state $932 million to combat the opioid crisis. It was part of a $2 billion grant from the Trump Administration. 

Aaron, who asked not to be identified because he’s in recovery, says politicians are more in tune with the needs of recovery and mental health than one might think.

“There’s a lot of people lobbying for recovery,” he says. “There’s a lot of representatives that donate their time and effort into working with the recovery community.” During the Rally for Recovery that took place Feb. 21, 2020, at the Utah State Capitol, Aaron heard politicians address the issue of access to mental health and substance abuse care.

Despite government efforts to help centers through funding and initiatives, other financial and socioeconomic factors can affect access to care in low-income areas like Salt Lake City’s west side. When government does not provide, the burden of responsibility falls on a nonprofit group or private organization. 

“A lot of these programs here in Salt Lake City in particular, most of them are privately funded,” Aaron says. Rehabilitation programs can cost $5,000 a month to start. At such prices, individuals in low-income areas may find it difficult to afford treatment. Certifying and maintaining staff aside, rents and property taxes affect the overall price as well. Since taxes are higher in commercial and industrial areas, finding where to establish a treatment facility becomes crucial.

The abandoned Raging Waters Park is a few blocks east of Child and Family Empowerment Services in Glendale. The area is one of the few residential spots in Salt Lake City’s west side.

Salt Lake City’s west side has more industrial and commercial areas than residential, particularly west of Redwood Road. Aaron says his recovery began in a wilderness rehabilitation program for substance abuse. Centers for recovery are usually established in areas that are conducive to well-being. Industrial areas do not serve that purpose. Factors that go beyond zoning can affect access to treatment on the city’s west side.

Leilani Taholo, a researcher and licensed clinical social worker with Child and Family Empowerment Services, says the problem is more complex. She has worked in the field for 37 years developing culturally sensitive programs. She initially designed a trauma intervention program called “Kaimani,” which means “divine power from the wave or the ocean.”

Child and Family Empowerment Services is located in Glendale and is one of the areas in Salt Lake City’s west side where mental health services are readily available.

Her office is located in Glendale and is one of the few centers located on the west side. It provides mental health services through the county’s OPTUM program, which accepts Medicaid and is funded at the state and federal levels.

A lack of overall funding combined with adverse socioeconomic conditions make it difficult for public or private centers to establish themselves in west-side neighborhoods like Rose Park and Glendale, Taholo says.

“I’ve spoken with many colleagues who have said, ‘I’m not sure if I want to put my clinic in Rose Park or in the Glendale area,’” she says. Taholo says her colleagues believe their clients feel safer getting treatment at their east side facilities.

Heads of families in west-side neighborhoods tend to work more than one job to make ends meet. Going to a center at night might leave them susceptible to harm or criminal activity.

Combined statistics from the Salt Lake Police Department for January 2020 show a slight increase in crime activity in District 2 compared with District 1. District 2 starts at Interstate 15 and ends at around 8000 West and goes from Interstate 80 to 2100 South. District 1 goes from I-80 to roughly 2700 North and 900 West to about 8500 West.

Taholo says that despite the perceptions of the west side as being crime ridden, the on-campus shooting deaths of two University of Utah students in 2017 and 2018 refute the idea that crime is strictly a west-side problem.

Regardless of the situation, people from around the west side come to Taholo’s center for help. She says she is amazed at the resilience not just of her clients but the people in the area. “They have taken the few resources that they have,” she says, “and they make it last in ways that you and I would never come up with.”

Bad Dog Arts: Bringing an array of color to west Salt Lake City

Story and photos by KATHRYN A. HACKMAN

In the summer of 1996, one of the most artistic nonprofits the west side of Salt Lake City has ever seen was born. Victoria Lyons and Michael Moonbird founded Bad Dog Arts. Their purpose? To enrich the community through artistic outreach and creative exposure.

The artists have also created public art under the auspices of their sister company, Moon Lyon.

Both organizations have been leaving a vibrant trace all over the state of Utah. Perhaps you’ve seen their art along the wall of Whole Foods Market in Trolley Square? Or if you’ve ever ventured into the town of Gunnison, Utah, maybe you’ve stumbled upon their marvelous tiled mural.

While their work is statewide, there’s no doubt Lyons and Moonbird also have left their mark on west-side neighborhoods under both companies.

Moon Lyon’s vibrant mixture of warm copper, lively violet and golden yellows are guaranteed to catch the eye of anyone driving past Glendale Library on Concord Street. Visitors are welcomed by a rainbow-like tile mural that takes up a good portion of the library’s south-facing wall.

While the library was still in its developmental phases, a request for proposal, known as an RFP, was sent out to the community. The Glendale neighborhood needed a commission that was representative of the local population as a whole. Moonbird and Lyons knew they were the team for the job.

Their design kept Glendale’s very diverse community in mind.

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Moon Lyon’s tile mural at the Glendale Library, 1375 S. Concord St.

The inspiration that fueled their commission was folk art from around the world. They wanted their piece to tell the cultural story that is unique to the locals on the west side. Moon Lyon’s final installation does just that.

At first glance, the color palette seems to reference Utah’s southwest landscape. However, under closer inspection, the mural’s meaning reaches far beyond the state’s borders and incorporates a worldwide scene.

In the upper left corner, an amber sun shines. The artistic details call to western Native American tribes. Toward the center swims a teal sea turtle, highlighting the many Pacific Islanders represented in the neighborhood. The multicolored sugar skull on the far right is a nod to the Latino community.

From one side to the other, tile by tile, viewers are taken on a trip around the world.

This global harmony didn’t happen overnight. Moonbird did much cultural investigation to ensure both accuracy and inclusion. Between the research, design process, and installation of the ceramic pieces, this mural was in the making for well over a year.

Bad Dog Arts: collaboration and creativity

Most murals that you see around town are likely painted. However, Moonbird and Lyons prefer to create tile masterpieces. They do this in collaboration with children in the community through their company Bad Dog Arts.

What is Bad Dog Art’s mission? To offer an exposure to the arts for children who may not otherwise receive it. Moonbird and Lyons particularly reach out to children from all across the west side who attend elementary schools like Northwestern and Bachman.

Bad Dog Art’s artistic process is an exciting one. After a design is finalized, a ceramic glaze is applied to a porcelain tile. Rather than use traditional paint brushes, wooden skewers are used to manipulate the liquid glass. This ensures no brush strokes are visible. Once complete, the tile is fired in the artists’ studio kiln and prepared for installation.

From start to finish, Moonbird and Lyons — along with their young Glendale artists — do it all.

“We take a different approach to murals because tile installations are far more long-lasting. But they are quite a bit more time-consuming,” Lyons said.

Visitors to the University Neighborhood Partners (UNP) Hartland Partnership Center are welcomed by one of Bad Dog Arts’ signature tile murals. This piece is proof of what it does best, bringing art directly to the neighborhood, creating an experience for all to be a part of.

This project is quilt-like in its appearance. It’s made up of several 12-by-12 tiles, each one depicting a different UNP partner.

“We’ve developed a number of ways in which we work art into the community,” Moonbird said.

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Bad Dog Art’s tile mural at the UNP Hartland Partnership Center, 1578 W. 1700 South.

Bad Dog Arts met with each partner represented on the piece. The artists held workshops and focus groups to gather each organization’s ideas. Although this was a time-consuming process, it ensured that the partners were being involved within the creation.

The focal point of the piece is the tree in the center. It’s meant to represent the unity and strength created through the collaboration of the Glendale community and the various UNP partners.

“We work with the community in a very multilayered and interactive way,” Lyons said.

However, it’s the company’s inclusion of the children at the Hartland Afterschool Youth Program that really demonstrates Bad Dog Art’s desire to make art accessible to those who would benefit the most: Salt Lake City’s west-side kids.

Lyons and Moonbird realize that traveling to their studio for an art class may not be a reality for some kids living in the Glendale ZIP code. So, they bring art directly to the children.

In the UNP mural, the multicolored border was designed and created by the Hartland youth. Through this creative process, the children were taught about design, color, and radial symmetry.

It all began with the little ones, artists in the making. They used oil pastels to create the outline. These designs were then brought to workshops with the older kids, where they were introduced to the glazing technique.

According to Lyons, the most essential part of this entire process is “imparting to the kids an ‘I can do it’ attitude.”

Lyons and Moonbird create an experience that demonstrates how art transcends its creative borders and into other academic areas. Bad Dog Arts connects subjects like math, science, and geography to provide a source of visual learning for the students.

“If they complete an art project and feel happy with it, that sense of accomplishment carries over into all other areas of learning,” Lyons said.

Bad Dog Arts also hosts workshops at the Glendale-Mountain View Community Learning Center (CLC), the heart of the west side.

“I was instantly impressed with Bad Dog. Sometimes you partner with arts organizations, and they create cute elementary projects. But that’s not the case with Bad Dog Arts. The things they do are incredible,” said Keri Taddie, the program director of the CLC. “They don’t do anything that’s not quality work.”

Bad Dog Arts is always looking for people who want to contribute to the organization’s artistic impact. You don’t have to be an artist to be a part of it. People from various backgrounds can lend a helping hand. And for those college students wanting to gain professional experience, look for summer internship opportunities.

Women from all walks of life: how the Glendale community came together to celebrate International Women’s Day

Glendale Middle School, at 1430 W. Andrew Ave. in Salt Lake City, hosted community members for a celebration of International Women’s Day on March 7, 2020.

Story and photo by IVANA MARTINEZ

Women from all nationalities dressed in their own traditional garments took to the Glendale Middle School cafeteria floor in Salt Lake City on March 7, 2020, to celebrate the annual International Women’s Day. 

The women dotting the dance floor swayed back and forth clapping to the music. They cheered on one another in vibrant headscarves and textiles embracing each other in the name of womanhood. 

“As you can see most of these women [are] dressed in their traditional clothing, they want to embrace their true identity and who they really are. And they want to be recognized and to have a voice,” said Fatima Dirie, the refugee community liaison from the Salt Lake City Mayor’s Office. 

The official International Women’s Day is celebrated annually on March 8, which is meant to acknowledge the political, social and economic accomplishments of women all over the world. According to the New World Encyclopedia, the day commemorates women who took to the streets in 1911 to demand voting rights, better wages and shorter working hours. 

The event was sponsored by the United African Women of Hope (UAWH) and co-sponsored by the Utah Refugee Connection, Salt Lake City School District, Department of Workforce Services Refugee Services Office and the Mayor’s Office. 

United African Women of Hope is an organization that started in 2004 after a local woman died in Salt Lake City. 

 Antoinette Uwanyiugira, UAWH organizer, told Voices of Utah the group initially consisted of refugee women who came from the Congo. Now the group works with women from all nationalities.  

“We all manifest the same. It doesn’t matter where you come from, where your background [is], what your religion is. We have the same issues,” Uwanyiugira said.

The organization hosts workshops on topics including domestic violence and substance abuse. United African Women of Hope receives support from the Utah Refugee Connection.

Amy Dott Harmer of the Utah Refugee Connection said the organization helps local refugee communities come together and gather. She mentioned one of the reasons it gets involved is because most refugee groups are learning how to plan an event, especially events that involve the general community.

“Well, I think one of the important things is we’re a much better community,” Harmer said about the women who came together to celebrate International Women’s Day. “When we invite people of different faiths, different cultural backgrounds to come and be involved because then we have a much better understanding of each other.” 

According to the 2017 report by the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute, approximately 60,000 refugees live in Utah. The vast majority of refugees reside in Salt Lake County and represent countries such as Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Syria, Iraq, Vietnam, the former Soviet Union and Burma.

A Celebration of Cultures

A handful of dance groups came to Glendale Middle School, located at 1430 Andrew Ave. in  Salt Lake City, to celebrate their country’s traditional dances as a part of the women’s day celebration. 

Evelyn Cruz, who is from Mexico and currently studies at Granger High School, arrived with her dance group to perform traditional Mexican dances such as the jarabe tapatío. 

Evelyn Cruz and her friend dancing the jarabe tapatío at Glendale Middle School on March 7, for International Women’s Day.

She said it feels good to see others who are celebrating their cultures through dance.

“I feel proud, especially seeing others dancing and moving,” Cruz said. 

Fatima Dirie, the refugee community liaison, said how unique these types of events are for women of color. She mentioned how it can be difficult to be the only woman of color in a space that is predominantly white. 

“In today’s event, you actually see women from all walks of life and so the more we’re able to insert ourselves in these different spaces, the more people are going to appreciate diversity and include diversity at the table,” Dirie said, “allow these women to actually be on boards of commission, take a leadership role and allow them to not really be limited to only being mothers because we can do more than that.”  

Dirie mentioned how women can multitask and occupy multiple positions. She said women are more than one identity marker. 

But barriers still exist. Gender pay gap and gender inequality in leadership positions affect women — and particularly higher for women of color. 

According to the Institute For Women Policy Research, women of all major racial and ethnic groups earn less than men of the same group, and also earn less than white men.  

This is why International Women’s Day is still celebrated today — to shed light on issues women continue to face and to celebrate women for how far they have come. 

Dirie said it is important to have allies in the community who can support women on issues such as health care. She said one way to do that is to allow women to talk and men to listen. 

“Once you listen you start understanding and you start realizing you’re not listening just to respond,” Dirie said, “but you’re listening to sort of understand why these women had to go through those challenges, and how they can overcome those challenges.”

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Salt Lake City organizations promote community dialogue 

Story and photo by LIAM ELKINGTON

Salt Lake City has never particularly been known to be a diverse town. Due partly to its settlement by primarily white pioneers, Salt Lake City has gained a reputation for being fairly homogeneous. However, throughout the Salt Lake Valley one can find enclaves of unique cultures, cultivating their communities.

Salt Lake City’s west side serves as a home for diverse residents. Cultures can vary between neighborhoods, with each having different modes of expressing their heritage and integration into Salt Lake City as a whole. Several organizations within Salt Lake City are dedicated to not only recognizing and celebrating these differences, but also cultivating a community where differences between residents’ cultural and political backgrounds can be discussed, examined, and learned from.

One such group, Utah Humanities, offers Community Conversation Toolkits designed to provide support for local not-for-profit organizations that wish to host community dialogue events. Utah Humanites’ website features a quote from Lynn Curtis, a participant in the program, who said, “I savor the discussions which have always been engaging, but sometimes difficult.” 

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The Utah Humanities Council is located at 202 W. 300 North.

The toolkits currently offered by Utah Humanities focus on discussion that surround race and diversity, as well as bridging differences between religious beliefs. While Utah Humanities enables other organizations to host these dialogue events, there are different other events within Salt Lake City that are designed to focus not only on dialogue between community members, but also various forms of cultural and civic education.

The Village Square is a Florida-based organization that is “dedicated to maintaining factual accuracy in civic and political debate by growing civil dialog on diverse issues, and recalling the history and principles at the foundation of our democracy.” The Village Square has an active branch in Utah, which hosts events that encourage participants to engage with issues facing the community, as well as expand attendees’ understanding of Utah’s cultural diversity. 

One of the events featured Andrea Smardon of the KUER podcast “Next Door Strangers.” The podcast focused on the national commentary that our nation has become increasingly divided, and discusses methods that allow individuals to reconnect with their communities in a meaningful way. 

The Village Square events tend to lean political, with events of the past granting participants the opportunity to “speed date” local leaders. One event especially found success in gathering Clinton and Trump supporters during 2016 in an effort to promote civil discourse. 

One could argue that the motivation behind having dialogue between different parties is to achieve understanding, and hopefully to connect in a meaningful way. Utah organization The Golden Rule Project believes that sharing, kindness and compassion are primary facilitators for gaining understanding across any number of social boundaries. 

The website for the Golden Rule Project states that “The Golden Rule Project is not religious, not political, and not associated with any agenda. We promote the Golden Rule as a basic human value.” 

The Golden Rule Project goes about its mission by being involved with numerous organizations, nonprofits and events ranging from farmers markets to Pride parades. Additionally, it hosts community conversation events, again designed to bridge the gap that an individual may feel exists between them and their community.

Communal dialogue can have a real effect on the lives of those involved. Jennifer Mayer-Glenn, director of University Neighborhood Partners, stated the importance of these types of resources. She recalled her work with the Human Rights Commission. Mayer-Glenn collaborated with the Commission as well as west-side communities to host a series of dialogue events designed to determine the needs of Salt Lake residents. These events encouraged discussion regarding the specific cultural, educational and economic challenges faced by the west-side community. The data gathered from these events was used to inform Utah state legislation, and may continue to influence how the west side is perceived by decision-makers in Utah. 

While there are several organizations that provide the space and means for dialogue events, an obstacle facing the communities that could benefit from them is lack of information. “I don’t want to represent community voice,” Mayer-Glenn said. Instead, she said she prefers that communities and organizations are given the resources to speak with each other, that way the needs of the community are being actively expressed.

These organizations are hardly alone in their efforts of community outreach. Many of them place emphasis on collaboration with nonprofits and government bodies like the Human Rights Commission. Ultimately, the goals of these organizations are similar, and require that the community be actively engaged in the discussions being created. The cooperation between these organizations is met with cooperation with the community, so that it may, as Mayer-Glenn suggested, represent its own voice.