Salt Lake City’s CHOICE Humanitarian, helping African communities

Story and slideshow by ALEXA WELLS

Visit Kenya with three women who volunteered for CHOICE Humanitarian.

CHOICE Humanitarian, The Center for Humanitarian Outreach and Inter-Cultural Exchange, is an organization that helps the countries of Kenya, Nepal, Bolivia, Guatemala and Mexico. According to the website, the goal is to “end extreme poverty and improve quality of life through a bottom-up, self developing village-centered approach.”

CHOICE Humanitarian was founded in 1982 by Dr. Tom Evans and Dr. James Mayfield. It is a registered nonprofit organization and takes pride in making every dollar count with solid management and low administrative costs. The headquarters are located in Salt Lake City.

CHOICE expeditions are open to the general public and all ages and different backgrounds. Each village has different projects depending on their unique needs. There are many different tasks that volunteers may end up working on such as: classroom construction, community water systems, bio-gas digesters, health clinics, personal hygiene workshops, pit latrines, micro-enterprise training and other village needs.

CHOICE Humanitarian focuses efforts on two of Africa’s highly impoverished areas, the Kwale and Kinango districts located in the Coast Province of Kenya and East Africa. According to worldhunger.org, in the Kwale area, 32 percent of the population has been reported to be classified as “food insecure” while 40 percent of the population is in absolute poverty. This district results in one of the highest infant mortality rates in the country.

According to the International Fund for Agricultural Development, about 79 percent of Kenya’s populations lives in rural areas and relies on agriculture for most of their income. Nearly half of the country’s 40 million people are poor, or unable to meet their daily nutritional requirements. In some places the conditions have improved since the early 80s, but the poverty rate has remained the same at 48 percent. Kenya has one of the world’s fastest population growth rates and in the last 30 years the population has more that tripled. This population growth causes the country to not have enough resources, resulting in extreme poverty.

Lisa Crossley lives in Layton, Utah,  and has participated in the Kenya expedition for the last three years with her neighbors, Tasia and Kimberly Jensen. Crossley and the mother-daughter team  first participated in the program in summer 2009, where they helped to build a school. In summer 2010, they returned to the same village and helped to teach the children in the school. And the following summer, after saving money from the previous year, they helped improve the water catchment systems in Kenya for two weeks.

“My whole outlook on life has changed since I started volunteering in this organization,” Crossley said. “You don’t realize how good your life is until you go somewhere like Kenya. The children of the school eat a cup of grains for lunch and are lucky to have a place to sleep at night. They are so grateful for the volunteers and the help that they bring to the village. I highly encourage anyone to come and experience this, because it is life changing to be able to make a difference.”

People who volunteer for these expeditions gain hands-on experience while working on the village projects that they are assigned. According to the CHOICE Humanitarian website, “They can learn how to combat poverty with new strategies, such as important hydro-electric installations now in the planning stages. With CHOICE Humanitiarian imput, these and other humanitarian organization projects will result in better economic conditions for tens of thousands of villagers.”

Tasia Jensen said, “I highly recommend for everyone to go on a humanitarian trip sometime in their life. It really makes you appreciate what you have, and you learn so much about the African culture. I spent most of my time hanging out with the children. I did art projects with them and helped teach some of them how to read and write. One of the art projects that was created by the students of Kwa Mulungu Primary School was auctioned off by CHOICE Humanitarian, and the proceeds were to benefit the villages in poverty around the world. They were so happy that I was there to help them, I loved seeing their smiling faces.”

All of the expeditions with CHOICE Humanitarian run one week long. Those who are interested in applying need to book their expedition three to six months in advance due to medical testing and travel assignments. Those who don’t have the time or money to go on expeditions with CHOICE Humanitarian also have the option to donate money to the foundation, get involved in Women’s Equity programs, volunteer at CHOICE headquarters, or create a fundraiser. For example, people can donate money to purchase school desks for the schools in these countries that need them.

“The best part of the expedition was the first day that we got there,” Kimberly Jensen said. “The villagers had a welcome celebration in our honor, and we danced around and sang to their music. It was an amazing experience. They were all so happy to have us there, it really touched my heart.”

Details about expedition costs and country-specific needs can be found on the CHOICE Humanitarian website. The price of the expeditions range from $1,995 to $2,195 per person, not including airfare. The fees include village lodging, food, ground transportation, project costs and materials, and two nights in a hotel. While working within these communities, volunteers are treated as a welcomed guest as they help with their daily life schedules.

“I would help them with their water supply and carry the water in giant buckets on my head. It was so heavy and the temperature there was so hot, I thought I was going to pass out. Then I thought, wow … this is what they do every single day, when all we have to do is turn on the water faucet,” Tasia Jensen said.

While the expeditions are only one week long, most volunteers stay extra days and book other adventures and things to do before or after. Things like sightseeing trips, safaris and hikes are all common outside of the CHOICE Humanitarian program.

“The first year that we went to Kenya we booked a week long African safari after our humanitarian excursion. I am so glad that we did that, it was a great experience to see all of the wild zebras, lions, cheetahs, elephants and so many more amazing animals,” Lisa Crossley said.

CHOICE Humanitarian continues to lift the spirits of thousands of villagers within the five countries where volunteers work. In Kenya, the major tool to fight against poverty is education.

“I will continue to volunteer for this organization because it has changed my life,” Kimberly Jensen said. “I do not regret a minute of my time I spent helping the villagers and children in Kenya. I will make sure that my kids get to experience what I have experienced, and I hope that more people will become involved in humanitarian projects.”

City Creek Center opening brings thousands to downtown Salt Lake City

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by Tricia Oliphant

Crowds lined the walkway. Parents gripped the hands of their squirming children, who were eager to run off and explore. The shutters of cameras repeatedly clicked.

In one corner a musician put his soul into playing the blues on his saxophone.  In another, musician and performer Steven Sharp Nelson of The Piano Guys entertained a crowd with playful tunes on his cello. The laughter of a nearby group of adolescents resonated as they talked about their plans and what they wanted to see first.

That overflowing excitement most often only theme parks can create filled the masses swarming downtown for the opening of Salt Lake City’s first downtown mall in three decades.

City Creek Center opened on Thursday, Mar. 22, 2012. Like many others, I was drawn to the novelty and newness of City Creek. I decided I had to join thousands of others in visiting City Creek on its opening day so I could answer the question posed by a dear friend of mine, “Is it really as big a deal as it has been made out to be?”

Although City Creek offers ample parking in a giant, heated three-level underground parking garage, I chose to take the TRAX (Utah’s light rail system) to the new shopping center.  In spite of the train being loaded with anxious shoppers of all ages who were also heading for the mall, I thought it offered the convenience of not fighting downtown traffic or hunting for a parking place.

City Creek Shopping Center was funded entirely by cash reserves of the LDS Church and built on three church-owned blocks in downtown Salt Lake City. A sky bridge over Main Street connects two of the blocks and allows shoppers on the second level of the center to cross from one side to the other.

Upon arrival, I was impressed by the classy architecture and design of City Creek Center. I quickly realized this wasn’t just any ordinary mall when I noticed the glass roof is actually retractable. City Creek opens the roof when the weather is just right, providing a view of the open sky and surrounding skyscrapers.

Along with over 90 stores and restaurants, the shopping center offers a wildlife landscape downtown with the re-creation of the historic City Creek that winds through the shopping center’s walkways and plazas—complete with live fish.

In addition to the creek, the shopping center offers a variety of waterfalls, ponds and fountains (one of which is open to children who would like to cool off while splashing in the choreographed blasts of water.) I found each water feature to be quite beautiful and each added a sense of natural serenity to the busy shopping center.

“Standing at the base of the skyscrapers surrounded by rivers and waterfalls was a striking experience of both outdoors and the big city at the same time,” shopper Matt Argyle said. “It’s really breathtaking.”

Benches and tables rest on the edge of the creek and beside the waterfalls. These provide places to relax and enjoy the peaceful atmosphere.

Some believe the quality of the food court can often make or break a shopping center.  City Creek’s food court is nothing to scoff at.

The massive food court is located next to the creek and a waterfall. Diners can eat inside (with many of the tables located next to giant windows in front of the water features) or can dine al fresco.  Both options offer a relaxing place to eat.

The food court is made up of everything from Subway to the Taste of Red Iguana to the Great Steak and Potato Company. Other restaurants, such as The Cheesecake Factory and Texas de Brazil Churrascaria, are also located in the shopping center.

By wandering through City Creek Shopping Center, it soon became clear that people came for much more than shopping and spending. This was a public event, a place for relaxing and enjoyment with friends and family. While taking all this in, I wondered about the future of City Creek and its potential impact on surrounding malls (such as The Gateway, a mere two blocks to the west).

Although City Creek attracted large numbers of people opening weekend, The Gateway was not left completely desolate.

“We were actually pretty busy opening weekend,” said Kara Johnson, an employee at Down East Basics, at The Gateway. Down East Basics, a moderately priced casual apparel store, is not duplicated at the new City Creek Center. “I expected it to be dead,” Johnson said.

Despite the crowds of people at City Creek Center opening weekend, many realized the stores at City Creek were more expensive than they had expected. “They came to Gateway because they knew what to expect,” Johnson said.

Unlike The Gateway, City Creek Center is closed on Sundays. This gives the older mall an extra day to attract shoppers and therefore compete with the novelty of the new shopping center.

Furthermore, although some of the stores are duplicated at both shopping centers (such as Forever 21), many are not. This gives a distinct shopping opportunity at each location.

Johnson said that because she has never been to many of the stores now located at City Creek, she would like to go there just to see what they’re like. “I just want to say I’ve been in a Tiffany’s.”

The uniqueness of the new stores to Utah clearly attracted crowds to City Creek Center.  However, many Utahans are known for being “frugal” and “resourceful”. Higher-end stores may not sit so well with a thrifty people.

“I love City Creek. It’s just so nice,” said Jannali Ouzounian, a new mother from Holladay. “I just wish I could afford to shop at all the stores. A wallet at Tiffany’s [costs] $600.”

“I think Utah could do a lot better by bringing in the outlets,” said University of Utah student Kelly Wolfe. She said that putting in stores such as the Tommy Hilfiger Outlet and Bloomingdale’s Outlet would not reduce the classy appeal of City Creek and would attract a greater portion of the Utah market.

Being a bargain hunter myself, I would love to shop at classy outlet stores downtown. However, I find the higher-end stores at City Creek to be alluring.

How long this allure will last remains in question.

“I think once all the hype wears off, City Creek will be just another mall,” said Utah State University student Elise Olsen. However, once all the hype does wear off, Olsen said she plans to shop at City Creek with hopes of finding good sales on high-priced items.

Only time will tell the fate of City Creek Center and whether it will continue attracting large crowds of people to the downtown area. In spite of this, I found City Creek Center to be beautifully constructed and thought it added class to Salt Lake City.

In answer to my friend’s question, City Creek is quite a big deal — for now.

“We have our health, why not?”

Story and photo by Jessica Calderwood

While many seniors are busy reliving old memories, Ivan and Faunda Danielson are continually creating new ones. The Danielsons, who both turned 80 this year, pass each other a knowing smile as they recount their travels and can’t conceal the gleam of anticipation in their eyes at the thought of their next adventure.

Faunda and Ivan Danielson happily dine on their Panama cruise in October 2004.

The Danielsons are not alone in their love for travel. Now, more than ever, retired couples are able to continue traveling well into their 80s with increased mobility, health and longevity.

“We’ve got our health, why not?” Ivan Danielson said.

According to a report released in 2007 by AARP and Focalyst, retired people are more likely to take long vacations of two weeks or more, vacation by recreational vehicle (RV), take a cruise and go on an organized tour.

Retirement may bring an excess of free time but not always an excess of funds.
Jeni Jones, travel agent at A Travel Center in Sandy, Utah, said, “Our older clients are definitely there for the last-minute travel deals,” which usually saves on airfare. Jones said retirees are able to drop everything at a much shorter notice.

It gets cheaper still if you have the right connections. For example, the Danielsons fly standby for free thanks to their son, who works for an airline. Flying standby requires flexibility and patience, both of which the Danielsons have in spades. The payoff is thousands of dollars saved on flights every year.

In spite of the endless possibilities flying for free gives them, the Danielsons said emphatically, and in unison, their favorite trip was, “our Panama cruise.” This would come as no surprise to Jones.

In her experience, her older clientele tend to prefer cruises and guided tours for their value and the peace of mind they offer. Customers like to know things are planned and taken care of for them. In the case of international travel, Jones said, it is especially important for older travelers to know they will have English-speaking tour guides. “Besides,” she added with a smile, “your room floats with you.”

This rings true with the Danielsons, who have been on seven cruises to date and plan to continue cruising in the future. Aside from their favorite Panamanian cruise in October 2004, they’ve visited the Caribbean, Hawaii and Mexico and seen Alaska three times.

Although a room on the waves is their favorite, a room on the road is the Danielsons most frequent travel option. They take great pride in their RV, which may have more miles on it than Forrest Gump’s sneakers.

It’s never a lonely road, though, as they are always accompanied by a coalition of longstanding travel comrades. Accumulated over the years, this group of friends and family began with Ivan Danielson’s fast friendship with a few members of his company in the U.S. Army Military Police. Tom Vincent and Wallace Berry and their wives were some of the first members of the travel group. Even after Berry died, the group still made it a point to include his widow, Marna, in their travel plans. On one trip, they met and adopted Dean and Dot Spackman, who soon will be celebrating their 70th wedding anniversary. Faunda brought in her twin sister, Frieda, and husband, Mel. Ivan invited his sister, Ina.

With each new member comes fresh ideas and unique interests. Together in their travels, they’ve performed the Swedish Polka, achieved the title of horseshoe champions and sat basking in the late afternoon sun in rural Tennessee in the company of an ill-behaved pet goat. The Danielsons’ photo albums proudly display their adventures from Death Valley to Montana to New York and Canada.

On such road adventures, they serve as their own tour guides. Make no mistake, they still have a detailed itinerary, carefully color-coded by Ivan’s brother-in-law, Chuck Iverson.

It’s true that retirement has granted them more time and freedom to travel, but the Danielsons have made it a point to travel throughout their lives. They have fond memories of cozying up in a tent with their four children in Yellowstone National Park. Faunda’s eyes widen as she recounts the time a bear got into their food.

It makes one travel weary just to page through one of the Danielsons’ albums, to which they respond, “You’re just getting started!”