More than 1,500 high school, college and graduate students have committed their time to the nonprofit service organization Youthlinc since it began in 1999, but it hasn’t always been this big. For the group’s first international service trip, founder Judy Zone took a group of 20 to Kenya. Now, students can travel all around the world—from Guatemala to Thailand, and four other places in between—to volunteer in underdeveloped communities. Youthlinc’s general service orientation is Saturday, Nov. 9, at the University of Utah’s Orson Spencer Hall (260 S. Central Campus Drive, 12:30-5 p.m., Youthlinc.org).
How did Youthlinc begin?
I was a high school teacher and my daughter was a high school student. I had asked her what she wanted to do when she graduated, and she said something that’s very shocking for a high school student to say to her mother: ‘‘I would like to take a trip with you.” I figured she wanted to go to a beach resort or something, but she said she wanted to go on a safari, which she had never mentioned before. So we went to Kenya. My daughter really gave me an education on the causes of poverty, and so did our safari guide. Between the two of them, I could see that my daughter knew she could make a difference. As a teacher, it was very inspirational to me. I thought, “Wow, this would be great if l could put a program together where children had to do local service, and then got to own their international service by becoming a relied-upon volunteer at one site.”
What sort of service does Youthlinc do?
People need clean water, secondary education and access to minimal health care. They can really pull themselves up with those small, basic needs that we take for granted in this country. And if you build simple structures like a first-aid station or a secondary school or a community center, people can gather and come together, instead of being scattered. You can build any of those structures that I just mentioned for $5,000 or less, so that’s nothing for us to raise. Nothing.
How can students get involved?
Students select a main service, for which they do 80 hours during the school year of relied-upon service so that they know that they can make a difference. They pick their local service site. It doesn’t matter where they serve, as long as they’re serving with humans and it’s a genuinely needy population.
How have you witnessed Youthlinc’s effect on these places?
There are so many stories I like to tell, but this just shows you the impact we have. There was a student named Kenny who had signed up for a committee that was working for a school for kids with disabilities in Mexico, and the committee was doing assessments on these kids. There was girl who was really struggling, and we couldn’t do any of the assessments because she was spastic. So the next day, we said, “OK, Kenny, you’re gonna work with her today.” He started blowing bubbles and that seemed to really hypnotize this little girl, and she stopped moving so much. Then he just started asking the questions that were on the assessment, and he realized that she had language. When she stopped moving, she could nod her head or even make a pointing gesture. When the mother came to pick her up, Kenny told her in Spanish, “Your little girl understands what you’re saying,” and she broke into tears. Everyone was crying. It was an amazing moment.