It's better to give than receive. Everyone knows that, but it sounds so eloquent and sincere when it comes from the lips of Duncan Martinez, 13, and Marco Melendrez, 14 of Odgen.
The boys are two of the 200 participants in Youth Impact, an after-school, community program for at-risk youth in the inner-city Ogden area. Center employees and volunteers pick up the kids from school, help them with home work, provide dinner, offer recreation and activities and drive them back home around 8 p.m.
The center is open seven days a week. On weekends, participants enjoy activities such as a Raptors game, which is easy because the field is directly adjacent to Youth Impact on the corner of Grant and 23rd. They also go to Jazz games, or they swim, or take the bikes that have been donated and they have refurbished for a ride. Many participants spend summer Saturdays at the Farmer's Market where they sell either the produce they raise in the center's garden or the stained-glass projects they create in arts and crafts class.
Duncan and Marco agree they enjoy all of those aspects of Youth Impact, but the prize they most covet each year goes to the one who donates the most service hours back to the community.
"We sign up, and we go out places," Marco said. "We clean; we help. We do a lot of things. We make it very fun and enjoyable." Last year the boys put in a combined 100 hours of community service, and they plan to exceed that this year.
Since beginning their participation at the center, both boys have gone from C students to nearly straight A's. Marco earned a 3.95 GPA last term and has signed up for an honors class. Duncan is now in an accelerated program as well.
The young men are contributing to a community which in turn has contributed generously to them through Youth Impact.
"We know them all personally," said counselor Dewey Gomez. "We know the backgrounds they come from, the families they come from. We don't do the old 'Woe is me, I'm poor.' When they're here, they're just another kid, and they have the same expectations as anyone out there. No trouble; no fighting; no bad language -- just fun."
The program began 18 years ago at the Episcopal Church where teens started hanging out in greater numbers under the direction of youth activity leader Robb Hall. Finally nine years later, they outgrew the church, so the Browning Foundation offered a building for lease at the attractive price of $1 a year. The center is funded entirely through private donations.
"We started taking over the church and kicking all the Bible Study and ladies groups out of there," Hall said. "It just took a life of its own. To me that's the most impressive thing: we never wrote down what we were going to do. We never set an itinerary or an agenda, we just kind of provided a safe place for kids to come and be welcome and spend our evenings together."
In his years as leader, Hall said the more he's given to the youth, the more he's received from them, until he feels a little guilty saying that he works for a living.
"We receive accolades all the time from people about how important what we do is." Hall said "But you know I think in a sense, there's a lot of selfishness on our end as a staff -- because gosh -- who doesn't like being appreciated? Who doesn't like doing things for a child?"
Community members come for tours and experience the noisy, rambunctious kids teaming around staff and volunteers in the machine shop, the classroom, the basketball courts, the dining hall, and the computers, and then they return with checks or as volunteers.
Every semester, Weber State University provides 80 volunteers who spend a minimum of 25 hours each. The WSU, MBA alumni association has donated deep freezers, a printer for staff and students and recently an elaborate camera/computer security system, which monitors activity inside and outside the building. Just three days after it was installed, it recorded clear pictures of car vandals in action. Alumni say they give to the youth in exchange for the valuable lessons they learn. "Leadership is about service, and that's something that is difficult to teach, yet anyone who's been a leader in an organization realizes it's all about serving others," said MBA enrollment director Mark Stevenson.
When everyone in the community serves and gives, everyone in the community receives more in return.