Prom at Cottonwood High Community School – An International Celebration!

megan-oby Megan Olsen
Cottonwood High Community School Director

At Cottonwood High School, prom has taken on an increasingly international twist. This past Saturday, 100 students representing countries from around the world, attended the event as a group. Prom was sponsored by the school’s international Colture Club (the name is a play on the school’s mascot, the colt). This is the second year the club has sponsored a prom group, which is one of the most anticipated events of the year.

Last year, student leaders in the club began the tradition of collecting prom dresses and suits for students in the English language learning program who would not otherwise attend because of the cost of the event. The need is high at Cottonwood because the majority of international students are refugees, who fled their native countries with their families because of war, persecution on account of their race, political affiliation, nationality, or religion. Most are still learning the English language and working hard to succeed in school as their families get settled in the United States.

This year, the prom clothing drive was a huge success–more than 70 dresses and 30 shirts and ties were collected, and more than 40 students benefited from clothing from the growing prom closet. These donations came from many different groups in the community, including Cottonwood students, members of the PTSA, the South Salt Lake Police, and employees at the University of Utah.

DSC_0860 The Colture Club’s mission is to create a space where students from all backgrounds feel welcome and to help increase an environment of inclusion and acceptance for all students at the school. Because of this, students were also invited and encouraged to wear formal dress from their home countries. Many students were excited for this opportunity, and large groups donned formal wear from Nepal and Somalia.

Yuri Perez, a math and science teacher in Cottonwood’s English Language Academy and an advisor of the Colture Club, sees many benefits in the group’s participation in prom. Students who participate in the activity, he says, “see themselves as valued by the school and their peers by this extra effort that the school goes through in order to invite them. It’s good experience for them to learn some of the American traditions and incorporate them into themselves. At the same time, many of them felt so good with their own identity that they even went with traditional dressing, and it was okay, and they felt comfortable—that is one of the main benefits.”

DSC_0805In addition to collecting prom clothing, the club provided transportation and corsages. The Cottonwood High administration and United Way of Salt Lake provided buses for 70 students in the group. There were 57 corsages, assembled by volunteers from Cottonwood High School, United Way, and the Hispano Latino Rotary Club! Big thanks go to Best Buds Floral for providing corsage materials at cost and to the Hispano Latino Rotary club for covering the cost of half of the corsages.

DSC_0816Plans are already in the works to continue and expand the project for next school year. The group is still accepting donations of prom clothing, as well as exploring the possibility of hosting a dinner for the group before prom and providing boutineers. Members of the community who would like to support this effort can contact Megan Olsen, Cottonwood’s Community School Director, at for more information.


Spending Time at Guadalupe – Volunteer Today!

Michelle for blog postby Michelle Azzaro
Young Leaders Member, Enterprise Rent-A-Car

Michelle Azzaro wanted to do more for her community. With the help of UWSL’s volunteer team, she organized a series of volunteer projects at Guadalupe School for her company. She and her colleagues currently volunteer at this UWSL Community School to help kids with their reading and academics.

Hi, my name is Michelle Azzaro and I work for Enterprise Rent-A-Car as a Talent Development Manager. I have worked for Enterprise for seventeen years and love our company commitment to supporting our local communities. One of our founding values is: “We strengthen our communities, one neighborhood at a time.”

image 5Spending time at Guadalupe School fits right into my personal belief that all children should have access to high-quality education, as well as aligns with Enterprise Rent-A-Car’s commitment to our communities. I am so fortunate to be able to have the opportunity to bring different employees within our organization to help with reading and homework. The kids are truly amazing!!

CindyHave you had an opportunity to volunteer at Guadalupe? If not, schedule time right away! There is always room to help with homework: reading, spelling, math (don’t be afraid), and science. If you have not been to the new location, plan a visit. The school is so spacious and offers a lot of different services for entire families. Check it out!

I promise it will be an experience you will not soon forget!!

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Guest Blogger, Mark Miller, Advocates for Healthy Utah!

by Mark Miller
CEO, Mark Miller Companies

I’d like to share a few of my thoughts regarding Healthy Utah, Governor Herbert’s plan to expand Medicaid.

First, in my role as Chairman of the Board of Trustees at the University Hospital: I see patients being treated in our Emergency Department who should be cared for by their own doctor. This year, the U Hospital will spend over $100 million on unfunded/charity care. The U does not pay that bill; anyone who pays for healthcare sees higher premiums because of this transfer. Expanding Medicaid will allow these same patients to create a relationship with a primary care physician. Patients with ongoing health issues will be better able to work with their own physician to create a path to better health.

Second, as a taxpayer: Most of us are paying higher taxes to fund The Affordable Care Act. Currently, those dollars are going to neighboring states, which have accepted the expansion of Medicaid. Over the next 10 years, government studies indicate we will pay over $700 million in federal taxes, but if our Legislature does not pass Healthy Utah we won’t receive any benefits. Does that make any sense?

Third, as an employer: I see our employees struggling to pay for healthcare. The premiums seem to go up every year with no end in sight. Employees in entry-level jobs have no chance of affording healthcare for their families. So where do they go for health care? You guessed it, emergency rooms. Why do we pay an average of $1100 for those visits when a primary care physician could provide better, managed care for a far lower price?

Finally, as a Utah citizen: We pride ourselves on our volunteer spirit and our communities. How can we deny health care to over 138,000 of our friends and neighbors when we are already paying for the program? Without the expansion of Medicaid, Utahns at the lower end of the income scale (referred to as the federal poverty level) have no coverage. How can a single person making $11,000 per year ,or a family of four making $15,000, possibly afford health care? They can’t. So they end up waiting until a small problem becomes a big problem.

Several Legislators are concerned the Federal Government will not be able to pay for the expansion of Medicaid. I would suggest they take a look at the Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH) program, a federal program that provides funds to hospitals to help pay for uncompensated care. Utah originally chose to not participate in the program. By the time we began to participate in the program our state had lost over $100 million federal dollars that could have benefited our most needy citizens. Should we make that mistake again?

Expanding Medicaid makes sense for every Utahn. Please urge your Legislator to get on board with Healthy Utah.

Email-your-LegislatorsCheck out this great video to learn more!

Healthy Utah Video

So, WHAT IS a Community School? Here are the Details You Need to Know!

scott-mcleodby Scott McLeod
Senior Director, Community School Partnerships

Most of you have heard the term “community school.” You may even have a community school in your area. But understanding how a successful community school functions is key to supporting the growth and development of these important community hubs.

A community school is both a place and a set of partnerships between a school and other community resources and programs. Its integrated focus on academics, health and social services, youth and community development and engagement, leads to improved student learning, stronger families, and healthier communities.

Community schools put children at the center, surrounded by families and communities. However, supports are given not only to students, but also to family and community members as a whole – weaving a web of support throughout the neighborhoods where community schools are located.

GuadalupeSuccessful community school partnerships have several elements that create lasting, community-wide change:

First, partners agree on clear and measurable goals so that all partners are striving for the same outcomes. Programs are then aligned to focus on student academic success and provide constant communication between students, parents, principals, and non-school partners. When interventions are needed, they are based on a student’s individual needs and data. Finally, a full-time Community School Director provides backbone support to “connect the dots” and help partners work in new ways to promote student success.

Because a student’s educational success, health, and well-being are the focus of every community school, three interconnected support systems are the foundation.

  1. Core instructional program. Strong school leadership and academic practice designed to help all student meet high academic standards is essential.
  1. Expanded learning opportunities. Before, after, and summer school programs designed to enrich the learning environment for children and their families.
  1. Comprehensive support services. A full range of health, mental health, and social services designed to promote children’s well-being and remove barriers to learning provide tools for success.

Woodrow WilsonToday, we know that Community Schools are working to change the odds for kids and families. In areas where UWSL works, we have seen significant increases in key performance indicators and know that through Collective Impact work and our amazing Promise Partnerships, these numbers will continue to show improvement.

  • The rates of adults with health insurance has increased by 10 percent since Fall of 2011
  • The rate of children starting kindergarten ready to learn has increased 5 percent since the 2011/12 school year
  • In South Salt Lake, the rate of 3rd graders reading on grade level has gone up 15 percent
  • The rate of kids who are on track to graduate has increased by 12 percent in the last three years

Community schools are vital to the health of our most heavily impacted communities. You can help support community schools!

GIVE, ADVOCATE, or VOLUNTEER today to help these community hubs continue to offer resources and supports to kids and families!

Mobile Health ClinicClassroom PresentationsCheck out this great, short video to learn more!

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Dr. Seuss Day – Why it Matters!

heather-macdonaldby Heather MacDonald
Volunteer and Community Engagement Director

When I think back to my favorite memories as a child reading was definitely at the top of my list. I remember being excited about getting the Scholastic flyer that I could look at over and over again before deciding which books I’d pick up at the school book fair. I loved doing the summer reading program at the library and the Pizza Hut Book It program where I could get my own free personal pan pizza just for doing something I already loved. For me, reading was an integral part of my childhood and something I never thought twice about until I got involved with the work UWSL is doing to support early-grade literacy.

Children are Kindergarten Ready

Why it matters: When children enter kindergarten with the foundation skills to succeed in school, they are more likely to stay on grade level through third grade. Research also shows that at-risk children who enter kindergarten ready to learn use special education services at significantly reduced rates, resulting in cost savings to the state and federal government.

Last year, I started volunteering in a Kindergarten class and I am amazed at the difference between the students I get to work with. Some seem to have a good grasp of things like colors and shapes, letters and numbers, or short words — but unfortunately, some of them can’t tell the difference between a letter and number. I work with the teacher to reinforce what she is teaching and by the end of the school year, you can see just how far many of the students have come. I also know that this won’t be their final challenge as they move into 1st grade and beyond.

Students are Proficient in Reading in 3rd Grade

Why it matters: When students read on grade level by the end of third grade, they are more likely to stay on grade level in reading and in other subjects. Third-grade reading proficiency is also a strong predictor of whether a child will graduate from high school and continue with college.

Through my work at UWSL I have learned just how critical it can be for students that are struggling to read to have one-on-one support. Many of our staff participate in the Read. Graduate. Succeed. program that provides volunteers the opportunity to work one-on-one with a student practicing reading skills, helping with math homework, or by acting as a mentor and support for a student. In as little as one hour, once a week, volunteers have helped 80 percent of participating students to increase their reading skills by three or more levels.

My team is currently connecting volunteers to opportunities to read with students to celebrate Dr. Seuss Day. Volunteers will put on their Seuss hats, costumes, and t-shirts and share their love of books with students in a fun and interactive way.

We are also asking for volunteers to collect and donate new or gently-used Dr. Seuss books to distribute to low-income and refugee students. For some students, it may be their first and only book they personally own.

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On March 2, in celebration of Dr. Seuss Day, please join our volunteers in reading with a child in your life. Even if all you can start with is five minutes during dinner or after bath time, it will be worth it for that child. You can help spark their imagination and hopefully instill a love of reading that will last their whole life. To learn more about how you can volunteer to read with a child visit

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How Can 2-1-1 Change a Life? Read a Personal Story from UWSL’s 2-1-1 Director!

chiara-cameronby Chiara Cameron
2-1-1 Director

Happy National 2-1-1 Day! Our goal today is to share as much information as possible about this valuable resource, which everyone in our community has at their fingertips – 2-1-1 Information and Referral!

I have the privilege of being the 2-1-1 Director at United Way of Salt Lake. I coordinate the efforts of 2-1-1, Utah’s statewide information and referral system. 2-1-1 is all about making connections. Every year we connect well over 100,000 Utahns to nonprofit organizations and government agencies that have the services needed to meet people’s most basic needs; things like food, housing, and healthcare. Being connected is very powerful, and can change lives. I know, because it changed mine.


Almost exactly nine years ago today, my husband passed away leaving me with 4 children ages 1 to 10, and limited resources. As devastating as his death was to our family, even more devastating was the terror I felt not knowing how I was going to provide the most basic things for my children. I was so unsure — unsure of what we needed, unsure of who we could ask for help, unsure of what to ask for. I lived in a rural part of Ohio, and did not have access to 2-1-1 services. I made dozens of calls, and every place I called would help me a little and then send me somewhere else. It added stress to an already overwhelming and frustrating situation. It took some time, but I finally was able to discover what we needed and where to go. Being connected to the right resources helped me worry less, so I could invest my time and energy in activities that would change our circumstances. I went back to school, and worked to get both a Bachelors and Masters degree and establish a career. 2-1-1 helps arm people, like me, with the information they need to stabilize their families and take steps towards self-sufficiency.

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Last year, the state committed $500,000 to this public/private partnership. With these funds we were able to expand 2-1-1 services in the state. We incorporated a live answer 24/7, added a chat feature on our website, and integrated a new state of the art of phone system. In addition, we were able to enhance our database of over 10,000 services and make it widely available through a searchable website. We also hired additional agents to improve the customer experience and streamline connection. Most importantly, we brought on an individual whose sole purpose is to focus on outreach; to seek out and leverage opportunities to inform the public, train agencies and organizations on how they can best use the information we maintain, and improving relationships specifically with organizations who respond in disaster situations so 2-1-1 can offer their support during emergencies.

This year, we are asking the state for $550,000 in an ongoing appropriation in order to maintain the services and processes established with the previous appropriation. In addition, we are committed to expanding our outreach and training, focusing specifically on the rural areas of our state, individuals with disabilities and the families who support and care for them, and veterans. Our goal is to help these groups become better connected and to receive the support they desperately need.

I invite all of you to experience 2-1-1 in some way. You can feel free to visit if you have time, or just pick up the phone and call 2-1-1 to get or give help. And please, email your representatives and let them know that you support this vital health and human resource!

Your voice matters and DOES make a difference!



2-1-1 Needs YOU!

Chelsea Nelsonby Chelsea Nelson
Digital Marketing Director

Over the past couple of years, United Way of Salt Lake and its partners have been working to strengthen the statewide 2-1-1 system in order to reduce duplication and save money. As a result, Utahns are more satisfied. This past year, 64 percent of callers said they were connected to services far beyond their original question
and need, and 98 percent said they would call again and refer someone to the service. Results like this are not possible without strong partnerships with nonprofit, community, and state organizations, and agencies.

2-1-1 is a critical lifeline for so many in our community. We thank you for your
support of and partnership in of this vital service.

We invite you to email your legislators today and let them know of your support for 2-1-1!

Email-your-LegislatorsCheck out Adam and Lucinda’s stories to see how 2-1-1 is working to help folks in our community get back on track!

“I’m scared for my kids.” Adam called on his way home from walking his young daughters to school. His voice shook as he told the 2-1-1 information specialist he was having surgery the next day and would be off work for several months. He was worried about how he could provide for his young children since he would be without income for so long. He was also concerned about caring for them in an incapacitated state. The specialist calmly offered a much-needed listening ear and gave him a list of places he could call to help meet the needs of his family while brainstorming child care solutions. The conversation left him feeling hopeful and empowered to take action on his own behalf.

“If I could just get gas, everything would be fine.” Lucinda, a 60 year old caller, had suddenly found herself unemployed and unable to get a job in nursing, her area of expertise. She was sure that if she could just get gas money to get to some interviews, everything would be fine. The 2-1-1 information specialist asked more questions
about her situation and discovered she had used all of her savings, was on the verge of losing her home, and had not eaten a real meal for weeks. She was immediately connected to a food pantry not far from her and sent to a location that could help support her housing situation. In addition, she was referred to a program that helps seniors gain new skills to be more effective in the workplace.

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