Authored by: Erin Dixon, Group Home Supervisor

If you ask my 6 year old son, he will tell you that his daddy can do ANYTHING! He will often report that his father is stronger than whomever he is talking to, or that he is faster than everyone in the room. From using the nail gun, to setting up the computer on the television to watch a movie online, my son is convinced that his dad is the best at everything!

When my son walks in the house he will often mimic the way his father enters the room by opening the door. He cracks it at first, and then announces his arrival by saying “Hello, hello? Hello!” as he walks in.

Over the years my son has had a lot of questions about his father because he doesn’t live with us. Actually he has been challenged many  times about his father, since he is not biologically linked to him. He has had grown adults making comments such as, “where is your REAL dad?” To which both of us would argue, what is a “REAL dad?” You see, my son has chosen a neighbor as his dad. It happened four years ago when he actually offered since he knew my son’s biological father is not in his life.

Since that time we call him “REAL dad”. He has truly been a father. He has been to performances, birthday parties, family events. As well, he has shown my son how to wash dishes, use power tools, cook meals, start fires, set up tents, tie knots, heal dogs, fold laundry, and how to choose new words when he has said something that sounds “sassy” and disrespectful.


My son knows that his dad is a safe person to go to with questions and fears. Fortunately, every time he has said an “I love you” to his dad, his father has replied in return with an “I love you too son!” His dad has never left without a hug, a kiss, and words of encouragement. My son hears that his father is proud of him, and that he loves him. I cannot think of anything that could make a dad more REAL.


I remind my son that families come in all types. Some families live in one house, some live in two. Some have a mom, some have a dad, some have two moms, or two dads; there can be one parent in one house and two in another, and all of these variations are just as REAL and right and good and valid as any another.

Your family is your tribe. It is the people that stick with you regardless of your behaviors, choices, or distance. My son has a father who is not biologically related to him and who lives four houses away from us, but you know what? He does have the best dad ever!
I hope, especially at this time, that each of us will take time to reflect on who has served that role in our lives, whether it is a biological father, a step – father, a neighbor, a mom, or a character from a story. Take time to appreciate the “REAL dad” in your world and honor yourself by accepting the amazing goodness he, she or it has brought to your growth.

Love the village that has raised you, and be the tribe for the next generation to come 🙂

Posted in Family Activities, SLCO, Success Stories, Youth Groups | Leave a comment

How to Avoid the Summer Slide

Authored By: Ricky Vigil, After-school Program Coordinator

Summer is every kid’s favorite time of the year. Warmer days mean more time spent outdoors or in a pool, more time with their friends, and maybe sometime at a summer camp or on a family vacation.

Of course,  the most important part of summer for kids is having NO SCHOOL! While it is necessary to take a break from the sometimes strenuous schedule of daily academics, it is even more essential to keep children and their brains active during the summer months so they don’t begin next school year at a disadvantage.


According to summerlearning.org, low-income youth loose about 2-3 months of math knowledge and reading proficiency over the summer. By the time students reach fifth grade, they can be 2 ½-3 years behind their peers in math and reading skills.

In Salt Lake County, we’re lucky to have a great library system which made summer reading a huge priority. Actually, at http://summer.slcolibrary.org/, library patrons can download reading records with activity ideas, bite-size readings (poems, etc), arts, crafts and more. For each activity completed, participants can record their process and be rewarded with a free book and/or with a ticket for a drawing that will get them into the Natural History Museum. The really cool thing about this challenge is there are separate trackers for adults, teens and kids, so the whole family can join  and work towards their goals. Kids who read at a young age are more likely to continue reading as adults, and parents who lead by example will often see their kids engaging in reading as well.


Actually, the library is also hosting a variety of STEM Camps at various branches over the summer (http://www.slcolibrary.org/teen/teenaml/STEMcamps.htm) and is offering ZAP Summer Passports (http://slco.org/zap/kids-summer-passport/) where kids and families can enjoy some of Salt Lake’s Zoos, Arts and Parks at a free or discounted rate. The goal is to fill the passport and attend an end-of-summer party at the planetarium.

While every kid deserves a break, it’s crucial that they are still engaging in learning throughout the summer. Luckily, there are many great resources within our communities that can help them to fulfill that purpose.


Posted in After School Program, Library, Parenting Tips, read, Safe Place, Youth Groups | Leave a comment

Today is Flag Day!

Authored by: Sarafina Shukuru, Intern from the Refugee Program

This is the home of the brave! How many times do we sing the national anthem before an event? I think at school, at any sporting event, or even when we are at work. However, there is a lot to talk about when it comes to the Flag and its special day.

The flag was adopted by Woodrow Wilson, twenty-eighth president of the United States, in 1916. It consists of 13 blue and white stripes representing 13 colonies.


Flag Day was established as a congress celebration on June 14th, 1777.  Although its not a federal holiday, it has been established as a state holiday in New York and Pennsylvania. However, in the rest of the country, businesses, federal and government offices are open.

Why do we celebrate Flag Day? We celebrate Flag Day in remembrance of what the flag represents and also those who fought to protect it. The flag represents hardiness, purity, and justice.  It is also represent a free country.

What to do on Flag Day? The best idea is probably to display the flag. According to the Veteran Affairs, the flag should be on top to pay respect to those who are in the military.

Posted in History | Leave a comment

Me, as a Refugee and an Intern

Authored by: Sarafina Shukuru, Intern from the Refugee Program

When I heard about an internship at the Refugee Center, a place that helps families from third world countries, I was excited about it. The internship implied working and the possibility of earning a grant. I took the offer without even knowing where they were going to hire me, but I am glad Salt Lake County Youth Services did!

A little about me. I’m from East Africa. I come from a small, but not so small country called Tanzania. I was a child, but I still remember my family and I going through many trials. We were in danger, so we had to move to a refugee camp. That’s when we met the United Nations (U.N). We needed to leave, it was a tough time for my nation.

We decided to go through a long process and finally came to America. I was 10 years old. It took three years to move to the United States, after going through questions and examinations. We were thankful, but the process continued as soon as we moved. They had more questions and exams to take when came in.


Fortunately, my dad could find a job within a month and my siblings started to go to school. I got lucky and actually graduated from High School in 2015. However, the relationship with my family was not the best and it got to a point in which they decided to kick me out.


Luckily, I got a friend who only wanted me to pay her 500 a month to stay at her place. I took the offer and everything went great until I started working. Things got intense. Since I wasn’t on the lease, I wasn’t able to get a key from my friend. I would come home late from work and she would be sleeping or sometimes not even home. One day I decided to give her most of my paycheck with the hope that she would give me a copy of the key. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.

I decided to go Utah’s Department of Workforce Services, talked to a counselor and connected with a Transition Home Caseworker. I moved in. Things got easier, but after three months of working, they decided to let me go. I moved back home and started thinking about what I wanted to do. Maybe school? I didn’t have enough savings for that. I went back to work. While employed, I applied to a few scholarships but didn’t hear anything back.

Things at home were just getting worse, so I decided to leave. I went from couch to couch until Summer, when a Transition Home Manager told me about Volunteers of America (VOA). I used to think that homelessness was only for old people, but that was a myth. At VOA, I found out that there are many youths who like me, were going through all kinds of issues. I met a person that was going to school but didn’t have enough funds to pay for a room, some others were dealing with drugs, many were undocumented, and there was at least two people who aged out of foster care.


It was difficult to watch. It was hard because some of the youth didn’t want the help that was offered to them. VOA provides food, clothes, hygiene, and school items. I stayed there for about four months while attending school. The staff helped me with homework, advised me and provided the schools supplies that I needed for my classes. I passed the majority of my courses and failed only one. Without VOA, I know that my situation would have been worse and probably I would have been one of those sleeping outside.

I just think that poverty is a huge issue in today’s world. You never know when, but it could come to you. Any person could get evicted or fired at any minute, and all of the sudden a tent is all you have. Where do you turn to afterwards? Drugs. Many people sell them to earn a living. But once they are caught, they will be going to jail or a rehab center. Most of them can pay the fine, but then they try to get a job and they don’t get a call back because of the charges on file. It’s harsh what homeless people must go through.

How do you end homelessness? Experts says that homelessness in the state has been reduced by 91%. But how did it work? I think housing, transportation, support, and job connections. There is still a lot to be done, but Utah is heading in the right direction of getting people off the streets.

Posted in Homeless Youth, SLCO, Youth Groups | Leave a comment

Refugee Summer Internship Program

Authored by: Khanh Tong, Prevention Case Manager

Each summer Salt Lake County Youth Services hosts the Refugee Summer Internship Program. The program usually starts on June 5th and ends on August 11th and the youth have the opportunity to work with various Salt Lake County agencies. The process is not easy. Interns go through interviews and trainings just like all County employees.


This year, we partnered with the County Library, Recreational Centers, Aging Services, Health Department, District Attorney’s Office and other agencies in Salt Lake City. These places will have open doors for Interns to learn, work, and be trained to perform various jobs.


The purpose of this Internship Program is to help youth gain employment skills, learn appropriate workplace behavior and acquire knowledge that will help them plan for their future. Unfortunately, many of these refugees come to the United States with many barriers that prevent them from working, such as having minimal English skills, a foreign educational background, and/or transportation. To be able to find employment is not an easy task. It is even harder for all of them, that is why this program has been a great pathway to find a job.

Fortunately, this year our Refugee Internship Program will have 50+ participants. We will for sure keep track on their progress and report on success stories to come.

Posted in SLCO, Success Stories, Youth Groups | Leave a comment

Parents Empowered Aims to Fight Underage Drinking

Authored by: Bel Villa and Joshua Nielsen, PR and Evidence2Success Board Members;                                Caroline Moreno, Education Program Manager

As a Community School Coordinator of Salt Lake County Youth Services working in Kearns Jr. High and as a Board member of the Evidence2Success Kearns Community Coalition, I see the Kearns community from many angles. I interact daily with students, teachers, parents and have built strong relationships with residents and other service providers, from the Library to United Way.


Part of my community work is through the Evidence2Success Kearns Community Coalition. Evidence2Success Kearns is a national effort that brings local communities together to improve youth outcomes. Our Community Board engages residents, parents, program providers, schools, and other institutions that support Kearns youth. Our job is find the primary issues that kids are facing at Kearns and implementing programs and policies to give them a boost towards success. Its hard work, but we’ve made great strides in our year together.


Last month, Evidence2Success Kearns launched an underage drinking campaign called Parents Empowered. Parents Empowered is a Utah statewide initiative that works through community coalitions to help parents talk to their kids about the harmful effects of drinking in young people’s brains. The campaign is currently up in the Kearns Library, Harmon’s Cougar Place, and the local Liquor Store. The ads at each location are designed to encourage parents to talk with their children and reduce underage drinking. Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams, Kearns Metro Township Council Chair Steve Perry, Kearns High School Students, and a slew of other community leaders led a press conference covered by ABC, FOX, KSL, Salt Lake Tribune, and Deseret News.


We want to thank to R & R Partners and the State of Utah for their support on the Parents Empowered campaign. Their creativity and financial support is allowing us to do great things!

However, I’d also like to highlight that not all our resources come in dollars. Sometimes the best resource is taking the time to greet our parents, encouraging healthy life styles, and ensuring that we do what we can to create a nurturing environment that students and their families need to succeed.

Posted in After School Program, Child Abuse, Family Counseling, Substance Abuse, Youth Groups | Leave a comment

Learning Gardens at Youth Services

Authored by: Maria Drummond, Recreational Therapist at Salt Lake County Youth Services

Last fall, General Electric Health built us five new boxes for the Teen Learning Garden, and installed an irrigation system with an automatic timer. This month, Zions Bank employees donated seeds and planted the garden beds with our youth.  HDR, Inc. volunteers donated paint and paint brushes and helped our youth freshen up our T-Rex statues, which are looking fabulous again, after a winter’s worth of weathering beat them down a bit.


Thanks to the generous donations of time and resources from these corporations, Salt Lake County Youth Services Learning Gardens are planted and thriving! We have five large beds in the Teen Learning Garden, which will be used by our Boys Group Home, Girls Group Home, Crisis Residential, and even one of our After School Summer Programs, which will care for their garden as part of their weekly field trips to work with our onsite Challenge Course. We also have four smaller garden beds that the children at the Christmas Box House will have access to.


Our campus is looking beautiful, as we have: a flower and a salsa garden, corn, pumpkins, beans, carrots, zucchini, cucumbers, radishes, a grape arbor, strawberries and a thorn-less blackberry bush. Throughout the season, the youth and children who stay in our emergency shelter and crisis care programs will have access to this growing space to learn more about growing food, horticulture, and how to prepare vegetables that may or may not be familiar to them. Gardening can be a restorative, relaxing, and even an empowering activity. We look forward to spending the summer caring for these green spaces and building our understanding of the natural world.


We actually have one on-going volunteer who will work with our youth and kids throughout the growing season to teach them about garden care, vegetable harvesting, and recipes involving the variety of vegetables and fruit in our gardens.  If you would like to volunteer in this way as well, please contact Maria Drummond at mdrummond@slco.org for details!  No specialized garden knowledge is necessary, just an interest in learning and serving the kids and youth at Salt Lake County Youth Services.




Posted in After School Program, SLCO, Success Stories, Volunteers and Boards, Youth Groups | Leave a comment