In the 1830s, many Native Americans were forced from their homeland and were relocated to territories west of the Mississippi River. The journey they took is infamously known as the Trail of Tears, due to the thousands who died from the extreme cold, starvation, and harsh conditions they faced. The Choctaw people were one of the tribes affected, and they tried their best to make Oklahoma their home, despite losing many beloved family members along the way. Sixteen years later, news reached the tribe of the Irish Potato Famine. A disease called late blight decimated the potato crop which was the staple food source for most Irish. People were starving. An estimated 1 million people died and another estimated 1 million people emigrated from the country. The Choctaw saw their suffering and viewed it as unnecessary, similar to their own trial, and it inspired action motivated by empathy. The tribe donated $170, which is equivalent to about $5,000 today. The amount was small, but the love behind the donation had bound these unlikely nations together.
Their contribution made headlines in Ireland. It was extraordinary because it came from very far away and from a group who didn’t have familial ties with the people who were suffering. The Irish people remember the seemingly small amount of money gifted as being legendary. Their bond remains strong and inspiring.
We don’t have to look across the globe to find magnificent examples of charity, though. In fact, according to an article published on Oct. 3, 2019, Ogden was ranked the most charitable city in the country, with Salt Lake City coming in as the 6th most charitable city! MagnifyMoney, a personal finance website created by LendingTree, reported that 87% of residents in Ogden itemized returns with charitable donations on their tax returns that amounted to about 6.9% of the residents’ income. The study suggests cities that are religious centers, and cities that are highly charitable, seem to be linked.
Beyond the regular citizens who donate their resources to charity, there are some individuals and organizations that are taking action to shape our communities into better places. We have highlighted just a few, and we hope you take advantage of opportunities to show love through giving or service. Not only can it make others’ lives better, but it can bring more joy and fulfillment to your own.
Sleep in Heavenly Peace
Scott Decaria, his friend Dave Marin, and another Syracuse man, Jay Tucker, were all inspired to start a chapter for Sleep in Heavenly Peace in Syracuse after they saw a TV segment highlighting the charity. The three of them have been helping get children their own beds in Northern Utah ever since.
The organization builds and delivers beds to children between 3 and 17 who are in tough situations and don’t have a bed of their own. At SHP, they work to raise money to build beds and then rally the community to construct them. “We bring in the tools and use the money donated to buy the material. We set up everything, and then volunteers help us build the beds. It’s a community effort,” said Decaria. It’s an all-volunteer organization, even for the founder, so no one has a salary and all the money goes to helping the people.
Decaria said usually an organization will sponsor a build and then bring in the volunteers after they raise enough money. A full bunk bed costs $350, so divide the amount raised by the cost, and you have the amount of beds they can make. They’ve had many organizations participate, including Lowes and Crossfit; most recently, a Boy Scout used it for his Eagle Scout project in December of 2019. They even made the deliveries on Christmas Eve.
When they deliver beds, they deliver bedding and pillows, so it really helps when people donate these items. The Syracuse Lady Lions have been instrumental in making and donating quilts for the deliveries. Decaria said SHP also takes any monetary donations, even if a person or organization can’t sponsor a build. Once they get enough money raised, the three of them put on a community build. Stay tuned to their Facebook page to know when you can be a part of one!
SHP connects with people who need beds primarily through the SHP website https://www.shpbeds.org/. A person can fill out a form to request a bed. From there, the requests get routed to the nearest chapter based on their zip code. The Syracuse chapter takes all requests in Utah from the Salt Lake area to the north.
They try to get the word out to organizations that are plugged into the community. Decaria said they didn’t realize how much demand there was in their own community. “In our first year, we delivered over 200 beds… We are delivering beds as often as we can and still have a backlog of over 100 requests that need to be delivered.”
Awesome Autistic Ogden
Stacy Bernal is a mom of two boys, and her 14-year-old son, Haiden, has Autism Spectrum Disorder. In March of 2018, she saw there were Autism Walks planned in Logan and Provo, but there was nothing happening in Ogden. She took matters into her own hands. She put together an autism walk in downtown Ogden, and that is how Awesome Autistic Ogden got its start.
Bernal said one of their goals at AAO is to teach others to love and appreciate people with neuro diversity. Sometimes, ASD manifests itself when a person doesn’t act the way people expect in social situations. They can look like anyone else, but they act and learn differently. Underneath the differences that might be obvious, they are still people who have a sense of humor, quirks, and personality. It’s just a matter of getting to know them. Bernal said there is a pretty good awareness of autism in the community, but what we need are more people who care and get to know the people who have it. “If you see the kids who are a little different, if you see someone who could use a friend, be that friend. Stand up for the person if you see someone getting made fun of.”
Today, Bernal and her committee are also working to connect resources with the people in and around Ogden who need them. Making the drive to Haiden’s multiple appointments each week in Salt Lake was tough, and she is hoping to coax more organizations to serve the Ogden area closer to home. AAO held their first annual event last year that brought organizations from all over Northern Utah to Weber State for a screening of Extraordinary People.
This year, Bernal hopes to bring more resources and people who would benefit from them to their event on April 11th, at the Ogden school district Special education building. It will be an open house with sensory activities geared for kids with ASD, and booths set up for the parents to get information about the various organizations. Anyone interested in volunteering at the event can connect with Bernal via the Awesome Autistic Ogden Facebook page.
Two people can be diagnosed with autism, but how it affects their day-to-day life can be very different. There isn’t a “one size fits all” solution, and Bernal emphasized that what works for one person doesn’t always work for another. She said that’s one reason why it’s so important for parents to have access to resources so they can find what works for their child. The love and passion behind Awesome Autistic Ogden comes from knowing what it’s like to be a special needs parent, and she hopes AAO can help bridge the gap for other parents.
Kristi Corless saw a need to help women with their feminine hygiene needs when she and her daughter were on a humanitarian trip in Kenya. Girls did not have the sanitary supplies to go out in public and, therefore, would miss 3-5 days of school every month. Missing school so consistently makes it challenging for young women to graduate, and graduating from school is the key to escape poverty for a Kenyan woman.
Her organization, Whole International, teaches Kenyan women how to sew reusable pads and make kits for the young women that last 3 years. This helps the girls going to school and gives women a viable option to earn money. For $10, a young woman can attend school for 3 years without having to worry about her natural cycle.
There is a lot of pressure for women to take care of themselves or stay home when they are menstruating. One 12 or 13-year-old girl was publicly shamed for soiling her uniform at school. She came home and committed suicide. Corless said it is heartbreaking to see young women who are dedicated to school turn to selling sexual favors to men as a way to earn money to pay for their hygiene supplies. She said it happens more often than you would think. Money is scarce within many families, and paying for supplies month to month is just not a realistic option.
Whole international is focused on educating and empowering the women in Kenya. Anita is a local Kenyan who works closely with the Days for Girls organization and is the “boots on the ground” person who helps keep things running for Whole International. Corless said the biggest way anyone can help is through monetary donations, since it can be difficult to transport donated cloth and sewing supplies all the way to Kenya. You can find Whole International on Venmo.
Historically, United Way has dispersed funding to various charities, but now that’s just a part of what they do. Tim Jackson, the President CEO of United Way in the Ogden and North Ogden area, explained they have programs that focus on education, income, and health.
Jackson said the volunteers find it very rewarding, especially when they see the difference their work is making. The people who tutor children reading in schools can see the improvement over time. Some volunteers are trained through an organization to do taxes for free for low income families. They walk away knowing they’ve saved families a lot of money where every little bit makes a big difference.
“People face crisis and run into situations that are out of their control,” said Jackson. He emphasized the importance of giving people a hand up instead of a hand out. United Way oversees the 211 resource and referral hotline. Anyone can call this number and get help for whatever type of service they need. Are you about to be evicted? There is help for that. Need a counselor? They’ll connect you to one.
The number isn’t only for people in need. Anyone can call, tell the operator what city they’re in, and ask for opportunities to volunteer as well. You can also find opportunities online at 211utah.org/index.php/volunteer or at Justserve.org