Youthlinc started in 1999, when Founder Judy Zone was a secondary school teacher. She has been asked to tell the story so many times, we’ve printed here:
When my daughter graduated from high school, she knew she came into a few thousand dollars that I had put aside for her since she was born. She said the nicest thing to me when I asked her what she wanted to use the money for. She said she would like to take a trip with me! She wanted to go on safari, which seriously was not anything that had ever crossed my mind.
Because it is so expensive to travel to Africa, we went with a Kenyan owned safari company, and fortunately got to spend as much time with the people as with the animals. Because it was a mother-daughter trip, we had a lot of time to process the information. Kenyans speak English, so there was not a communication barrier to understanding a completely different culture.
My daughter, Sara, had always been a service minded person. She and her friends volunteered every Sunday morning through their last two years in high school feeding the homeless under the viaduct in Salt Lake City.
As a secondary and college teacher, it was fascinating to me during our trip to see a young person make the connections between local needs and international needs. People in Kenya went hungry- and no one was feeding them under the viaduct. There was no free clinic to go to when they were sick. But the Kenyans were so happy — just to be alive each day. It was a remarkably lesson my daughter learned, and a remarkably eye-opening experience for both us.
When we returned, I was simply obsessed with figuring out a way that other young people could see the connection between local and international service. Slowly over the next year, the idea for the Youthlinc Service Year emerged. Because I am a lifetime educator, with M.Ed and other graduate work in education, the Service Year would always have a curriculum based in research in what works to engage students, create leaders, and lifetime humanitarians.
Past, Present and Future
From 1999-2004, Youthlinc had no paid employees, just a growing group of volunteers. We still have hundreds of volunteers – our loyal Service Year alums and their parents – but now we also have an Executive Director, Office Manager, a Local Service Director, International Service Director, a Real Life Program Director, and a Community Liaison/Assistant Program Director.
Our volunteers help us in every aspect of running our organization, from fundraising to office work. We could not exist without them. In fact, the time contributed by just the volunteer leadership in our Service Year and Real Life afterschool teen mentoring program adds up to 10 FTE employees!
Our Service Year has grown steadily. The first year, 1999-2000, we had 20 participants and served a site near Mombasa, Kenya.
Our second year, 30 participants went to Ngala School, in Nakuru, Kenya. In this year, Youthlinc began its partnership with Utah Rotary clubs.
In our third year, there were approximately 36 participants each in Service Year teams to Kenya and Mexico. In this year, we began a partnership with the Special Education, Physical Therapy, and Occupational Therapy programs at the University of Utah. In our fourth year, we added our Peru site: three programs with approximately 36 participants.
Soon after, we partnered with the University of Utah College of Nursing, U of U Health Sciences LEAP, Utah State University, and Westminster College.
In 2005, our Utah Local Service Directory was created as a magazine – service sites recommended by our alumni to incoming Service Year students searching for a quality local service site where they could contribute hands on service. Over the years, the magazine was distributed to every service club in the state. Now, our Local Service Directory is an online resource to quality service sites where youth can volunteer.
Also in 2005, we began our statewide annual search for Utah’s Young Humanitarian, awarding that individual who excels at giving back with the state’s largest service scholarship: $5,000, with significant runner up awards.
In 2008, we partnered with the Rotary Club of Patong Beach, Thailand to open a site in that nation.
In 2010, we opened a new site in Cambodia, partnering with the Angkor Rotary Club of Siem Reap. The following year, we changed partnership to Sustainable Cambodia, a Rotary-funded NGO in Pursat, Cambodia.
Also, in 2010, we kicked off our Real Life peer mentoring program with Hser Ner Moo Center in South Salt Lake. This program has now grown to five South Salt Lake sites, and is our flagship local service program, providing hands on mentoring, educational, and cultural exchange activities planned by students for students. In 2015 we began partnerships with Catholic Community Services and the Asian Association of Utah to open a total of 8 Real Life sites. Currently, we partner with a variety of organizations to provide programming at 12 centers.
In 2011, we opened a new site in Guatemala, and started a new partnership with Sustainable Cambodia.
In 2012, we opened two new international sites, partnering with Solidarités Jeunesses (SJ) Vietnam, and Ak’tenamit in Guatemala.
In 2014, we began partnerships with People for Guatemala and the Rotary Club of Kathmandu Metro in Nepal.
In 2015, we began partnership with Madagascar Cooperative Foundation and the Rotary Club Antananarivo Ambohitsorohitra in Antananarivo, Madagascar. We also changed partnership in Thailand from the Rotary Club of Patong Beach to Travel to Teach in Chiang Mai.
In 2016, our Founder, Judy Zone, retired and the Board of Directors selected Justin Powell as the new Executive Director. Additionally, the Global Community Leadership program started, partnering Youthlinc with Utah State University for a study abroad service trip for credit.
In 2017, we began partnership with the Rotary Club of Suva Peninsula Sunset in Fiji.
From the inception of the program in 1999, 2,250 Youthlinc Service Year students have contributed 250,000+ hours of service in their own communities all over Utah. More than 800 adult professionals have served as mentors.
We now partner with the University of Utah, Utah State University, Westminster College, Dixie State University, the City of South Salt Lake, the Asian Association of Utah, Salt Lake City School District, and Granite School District.