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Taylorsville Journal

Kearns High School student group gathering donations for area food pantries

Apr 19, 2021 11:22AM ● By Carl Fauver

Members of the Evidence2Success Kearns Youth Council include (L-R): Angel Balladares, Antonio Banuelos, Adrian Miranda, Emily Mendoza, Natalie Huerta, Esmeralda Higuera and Alyssa Sainsbury. (Becky Guertler)

By Carl Fauver | [email protected]

A group of energetic Kearns High School students is now in the midst of raising thousands of dollars to assist the food pantry that operates in their own school, along with five other school-based pantries throughout their community.

KHS sophomore Emily Rojo Mendoza is president of the Evidence2Success Kearns Youth Council, a group of about nine students who are trying to better their community. She has at least two goals: to assist the food pantries and to show adults that kids her age can take on issues and do something about them.

“I think a lot of people believe teenagers either don’t know what they are doing or aren’t committed to getting things done,” Mendoza said. “I think our [coalition] is important because we are making an impact. I got involved because I wanted to be a part of something that would serve people.”

The youth council is now in the midst of trying to raise $12,000 to serve six school-based food pantries throughout Kearns. It arrived at that goal after a Taylorsville business owner donated half that amount out of the blue.

“Complete Recovery donated $6,000 to our food pantry drive, and that’s when we decided to try to match that amount in other donations to get the total to $12,000,” Emily said. “We have raised an additional $550 so far (as of March 15), and we’re now putting up signs and reaching out through social media to raise the rest.”

That begs a couple of question then: how did Complete Recovery learn about the fledgling donation drive? And what motivated such a generous initial donation? For those answers you have to track down someone raised in Taylorsville, which now employees 200 people in the community.

Complete Recovery President and co-founder Aaron Meier attended Bennion Jr. High all three years, followed by one semester at Taylorsville High School. But back then, students in his neighborhood were being bussed to the much-less-crowded Cottonwood High School. So, he completed his high school career there, graduating in 1988.

“I grew up in Kearns and Taylorsville and now own businesses in both communities,” Meier said. “I know there are some challenges. There is a bit of blight in the area. When you hear about kids making an effort to help other kids, you have to help out. I have a soft spot when it comes to people helping others. I told them I was in and said this would not have to be a one-time donation.”

Technically, Meier explained, Complete Recovery donated $5,000 to the food pantry drive, while a real estate company he operates donated the additional $1,000. Meier learned about the donation drive through the “Nextdoor” phone app. On its website, Nextdoor claims it “connects neighbors to each other and to everything nearby: businesses, services, news updates and more.”

Evidence2Success Kearns Community Coalition Chairwoman Becky Guertler says Nextdoor was one of the first places they posted the notice about the food pantry donation drive. The youth council operates under the coalition’s direction. And both groups were shocked when Meier made his companies’ donation so early in the process.

“There are about 30 members of the Kearns E2S Coalition, and last July I was elected chair,” Guertler said. “The coalition has been around about five years. But we’ve only had the youth council for a year, after receiving additional grant funding through the Utah State University Extension Teen Spheres of Influence Program.”

Since its inception in September 2015, one of the primary goals of the coalition has been to encourage Kearns-area students to steer clear of alcohol and marijuana. A recent survey reveals, those numbers have gone down slightly, although E-cigarette use is up. Guertler said her coalition members remain committed to improving those numbers, even as they also take up additional causes such as student hunger and food insecurity.

Like donor Aaron Meier, Guertler’s roots also run deep in Taylorsville and Kearns. After graduating from Taylorsville High in 1994, her career has now taken her to ChamberWest—which serves both communities—where she is the director of marketing, business development and sales. Her family also built its home in Kearns some 20 years ago.

“We have fabulous neighbors, and I never want to leave,” Guertler said. “From what I have seen, Kearns has kind of an unfair reputation. We are a small town in a big city. We have some of the best people living here, and I am proud to help with the coalition. I’m also proud of the work our youth council is doing.”

Guertler is also pleased to have connected with Meier and his successful businesses.

Complete Recovery (1065 West Levoy Drive, about 4530 South) is a 24-hour call center employing about 200 people. Meier and his business partner purchased their 43,000-square-  foot headquarters building three years ago. Employees serve Amazon and other top companies by coordinating equipment (often cable television hardware) returns and arranging financial debt payments. Complete Recovery employs another 50 people some 3,400 miles southeast of Taylorsville, in Bogotá, Columbia.

Financial donations for the E2S Kearns Youth Council food pantry drive are now being accepted at all America First Credit Union branches. Proceeds will pass through the Granite School District Education Foundation to serve food pantries at: Beehive, David Gourley, South Kearns and West Kearns elementary schools, Kearns Junior High and Kearns High.

“We have been putting posters around Kearns High to solicit donations,” youth council Mendoza said. “Target and other stores have donated gift cards that we are using for weekly prize drawings. The more money people donate, the more chances they get to win a gift card. What I am most proud of is, 100% of the money we raise will go directly to the food pantries.”

E2S Kearns Youth Council members hope to complete their $12,000 donation drive before the end of the school year. Mendoza reports they will then hold periodic meetings through the summer and come up with a new community challenge to take on next.

All from a group of teenagers who know what they are doing and are committed to getting things done. 

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