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The City Journals

Murray’s seeds of service sprout groves of gratitude

Jan 08, 2019 02:48PM ● By Shaun Delliskave

Murray paramedics Travis Bodtcher, Joe Beard and Jon Grangroth returned to an accident scene to help put up Christmas lights. (Photo courtesy Melissa Porter)

By Shaun Delliskave | [email protected]

Sometimes it takes a small act of service to make a big impact. In Murray, there are individuals and groups who did just that. Their actions, while different, had three things in common: they saw a need, organized a plan, and did the work to complete it. 

Amy Moore

Theresa Ludlow has been taking her three daughters to Studio 56 Dance Center (170 W. Winchester St.) for years. The owner, Amy Moore, known to her students as Miss Amy, creates a warm and welcoming vibe in her classes.

“Her dance studio has become a second family for my girls and a lot of other dancers. My girls love going there, and they talk about Miss Amy all the time,” said Ludlow.

Moore doesn’t just teach her kids to dance but also teaches the benefits of giving service. Every year Studio 56 organizes three charity drives to support groups in the Murray area. “Besides wanting to give back to the community, she also believes in building children up instead of knocking them down. She teaches the kids at her studio responsibility and lets them shine,” noted Ludlow.

One of the most popular fundraisers Moore puts on is the pajama and book drive. Moore got the idea from the popular family tradition of giving the children a new pair of pajamas every Christmas Eve. Moore felt that giving pajamas to other children was a way to help even her youngest dancers grasp the concept of giving. The students collect pajamas and books for the Utah Foster Care Foundation and put on a benefit concert. Last year her students collected a total of 1,094 pajamas, 459 books, and $7,000.

According to Ludlow, “I have always wanted to instill the idea of ‘giving back’ in my kids, and I think it is easier to do so when a group that they are involved in gives back as well. When they see others doing something like this, they will, hopefully, be more inclined to do so as well. I think it is great for them to see that someone they love and look up to does acts of goodwill. I hope it inspires them to do the same.”

Jessica Christenson

When Miss Murray 2018, Jessica Christenson, revealed not only the platform for her reign—depression and suicide awareness—she also revealed that she has personally dealt with those issues, and people were surprised with her candor. Her passion behind her H.O.P.E (Hold On Pain Ends) project attracted many to come out to support her. At the Nov. 20 Murray City Council meeting, the city praised her efforts, and she also appeared on “Good Things Utah” to discuss her events.

Christenson hosted two events. Her Princess Tea Party fundraiser raised over $1,000 for Primary Children's Network. “We were also able to sponsor over 50 Murray students to come for free so they could have the experience of feeling like a princess for a day,” said Christenson.

Her second event was a Hope Walk for Murray City in which people from all backgrounds came to support loved ones who deal with depression or have family members who committed suicide.

“I wanted to have an event where the City could join together in love, peace, and unity to commemorate those who deal with mental illnesses,” she said. “I wanted to bring awareness to the epidemic that depression and suicide have become today. I feel strongly that depression needs to be addressed more, so friends and family can better know how to recognize it, address it, and help understand the sickness that their loved ones are dealing with. I wanted to honor the lives that have been lost and have the event be a healing experience for them and their families.” 

The Hope Walk featured white flags lining the course with the names of those who deal with chronic depression, who have attempted suicide, or who have completed suicide. A guest speaker shared her experience as a mom who lost her 17-year-old daughter to suicide. The event also included a silent auction with items donated by various Salt Lake area businesses. The $1,200 in proceeds were donated to The Reach Program, a suicide prevention organization.

“It was a lot of hard and time-consuming work to put it all together, but with the results and the lives we were able to touch, I would do it again in a heartbeat. I believe it brought a group of people together who could relate to each other, whether they were dealing with depression or dealing with the pain of losing someone. I hope that, in the end, those dealing with depression could see that when one takes their life it doesn't end the pain, it just passes it on to those they leave behind,” explained Christenson. 

Christenson estimates around 300 people participated in the Hope Walk. Many participants had lost a loved one to suicide and wanted to walk on behalf of them. A large family of 30 people who attended had just lost their son to suicide within a couple months of the event. They all wore T-shirts with his name on it.

“I will never forget the mothers, fathers, and other loved ones that came up to me and shared their story of how they have been impacted by suicide. It honestly was an emotional day for all who attended,” she said.

With her reign now ended, Christenson intends to continue trying to make a difference in promoting good mental health. Her goal is to continue spreading her message of H.O.P.E. to as many individuals as possible. Also, she will still share her story of dealing with depression to hopefully impact others and help them through their difficult experiences.

“This past year I learned that being Miss Murray was not about me, it was about the neighbor who called and asked me what she should say to her students who had just lost a classmate to suicide that day. It was about a cousin who messaged me wondering what she should do to help her daughter who was dealing with depression. It was about speaking in the schools and telling the students my story of dealing with depression and what helped me, and then having a teacher come up afterward and mention that there were many kids in her class that were struggling,” Christenson said. 

She is grateful to have had the chance to be Miss Murray this past year, because, she said, “It gave me the avenue to get into doors and make an awareness of something that seems to be affecting most of us these days one way or another.” 

Joe Beard, Travis Bodtcher, Jon Grangroth

Paramedics generally know what time of year it is by the nature of the calls they respond to. December, of course, is decoration doomsday for many people who fall off ladders and roofs as they attempt to hang lights and wreaths. While responding to such accidents are part of the job for Murray City Emergency Medical Technicians Joe Beard, Travis Bodtcher and Jon Grangroth, these EMTs showed one family the extra meaning of “care” in emergency care.

Melissa Porter’s father, David Bridge, was hanging Christmas lights on their rambler. At the roof’s highest pitch, 14 feet off the ground, Bridge had just finished securing a string of lights when the ladder started to move.

“He knew he was coming down, and, in that split second, he also knew that he shouldn’t land on his back, so he twisted himself enough to land on his side. Our yard is lined with a cement curbing, unfortunately, and he came down on that as well as some bushes,” said Porter.

As the working single mom of a young son, Porter depends on her 74-year-old father’s help a lot. He does the yard work for her, cleans the house, and makes sure her son, Nick, gets off to school on time. He even cooks dinner for them.

“When my dad was hanging the lights, my mom, Kathleen, was inside,” explained Porter. “When she looked up and didn’t see the ladder, she ran outside to see what was going on. She saw my dad lying on the ground, gasping for air. She ran over to him and asked if he was alright, did he need an ambulance. He told her, ‘Do you think you can move me?’ They tried to move him and he screamed in agony.” 

Kathleen called 911, and within minutes Beard, Bodtcher, and Grangroth were there. Kathleen was distraught as they loaded Bridge into the ambulance. According to Porter, “They were very comforting and very sweet. They knew my mom was upset and they were so great at calming her down.” 

With Bridge in the hospital, the family needed to figure out how they were going to finish decorating for Christmas, get Nick to school, clean the house, bring out the garbage cans, and everything else her dad usually does. 

The Saturday after the accident, Porter looked out the window and saw three large guys hanging Christmas lights. “I started to freak out…and I thought my brother-in-law had some people hanging random lights. Then he came in to tell me that the wonderful paramedics who rescued my dad had come over on their own to finish hanging them for him. Well, I started crying when I called my mom, who was at the hospital with my dad, and she started crying.”

The EMTs didn’t want any recognition and didn’t even give the Porter family their names. “I have heard stories of people doing kind things, but I never believed it would happen to us. They went way above the call of duty.” 

Viewmont Elementary Community

Students were just arriving at Viewmont Elementary on Monday, Nov. 19, when fire and smoke erupted from an old wooden house yards away from the school. As children witnessed the frightening scene, a greater tragedy was unfolding inside the house. The inferno grew to a two-alarm fire as multiple units from Murray and Unified Fire Departments responded.

By the time the fire was extinguished, it had claimed the lives of 7-year-old Viewmont student Cassidy Jackson and her grandmother, 53-year-old Lisa Wiley, who was a volunteer at Viewmont. Cassidy’s mother, who was pregnant, made it out, as well as her uncle.

On the day of the event, school went on as usual. Students who saw the fire were unaware of its devastation. An email was sent home to parents informing them of what had occurred, allowing them to talk with their children at home about what had transpired, thus allowing the parents to help their children process it.  

The close-knit Viewmont community was devasted but wanted to help the grief-stricken family. Immediately, the Viewmont Parent Teacher Association (PTA) went to the Mountain America Credit Union in Murray to create an account for the family.

“So many students, parents, and community members wanted to do something to help, so an account was set up to offer help to the family with funeral and living expenses, as a way to honor Cassidy,” said Kelly Taeoalii, a member of the PTA.

She recalls, “While setting up the account for Coins for Cassidy at the bank, the gal helping us was moved by the story. She wanted to see if Mountain America would pitch in and give a donation and went to speak with a manager about it. She came back with puffy eyes and said she didn’t realize it was Lisa Wiley that had passed. She said Lisa made the deposits for Subway and was in their branch just about every day. Every employee there knew her and they were all heartbroken.”

The school prepared for the students’ return to school the day after the fire. They invited the second graders (Cassidy’s grade) to wear their pajamas to school and bring a stuffed animal with them. Parents were allowed to keep their children home if desired, and it would be excused. They had many counselors and social workers brought in and offered help to any student or adult in need.  Rooms and spaces were set up with colorful tablecloths, plants, flowers, and toys where students could go to get help processing their feelings or fears. A therapy dog also visited the school and provided students with a little extra love and comfort. A parent, Courtney Russell, help set up a memorial outside the burned-out home with Smith’s Food and Drug donating balloons.

John Park, who lives near the school and is the administrator of the Murray Citizens Facebook page, pooled money from donors and was able to give a grocery store gift card to all the fire stations that responded to the fire. Students at Viewmont collected donations to help the family, and soon children from Grant and Liberty Elementary also collected funds. Together, the three schools raised over $2,500 in their coin jars, $2,000 from Viewmont alone.

“We hope to raise enough money to help the family and to put a buddy bench on our playground in Cassidy’s honor. She was always quick to share a hug or a smile with anyone. This will be a special bench for students to sit on when they feel they don’t have anyone to play with. Whenever other students see someone sitting on the bench, they will be encouraged to ask that student to play and help them feel included. We are all important, and Cassidy will always help me remember that,” noted Taeoalii.

As of Dec. 1, the PTA announced that they received enough in donations for the bench and will continue to accept donations for the family. Those interested in donating can go to Mountain America Credit Union and donate into an account named “Coins for Cassidy” or online with Venmo @coinsforcassidy.

Taeoalii reflects, “As far as the fire, how very tragic and sad. What I have found so interesting and so clear by this tragedy is that we often feel insignificant, but then something like this just shows how much of an impact we actually make. As far as Viewmont goes, it has been amazing to watch the community rally around this tragedy. We really are a small town disguised as a big city. I was touched by the amount of help Viewmont received.”