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The City Journals

Jars fill with Murray High students’ spare change, improving lives at local YWCA shelter

Feb 22, 2021 09:47AM ● By Julie Slama

Murray High’s Peer Leadership Team’s “Pennies for People” campaign helped women in the YWCA shelter get the items they needed such as coats, food and personal hygiene items. (Photo courtesy jweston from FreeImages)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

For a few weeks leading up to winter break, Murray High’s Peer Leadership Team counted donations of spare change made by their classmates, staff and faculty at the school. 

The “Pennies for People” campaign not only provided fun incentives such as getting a pie in the face or being slimed, it educated their peers about the plight of others and made an effort to help improve their lives, said Aspen Gardner, a Murray High senior and Peer Leadership Team president.

“We just set out jars at lunch and took online donations to keep it simple,” she said. “It all counts toward helping people.”

Gardner said the 15-member club decided after brainstorming to help the YWCA get items they need, such as coats, food, and hygiene items.

“This is a time and a year where it seems more people are in need so I’m glad we’re able to have it happen; it feels good that we’re getting people involved in whatever way they can,” she said.

According to their website, YWCA Utah is the first and most comprehensive domestic violence services provider in the state, and it offers trauma-informed critical life-saving services to community members in need. As part of their services, since 1998, the YWCA Utah also has included transitional housing programming as a step from emergency shelter towards security, safety, and self-sufficiency in permanent housing.

PLT adviser Danielle Humphreys is aware of students who have stayed or are staying at the YWCA’s housing, which brings the fundraiser back home to the Murray High community.

“We know there’s a need within our community so our students stepped up to find a way to help,” she said.

Gardner and other student leaders found ways to spread the word including posters and Spartan Vision (school newscast) and lunch activities to educate and spread awareness about others’ needs and to donate to their campaign.

“Our goal was to get as many kids as possible involved. Sometimes people don’t see or understand the need, and it could be someone next to them in class or in a club we’re in. It’s an eye-opener, and I’ve become more grateful for what I do have and my situation,” she said.

Gardner said for seven years, she has volunteered at Primary Children’s Hospital talking to children diagnosed with cancer. As a brain cancer survivor herself, she knows being in bed all day can be hard.

“You get down on yourself. I feel for the kids there. I’ve been there myself,” she said, adding that because of her experience, she wants to pursue a medical field career. “I want to reach out and help others have a brighter day.”

Gardner works alongside club leadership to designate a theme for each month and finding a way to address issues through education and service. After December’s focus centered on charity, January’s theme addressed emotional health and plans were to talk about dealing with stress, learn how to take an emotional break or time out to rejuvenate through music or yoga or other methods as well as how to reach out to others trying to cope.

“I love helping people and lifting their spirits,” she said. “PLT really helps to teach others. I like being part of a team and I’m getting wonderful leadership skills. We’re getting things done, although it’s different during COVID-19 than in years past, we’re still reaching out, getting kids involved and making a difference—and that’s what counts.”