While in high school, Alice Barnett traveled to Nepal a year after
a tragic earthquake. “While everyone was struggling to rebuild
their homes and make ends meet, they gave us their food and
other kinds of offerings in thanks and praise. It was one of the
most rewarding and memorable times in my life,” she said.
Barnett went to Nepal with Youthlinc, a nonprofit organization based in Salt Lake City, Utah. It teaches students leadership skills and a desire to serve others through their programs. Each year the organization serves humanitarian missions to Cambodia, Peru, Thailand, Fiji, Kenya, Nepal, and Vietnam, with a new mission to Jamaica this summer.
“Our Service Year program is unlike any other travel abroard
program,” says Justin Powell, Youthlinc’s Executive Director.
“These trips are not for sightseeing, but to serve others in
countries that do not have as many privileges as we do. We work
hard, but have fun doing it. Many students who go through our
program come home absolutely transformed.”
Powell says this was the case for him after his wife, Britnee,
convinced him to serve as a mentor on a trip to Thailand in
2008. She was the team leader and had been involved with
Youthlinc since 1999. “After that first trip, I was hooked!” said
Since then, the Powells have been on twelve trips with
Youthlinc and started taking their seven-year-old son when
he was six months old. Now he and his twin sisters have taken
seven trips between them. “We want our family to be focused
on service and can’t think of a better way to teach our children,”
The Service Year program is open to high school and college
students. Students apply and are accepted in the fall of each year. Once accepted, applicants are placed on a team with peers and mentors from across Utah. Each team meets monthly to prepare for their two-week international trip the following summer.
For each international location, there are six different teams: construction, community health, cultural exchange, education, business development, and vocational training. All team members help with construction projects while at their international sites. They build projects based on the community’s needs. Last summer, they built restroom facilities for a small village in Fiji and renovated schools in Peru, Cambodia, and Thailand.
In Jamaica, the construction committee plans to help villagers
on the southeast side of the island create a well with funds from
grant money and other donations.
The community health team will address the village’s most
pressing medical and health needs by holding health fairs
and donating needed medical supplies. Last year in Peru they
taught classes on personal hygiene and first aid and donated
deworming medicine to the local families.
“We do not operate an open ‘come one, come all’ clinic. It is
not sustainable, but the knowledge and understanding we teach
them is sustainable,” said Powell.
Powell says the cultural exchange group will organize an
opening and closing ceremony and meet with villagers in their
homes. He believes students may learn about slavery when
discussing Jamaican family history with the villagers. “I believe
our students will learn a lot from this and maybe it will help
them as they return to America and open doors for them to talk
about it at home,” said Powell.
In Jamaica, the education committee will teach lessons and
donate school supplies. The business development committee
will find and strengthen business opportunities. Finally, the
vocational training will teach skills such as baking, sewing, and
barbering. In Peru last summer, they taught villagers to sew life
jackets and to create a community garden.
While Service Year students are a part of a committee, it is
not all they need to do to prepare for their international trip.
Each student must personally fundraise the money for their trip
(sometimes up to $4000) and give 80 hours of service in their
“This program is rigorous and requires work, but anything
that is worth doing requires work. When the students start
to make service a part of their weekly plan, they are on their
way to making a lifestyle change and becoming a lifetime
humanitarian,” says Powell.
Madison Sudweeks, a senior majoring in social work at the
University of Utah joined when she was 17. She served locally at
the Hser Ner Moo community center tutoring and mentoring
refugees and immigrant youth. Sudweeks went to Cambodia
twice, Guatemala, and Peru.
“Before Youthlinc, I was focused on school and sports and
didn’t really know how to be involved in my community, but
my experience changed my life and ignited a passion in me for
service. I’ve worked in an afterschool program for four years
now and I plan on working to support others in my community
for the rest of my life. I want to work to make the world a better
place,” said Sudweeks.
Visit Youthlinc at www.youthlinc.org