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New project campaigns to provide resources to teens in need

Volunteers from the Policy Project at their Cache Valley kick-off event.
The Policy Project
Volunteers from the Policy Project at their Cache Valley kick-off event.

“It was three and a half years before I received the support and help I needed.”

Ceselia Gonzalez spoke at the Policy Project's kick-off event
Anna Johnson
Ceselia Gonzalez spoke at the Policy Project's kick-off event

Cesilia Gonzalez struggled with housing and food insecurity through most of her high school years, even after reaching out to teachers and administrators for help.

“It was easier to turn a blind eye, not that these people that I trusted didn’t care, but who do you call? What’s the number? And how do you do it in a way that’s actually beneficial and not detrimental to a family or to these children?” she said.

Now, she’s working with the non-profit The Policy Project to ensure Utah teens will have access to resources like laundry, showers, and a trusted adult right in their high school. The National Center for Homeless Education says there are over ten-thousand homeless students in Utah couch-surfing, camping out, or even living in cars.

The Policy Project’s first campaign, the Period Project successfully placed menstruation products into all women’s and gender-neutral bathrooms in Utah high schools. Their new Teen Centers Project would repurpose underutilized spaces in high schools into centers with showers, laundry and other necessary resources for unhoused teens.

Emily Bell McCormick, the founder and president of the Policy Project says these centers will help students focus on their studies.

“If you’re hungry, and you go to class you’re not learning, right? You’re not focusing on class, you’re not able to fully be present,” McCormick said.

At their Northern Utah kick-off event at Ridgeline High School on January 18th, volunteers wrote postcards to their legislators, urging them to approve Governor Cox’s 2024 budget which would allocate $20 million to the Teen Centers Project.

Cache Valley Organizer Christine Jackman says many volunteers shared their personal stories on these postcards.

“I’m just reading some of these and I’m overwhelmed. One of these says, ‘What a difference it would have made for me to have had a teen center in my school growing up, that would have made a huge difference in my life. So please, let’s do this for the next generation,” Jackman read.

Gonzalez says having the support of a teen center would have changed her family’s life.

“It goes back to being able to have that adult. And if I walk out with a cup of soup, then that’s a bonus and a plus.”

During the last legislative session, the Utah Legislature approved $2 million for the Teen Centers. This session, the Policy Project is campaigning to increase that funding to $20 million which, in partnership with private donors, would make these centers possible.

Anna grew up begging her mom to play music instead of public radio over the car stereo on the way to school. Now, she loves radio and the power of storytelling through sound. While she is happy to report on anything from dance concerts to laughter practice, her main focus at UPR is political reporting. She is studying Journalism and Political Science at Utah State University and wants to work in political communication after she graduates. In her free time, she spends time with her rescue dog Quigley and enjoys rock climbing.