In recent years Wasatch County has undergone a tremendous amount of change. As the people who live in this beautiful valley we’ve had to take a deeper look at what we, the community, care about. American author, and huge proponent for community, Margaret J. Wheatley once said, “There is no power for change greater than a community discovering what it cares about.” I believe, during this ever-changing process of discovery, one thing has remained consistent; we care about each other. We care about community. Because we know what we care about — we, the community of Wasatch County, are capable of great change! We are capable of lifting others up regardless of our differences. We are capable of building a community that is better each day than it was the day before. We are capable of being the good we want to see in the world.
Our community has always strived to serve, so — it’s no wonder that for years Wasatch County had numerous organizations trying to fill the needs of our residents. It’s also no surprise that so many would want to volunteer; donating their time, services, goods, and money; but to which organization? And how did one make sure that their donations were going to help those within Wasatch County? What if you wanted your donations to go towards supporting a specific group or project? And, what if you were the one that needed assistance — which organization did you go to for help? The process seemed overwhelming for many donors and confusing for recipients. In 2005 a group of dedicated volunteers set out to create an easier path, forming the Wasatch Community Foundation. The foundation’s goal is to connect residents who want to donate, to residents in need — from the community, for the community.
According to their website, “Wasatch Community Foundation is . . . the largest all-volunteer, non-profit organization in Heber Valley.” Cassandra Smith, Director of Marketing, shared, “This is an all volunteer organization. We all live in Heber Valley; we all handpicked Wasatch County as our destination for living, we are all very committed to keeping our community as a place where people feel welcomed and can enjoy and feel safe and happy, and that goes for everyone that lives here.” Cassandra’s voice is full of emotion as she expresses the passion board members share for those living in Wasatch County, “We know that healthy families make happy communities and we want . . . the people in our community to feel welcome, and heard, and lifted, and loved . . . this foundation is a way for us to help, a way for us to give back.”
The mission of Wasatch Community Foundation is to advance the well-being of Wasatch County residents by uniting community resources and programs through the following pillars: Human Services, Health, Education, Recreation, and Arts. According to Tom Fowler, Board Chair and Health Pillar Chair, “There is a chair for each one of those pillars. They each have their own committee that has established their own vision and mission statement to establish their objectives.” Over the last fifteen years WCF has grown and changed to better serve the community’s needs. One of those changes is the implementation of the five pillars. Cassandra explained that, “These pillars were not decided on a whim. We spent a lot of time discussing and researching, and made our decision very carefully. [Using the philosophy of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs] we started at the very bottom; everyone needs food and shelter; moving up you need an education and a job, and we have those things covered in our education and human resources pillars; then continuing to entertainment [the Recreation and Art pillars], which actually helps to self actualize people as they move up Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. We use the pillars to match each of those stages as your developing into a self actualized individual and a happy healthy family.”
If you visit the Wasatch Community Foundation’s website (ourwcf.org) the first thing that greets you are the words; “Happy, Healthy Families Make Extraordinary Communities” written in bold letters and scrolled across a photo of two smiling faces. This simple sentence conveys the ethos of the foundation and everything WCF strives to do. In their earlier years, Jim Richie (one of WCF’s founders) and the foundation were instrumental in spearheading the UVU satellite campus, and helping to fund the Heber Valley Dialysis Center, and the Recreation Center. Through the years the foundation has also played an integral part ensuring that everyone who lives in Wasatch County has the basic necessities to be healthy. WCF partners with groups like Friends for Sight, Community in Action, CCPC, CCPC Heber Valley, St. Mary’s of the Assumption, St. Lawrence Church, Wasatch County School District, and others to provide dental, vision, hearing, and wellness exams and follow-ups to children who are returning to school without health insurance, food services to community members, students and their families, and cold-weather clothing to those in need. Recently the foundation brought together three of five different Christmas gift programs and created one program. Marilyn Fowler, Director and Admin, shared; “What it did was stop redundancy and competition for funds, allowing those events and programs to be more successful and more unified.”
Unification is the goal and perhaps one of the best examples of this is Wasatch Community Foundation’s Thanksgiving Dinner. This annual event strives to bring everyone in the community together — and they mean every one! From the Mayor to the current Rodeo Queen, to the police and banjo strumming cowboy bands, to senior citizens and your neighbor, your next-of-kin, and you! WCF works together with the hospital, health clinic, and high school to provide a free hot meal and fun-filled evening to anyone in the community who wants to join in. The dinner is held in the high school auditorium and the amazing high school chefs cook all the food. The foundation takes care of all expenses involved so that there is no cost to the high school. Tom gives the run-down; “We have the police there, giving away stuffed animals so that the kids become familiar with them. We have a photo booth to take pictures. The hospital provides shots, blood pressure testing, and other tests. We have a coat and glove drive for people to bring in coats, pants, gloves, hats, and it’s all separated by size. People can come in and get supplies for their kids. It’s a huge success. We have one or two of the Cowboy Poetry bands come and play the whole time, people get up and dance and have a lot of fun.” At first, the idea was to provide a meal for residents unable to enjoy a family Thanksgiving dinner but as plans progressed the foundation decided they wanted it to be “a celebration so that people from all walks of life would come.” A celebration where anyone, regardless of their situation, could feel welcomed, heard, lifted, and loved.
Ending on that note would be lovely; but much like the Grinch in the children’s story by Dr. Seuss who took, “. . . the Who’s feast . . . pudding . . . roast beast . . . cleaned out the ice box as quick as a flash [and] even took their last can of Who hash.” COVID crept into our community and quick as a flash our lives changed. Many of our residents lost jobs or had to close their businesses, our children could no longer attend school, we were told to stay away from our elderly, and eventually each other. The necessities of life were suddenly in short supply; many questioned how they were going to pay their mortgage or rent, how were they going to purchase food. While the run on toilet paper may have provided comic relief to some — the reality was — most were nervous about what this pandemic meant and what the future would hold. Everyone in our community suddenly became in need of something. Along with other organizations and individuals, Wasatch Community Foundation did what they do best — they went to work making connections with those in the community who could give and those in our community who needed to receive. The foundation partnered with CCPC and St. Mary’s to raise over $130,000 for Wasatch County residents needing help to pay rent, mortgages, utilities, etc. Marilyn had a huge impact on the program as she worked tirelessly finding families (through the school district and other sources) and helping connect them with St. Mary’s. Families were vetted, and lenders were asked to reduce payments, a one-time payment of $500 was then sent directly to the business. Over 200 families in Wasatch County were served through this collaboration. As COVID continued into the summer months the schools were concerned about the logistics of getting lunches to those students, using the school lunch program, who lived far away. The foundation stepped in and as Marilyn described, “We said, ‘Okay — we’re going to take care of that!’ [With the help of many volunteers] we distributed over 2,200 lunches to students that couldn’t make it to the schools. Our [local] restaurants got involved too. John Platt owner of Midway Mercantile Restaurant and our Human Services Chair, Renee [Burkley] worked together; John called the restaurants and every week one or two restaurants would provide hot meals for fifty families! Each of these restaurants would make the food and deliver it to the food pantry, families had to have a card, and they would pick up their food. This program was a great help to our valley.”
Helping our valley is what Wasatch Community Foundation is all about and although some events, like the Thanksgiving dinner, have gone the way of the ‘Who hash’ for a season; they will return. This year the foundation will be collaborating with CCPC to provide turkeys and a bag of additional Thanksgiving dinner items to families in our valley. Moving forward the foundation has great things planned. Tom stated, “The foundation can do big things for this valley and I think that we have the right board and structure to allow us to focus on projects, programs, and events in specific areas in this valley.” Projects like developing new trail systems, building an art center and an ice-rink, programs like developing a Trade School opportunity for High School students in collaboration with UVU, or a yearly community meet-and-greet event for businesses, non-profits, and community members, are just a few of the ideas residents have shared they’d like to see within our valley. Wasatch Community Foundation’s goal is to bring the people and organizations needed to make these desires a reality together. Tom explains, “The foundation helps with unifying groups and helping in whatever capacity is needed. We support all of Wasatch County — we have a broad approach as to how we meet our mission through our pillars.”
Wasatch Community Foundation’s motto says it best; “Happy, healthy families create extraordinary communities.” Wasatch County is extraordinary because as a community we know what we care about — we care about each other.