Editor’s note: Many people go about doing good deeds in their families, neighborhoods, organizations and church congregations. “Utah Valley’s Everyday Heroes” celebrates these unsung community members and brings to light their quiet contributions.
Pleasant Grove residents are banding together to support local literacy efforts through free library stands.
Monica McDonald moved from Washington to Pleasant Grove almost 15 years ago. The Brigham Young University alumna received her Bachelor of Science degree in Elementary Education at the Rexburg, Idaho, campus in 2005.
After working as a substitute teacher in Washington, the mother of three boys made the jump to Utah education, working as a teacher at Lakeview Academy in Saratoga Springs.
“They have declining enrollment in Washington state, so they need fewer teachers,” McDonald said. “I ended up in Utah because they always need teachers.”
Having grown up taking care of children with special needs while babysitting in high school, McDonald went into elementary education with the hopes of becoming a special education teacher.
Instead of completing her master’s degree in special education, however, McDonald had three children of her own, all with developmental disabilities.
“I would say my motherhood experience has been atypical,” she said. “We didn’t fit in places because my children were different. It would scare other kids.”
To make friends and connect to resources, McDonald founded a Facebook group for parents with children with special needs. From there, McDonald has fostered an ever-growing community of parents like her.
While in Washington, McDonald had seen free library stands around her neighborhoods and online. When she and her family were settled in Utah County, she decided to create one for her own community.
McDonald spent months researching kits online, and when the moment came, her husband spent hours assembling the stand that is now affectionately known as the Little Free Library of Central Pleasant Grove.
Pulling from the crates of children’s books that used to adorn her classrooms, the former teacher stocked the little library as often as she could.
Since its debut, McDonald said the community response has been overwhelmingly positive.
The library — located at 459 E. 200 North in Pleasant Grove, near Central Elementary School — is based off of a nationwide movement of resident-maintained stands that encourage children to take a book and leave a book behind.
However, McDonald said, there are no expectations. Those who pass by can take as many books as they want and nothing is expected in return.
McDonald said while the Pleasant Grove Public Library is a great resource, stands like the Little Free Library of Central Pleasant Grove allow kids to have an equal opportunity even if their access to the public library is limited.
“Every child is supposed to read for homework everyday,” she said. “How are they supposed to do that if they don’t have books at their houses?”
Additionally, she said, the little library allows families with library fines or children with special needs to have access to books, no strings attached. With the Little Free Library of Central Pleasant Grove, there are no late fees or costs for damaged books.
Unlike a public library, on the other hand, there is no way to control what books come in and when.
“I like to think of it as the Wild West of libraries,” she laughed. “It’s kind of lawless.”
Now, two other library stands have popped up in McDonald’s neighborhood, creating a “library loop” that kids frequently walk in an effort to find new books. In total, Pleasant Grove has seven well-known Little Free Library locations:
All readers are welcome to take advantage of the Little Free Library of Central Pleasant Grove, regardless of age.
The most popular books at the library stand are board books, easy readers and young adult fiction novels. Book donations can be left at the Little Free Library of Central Pleasant Grove anytime.
Book donations or disturbed books are quarantined in McDonald’s home before they are released back to the Little Free Library of Central Pleasant Grove.
While the library remains stocked and awaits eager minds, the Little Free Library of Central Pleasant Grove’s Facebook page — monitored by McDonald — offers reading suggestions and virtual conversation.
Late on the night of May 19, Winter Brailow was driving south on Interstate 15 when she was hit head-on by a driver going the wrong way. The accident left her severely injured.
Since that night, however, she has worked at recovering with a positive attitude with help from others.
Brailow was visiting her home and family in Utah from Massachusetts, where she is a student at Harvard University. The night of the accident, she was driving from Draper to Provo to see a friend.
“An intoxicated driver was way up ahead of me and made a U-turn on the freeway, and he smashed right into me,” Brailow said. “He died on impact.”
“The firefighters got there, and one got in the passenger seat, trying to distract me,” Brailow added. “Another was cutting the car to free me from the metal.”
Those first firefighters and paramedics that arrived at the scene of the collision were from Pleasant Grove. Since that time, those same first responders have helped Brailow while she heals by visiting, checking in on her, and most recently, giving her a gift to aid in her recovery.
Brailow’s recovery has been long and hard and is still on going.
Her injuries included 32 bone fractures, collapsed lungs and a mild traumatic brain injury. She also lost her spleen as well as about 60% of the blood in her body, resulting in hypovolemic shock.
She spent 63 days in the hospital. She was, finally, discharged on July 31.
Other surgeries have followed, including on both knees earlier this month.
“That was the last hindrance to being on my feet,” Brailow said.
She works through a lot of physical therapy and credits her progress to the support from her family and friends. She also credits the members of the Pleasant Grove Fire Department for saving her life.
“They are just absolutely amazing,” she said. “If they hadn’t done it as fast or as well as they did, I wouldn’t be here today.”
For some of Brailow’s time in the hospitals, no visitors were allowed to come due to COVID-19 restrictions. That was difficult for Brailow, who is very close to her family.
While she was in the intensive care unit at Utah Valley Hospital, Scott Ash, one of the first responders dispatched to the collision, came to her room and introduced himself.
“I had flashes in my mind of seeing this man’s face,” Brailow said. “To actually meet him was crazy for me.”
Ash, who also works at the hospital, was able to visit Brailow while he was working.
“His company meant so much to me,” she said.
“She is such a positive, awesome girl,” Ash said. “I have yet to see her one time have a bad attitude.”
As firefighters, Ash said, they often see the accidents and trauma that have taken place, but they rarely see the follow-up. This time was different. He was able to check in on her often because he worked at the hospital and she couldn’t have other visitors.
Ash — along with PGFD first responders Tyler Nelson, Curtis Hutchinson and Zack Larsen — have stayed in touch with Brailow since they helped her the night of the collision.
Recently, they invited Brailow and her family to come to the firehouse for dinner. While there, they asked her if there is anything she wished she could change. First, she wished she could walk again, and second, she wished for a piano to play.
“When I was at rehab, they had a piano,” Brailow recalled. “During lunch every day, I would wheel myself out and try to play the piano.”
Because of the injuries to her left hand and fingers, it is very difficult, but it proved to be good therapy.
“Leaving the hospital, I was sad to leave the piano,” she said.
Since then, she has not been able to play because the piano she used to play is at her mother’s home, which has stairs. Until she is able to walk again, she cannot use stairs.
Last week, members of the Pleasant Grove Fire Department surprised Brailow with the one wish they could give her — a piano to play while she is living with her dad in Salt Lake City.
“That was the most amazing thing,” Brailow said. “That’s the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me, second only to saving my life. I love playing the piano. That has been a passion of mine since I was a little kid.”
“Music has such an incredible healing power,” she added. “It has made everything so much better. I have the opportunity to figure out how to play again, retrain my left arm and my left hand.”
Ash said the piano was a community gift — not only from the Pleasant Grove Fire Department but also with help from Piano Gallery.
She has extensive nerve damage in her hand and may need elbow surgery in a few months, but she remains grateful and hopeful.
“My wonderfully goofy personality hasn’t changed,” she said. “I’m so lucky.”
Brailow is hoping to be back on her feet and walking in about two months. At the moment, she still experiences severe migraines and her spatial awareness is not what it used to be.
It has been just over a year since the Orem City Council took an in-depth look at the inequity in the earnings of first responders in Orem.
On Tuesday, the council is expected to vote on a proposed public safety hybrid step plan that is meant to help police and fire career ladders. This action goes in a much different direction than much of the nation that is seeing pressure to defund police departments.
Since that discussion a year ago, both former Police Chief Gary Giles and former Fire Chief Scott Gurney have retired. A number of other officers and firefighters have also left for various reasons, including retirement and pursuing other employment opportunities.
Fire Chief Marc Sanderson, hired on earlier this year, and Orem leadership are in the final interviewing stages for a new police chief. In the meantime, Karl Hirst, director of Parks and Recreation and a former police officer, has been fulfilling the duties of interim police chief.
“It will put Orem city on the map for recruiting officers and will help us retain officers,” he added. “We’ve had officers that have left saying this is what I wanted and I want to come back.”
Hirst said there have been many hurdles officials had to overcome, especially in regards to problems that were discovered internally.
“We said, ‘Let’s just get this done,’” Hirst said. “It’s been a long process and something I think that has been brewing. Now a new chief won’t have to deal with it.”
The proposed public safety hybrid step plan is intended to place the city of Orem in a competitive position to elevate recruitment and retention efforts.
“In 2019, the city implemented a career ladder program to allow quicker movement through the pay grade ranges by allowing additional increases due to education, military or certifications,” said Keri Rugg, human resources division manager.
Entities across the county, state and country are struggling to compete with a shrinking applicant pool of qualified public safety personnel, Rugg said.
“In an effort to increase the city’s recruitment and retention efforts, we are proposing the separation of the police and fire department sworn personnel from the current grade and merit program in place for all city employees,” Rugg said.
“The sworn police and firefighters will be placed into a separate hybrid step program,” Rugg added. “The hybrid step program advances employees through the steps on an annual basis but also promotes advanced skills by requiring certifications and education that allows the employee to move at an increased pace through the pay range.”
The pay ranges for each position will be a maximum of three years. An entry police officer — or Police Officer I — will advance to the next step on their anniversary date until they reach their third year of employment. At that time, they need to have completed certifications to be able to advance to a Police Officer II, according to new human resource protocol.
“Once advanced to a Police Officer II, they will advance on their new anniversary date through the steps until they reach step 3 where they can take advantage of the career ladder program again with certifications to advance to Senior Police Officer,” Rugg said.
Finally, the hybrid step program equalizes all employees into the correct step according to the years in their current position. This change in pay structure for police and fire will place the city in an advantageous position for both recruitment and retention efforts.
While Rugg is not able to give the dollar amounts prior to council approval, iff approved, they would meet the satisfaction of officers needs, according to Steven Downs, deputy city manager.
“This restructures the pay grade and provides a career pathway,” Hirst said. “It helps officers set goal and lays out a real structure goal process. This is what everyone has been wanting.”
For weeks throughout the spring and summer of 2019, residents, former officers and firefighters, family members and friends all clamored at the council chambers to make the point that police are leaving because nothing is keeping them in Orem, neither wages nor working conditions.
About 50 people were in attendance at the Sept. 5, 2019, council meeting. Only one — Kevin Wilkey, a former firefighter who served in Orem for 11 years and had recently left city employment — was allowed to speak at the mic but not while in uniform.
Wilkey had been one of the steady and passionate defenders of the need to keep veteran officers and take care of what the city has. He was also concerned about the morale of the two departments, which has continued to fluctuate over the past year.
This year’s protests against police and their departments have also added to the challenges of being a police officer, according to Downs.
“It was an honor working as a firefighter or paramedic,” Wilkey said when at the open mic. “I have been spat on, punched and vomited on, but nothing hurt more than being told I could not wear my uniform to a City Council meeting.”
Wilkey’s passion was shared by the audience, which included firefighters and police officers. After his speech, Mayor Richard Brunst stood and applauded him. The rest of the room followed with a standing ovation.
Over the past two years, City Manager Jamie Davidson has received some push back from residents on the issue, as well. However, Davidson, Rugg and others have worked tirelessly behind the scenes to find the money and develop the hybrid plan, including the city’s proposed adjusted wage scale.
Now, it is up to the council to listen to the proposals and vote on the issue Tuesday.