A1 A1
Provo community center bringing joy to families through music, programs

Aubrey Markham travels from Salt Lake City to Provo to volunteer every week at the South Franklin Community Center. She has seen many changes in the decade she has served there as volunteer coordinator.

On Friday, Markham taught remote piano lessons to students who are patrons of the center. It is just one of the many services she and the center offer.

Markham is a professional piano teacher and is holding weekly private music lessons for six students who were enrolled in the free music lessons before the dismissal of school and community center in-person classes. She teaches these one-on-one classes in both English and Spanish.

Of the 15 piano students Markham taught, these six committed to keeping up remotely with the lessons, Markham said.

This is one of several free programs offered at the center, according to Stephanie Anderson, center director.

“Students are even preparing for a piano recital at the end of the month to be conducted over a group video call,” Anderson said.

The South Franklin Community Center was once an old, two-story apartment turned into classrooms. On July 30, 2015, it opened doors on the current building.

“We cannot be successful without this (center) being successful,” said former Mayor John Curtis at the ribbon cutting. “We’ve had a lot of national accolades ... and yet we must have success here. We must accomplish our goals here in order for our city to be truly successful.”

Located at 750 S. 650 West, on the northern edge of The Boulders, the 2,800-square-foot building is designed to be an anchor for social services, education programs and neighborhood activities in the Boulders and South Franklin neighborhood in general. Included in the center is a kitchen, a library stocked with more than 2,000 children’s books, offices and a main meeting hall.

In the five years since it opened, the success of the center has been noted on a national scale. More than 300 people are served weekly by its numerous programs for children and adults, according to Anderson.

The center is located in a south Provo neighborhood that has a high population of immigrants, English language learners, and others who may struggle to cover their basic needs during this hard economic time.

For children like Adia Cardona, 9, who is currently one of Markham’s piano students, having the ability to keep her lessons going remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic has been important to her and her family.

“Having school at home means she feels lonely, bored and afraid of not learning enough,” said Ilca Bonilla, the mother of Adia Cardona. “But continuing to take piano lessons gives her confidence, reassures her, and helps her continue to strive to learn at home, and she knows her teacher will continue helping her to learn more,”

Markham said offering piano lessons remotely is not just a 30-minute distraction once a week.

“My students are motivated and enjoy practicing,” she said. “It’s important to keep learning and playing an instrument to maintain the skill, and connecting with a mentor regularly boosts confidence and social ability.”

Markham added, “Music in the home can also offer a means of self-expression, an escape from day to day anxiety, and a way to connect as a family.”

Anderson says she can see the strength and joy in the children as they continue to grow with music skills and music appreciation.

“Throughout my career, I’ve worked with all types of parents from different backgrounds and each of them want their children to be happy and be better than they were,” she said. “The Community Center is a way for families to add music into their lives, no matter their situation.”

Anderson said she was apprehensive to become the center’s director because of many barriers, but she now says some of her dearest friends have been made there.

“The people that live around there want to be there,” Anderson said. “When people have moved out, they come back to see us. It is a positive place. It’s fun to see them join us.”

The South Franklin Community Center is a project of the United Way of Utah County and has received financial support from Nu Skin’s Force For Good Foundation and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Humanitarian Aid.

Nearly all of the services provided by the center have been able to be adapted and continue remotely during COVID-19.

“United Way’s South Franklin Community Center has moved most of their classes and groups online through social media and video call platforms,” Anderson said. “Programs like book club, one-on-one homework help, art, storytelling, and music lessons, allow the center to continue to offer educational and social opportunities for local families.”

Some of the programs offered currently at the center include adult Zumba classes, dance and ballet, computer literacy classes, play group, and reading club. Community café is a program in which families come to eat dinner and talk about current issues.

During Christmas and Easter, the center offers a Sub-for-Santa program and a Easter Seals project.

Home is where the art is: Provo art center offers free creativity kits to public

Art museums, art classes and other facilities may be closed right now, but that needn’t stop locals from creating art. That is the idea behind the free art kits that are being put together and given away by the Neighborhood Art Center in Provo.

The center, a nonprofit organization that normally serves as a space where children and families can visit to create artworks, has been closed since the end of March.

“After a couple of weeks of not being able to be in the studio, we decided to put together little kits,” said Tallia Feltis, founder.

Feltis said that she and her employees wanted to create the art kits as something that families can easily grab and do together without having to set up a complicated project at home.

“These are stressful times we are living in, and the last thing we need is the pressure to create something Pinterest-worthy with your kids or be worried about making a mess or having the wrong supplies,” Feltis said. “These free art kits are for creating and connecting without the pressure, a way to give kids a creative outlet without the stress, and a way that we can reach out to the community in this strange time.”

The kits have included various materials, including sketchbooks, stickers, crayons, finger puppet materials, necklace materials and imagination kits with treasures for kids to create whatever they can imagine.

While some of the kits are created for children, there are some geared more for adults, according to Feltis. These include yarn, cross stitch kits, crochet hooks and even no-sew mask kits for people who need face masks during this pandemic. There have also been thank you card kits with cards and stickers.

When Feltis moved back to Provo with her family a few years ago after living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, she felt like there was a need for a space like this in the community.

“I was inspired by all the community spaces and arts in Pittsburgh,” she said. “I really missed being able to take my kids to cultural events and a community space where people can gather and create.”

That is when the Neighborhood Art Center was born. Visitors to the center can use paint, screen printing, clay and other materials. There is also tactile, sensory art play for young children.

The Neighborhood Art Center is located in Provo Towne Center, but is closed until it is safe and healthy for the center to be open for employees and patrons, Feltis said. For now, the free art kits are being taken to Pioneer Book, 450 W. Center in Provo. Feltis and her children hang them in the window at the bookstore in the mornings for people to see and take as they walk by.

There are usually classes held in the studio that focus on a different theme every week, such as watercolors, art and nature, science and art, and learning from the masters.

“This summer, we are planning on holding outdoor classes to promote social distancing and are planning on incorporating the outdoors into our lessons through plein air painting (painting outdoors) and drawing and nature art,” Feltis said.

For more information about the Neighborhood Art Center, its classes and when new art kits are set out, follow them on Instagram @neighborhoodartcenter and on their website, http://neighborhoodartcenter.org.

“It is important for children to create art for so many reasons. It helps them express their feelings and emotions, it encourages creative thinking and it helps them with problem solving on a scale that is not intimidating or frustrating,” Feltis said. “And art can give us a much-needed break from the stress we have all been feeling over the last few months.”

Report finds Utah is least vulnerable state to COVID-19

Utah’s population is the least vulnerable to COVID-19 of any state in the United States, while West Virginia residents are the most at risk of serious complications caused by the virus, according to an analysis of demographic data.

The findings come from a report released Wednesday by WalletHub, a Washington, D.C.-based personal finance company.

WalletHub analysts looked at 28 “key metrics” — including the share of population aged 65 or older, share of unsheltered homeless population, share of homes lacking access to basic hygienic facilities and share of households in poverty not receiving food stamps — to determine which states have populations that are most at risk of developing serious health complications from coronavirus.

“In order to identify the states that have the most vulnerable populations during the COVID-19 pandemic, WalletHub compared the 50 states and the District of Columbia across three key dimensions, ‘Medical Vulnerability,’ ‘Housing Vulnerability’ and ‘Financial Vulnerability,’” the methodology section of the report said.

Utah ranked near the bottom of each of these three dimensions, ranking 46th in “Housing Vulnerability,” 48th in “Financial Vulnerability,” and 50th in “Medical Vulnerability.”

The Beehive State ranked dead last, 51st, in overall population vulnerability with a total score of 21.9, which was calculated by determining the weighted average of all 28 metrics on a 100-point scale.

The next lowest scoring states were Colorado, Minnesota and Massachusetts with respective scores of 23.3, 26.7 and 27.6.

West Virginia ranked highest in terms of population vulnerability with a total score of 72.3, followed by Louisiana, 65.3, Mississippi, 64.6, Arkansas, 63.1 and Alabama, 62.9.

Utah’s low score has to do, in part, with how young the state’s population is relative to the rest of the country. Utah ranked 51st out of states with the highest share of the population aged 65 and older, while Florida ranked 1st.

According to U.S. Census Bureau population estimates from July, only 11.1% of Utah residents were older than 65. Nearly a third of residents, 29.5%, were under 18 years old, while 8% were younger than 5.

Additionally, Utah ranked 47th out of states with the highest share of the population diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). West Virginia, meanwhile, ranked 1st.

Utah received a less favorable rating in another category, ranking 4th among states with the highest share of households in poverty not receiving food stamps.

The report’s findings came a day before Gov. Gary Herbert announced that the majority of the state — with the exception of Grand, Summit and Wasatch counties and Salt Lake City and West Valley City — would transition on Saturday from a “moderate risk” designation to a “low risk” designation.

During a press conference on Thursday, University of Utah Health CEO Michael Good said 99% of Utahns who have contracted COVID-19 have recovered or are currently recovering. Of those who have recovered, 92% were able to do so from their homes, Good said.

As of Friday, the Utah Department of Health reported that 6,913 Utahns have contracted COVID-19 since the beginning of the outbreak, resulting in 77 deaths and 566 hospitalizations.

The WalletHub analysts looked at data from a variety of entities, including the U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Cancer Society and Kaiser Family Foundation.