Service Project Aims to Help Local Somali Refugees

OGDEN, Utah – A group of low-income, first-generation college students are undertaking a major service project to help others in need.

Fifty Weber State University students in the TRIO Student Support Services (SSS) program, along with another 14 students from the College of Eastern Utah (3), Salt Lake Community College (5) and Southern Utah University (6), are teaming up to help political refugees from Somalia, who have relocated to Utah.

WSU sophomores Belia Alvarado, Terry Bateman and junior Misty Hearnesberger, three members of the SSS program’s student advisory board, have taken the lead on organizing the service project, which will be the kick-off event for a statewide SSS leadership conference at WSU May 7-9. The project is a natural fit for Bateman and Hearnesberger, who are pursuing degrees in social work. Alvarado was instrumental in making the connection with the Salt Lake City-based ministry group Because He First Loved Us (BHFLU), which has been mentoring and tutoring the Somali refugee families.

“I’m so impressed by what these students have done,” said Dorothy Hill, a SSS program staff advisor at WSU, who has worked closely with the students. “This conference and service project is much larger than we ever imagined.”

Hill points out that some of the students involved in the project have their own share of personal and financial challenges, making their commitment to this project even more noteworthy.

The leadership conference participants plan to spend May 7 in WSU’s Shepherd Union Ballroom filling 32 laundry baskets with basic household items such as linens, towels, cleaning, health and hygiene supplies that have been donated by local companies. In addition, they are planning to fill 100 kits of school supplies to promote the value of education with the Somali children who attend tutoring sessions.

A representative from BHFLU is expected to bring a few Somali students to campus to meet and interact with the SSS students while they are assembling the baskets and kits. Event organizers plan to distribute the completed baskets and kits to the Somali families on or around May 16.

Hill said the students have been very motivated to make this project a success, seeking out corporate sponsors for donations and help with the care packages. Kimberly-Clark has donated 25 cases of toilet paper for the drive, Smith’s Food and Drug donated the laundry baskets, detergent and hand soap, along with some school supplies. Home Depot, King’s, Kohl’s department store, the WSU Bookstore and doctors Mark Geddes and Lloyd Tilt also have donated items or services to the project.

The three-day student leadership conference “Opportunity Rocks!” will feature speakers and workshops on how to be successful in college. Ben Kaplan, one of the nation’s leading experts on educational success, college admissions and financial aid and author of “How to Go to College Almost for Free,” will be one of the presenters at the conference. SSS students from four Utah colleges and universities will be in attendance.

TRIO Student Support Services at WSU has 285 students involved with the program, which is funded through federal grant money. The program is designed to increase college retention and graduation rates for low-income and first-generation college students and individuals with disabilities by fostering a supportive campus climate. Weber State University’s SSS program provides a variety of support services designed to promote individual success, including tutoring, peer mentoring, financial literacy education and assistance with course selection. The program also helps students apply for admission to graduate and professional programs.

Visit for more information about the WSU SSS program. Information about the federal SSS program is available at

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Dorothy Hill, Student Support Services advisor/leaning skills specialist
801-626-6844 •
John Kowalewski, director of Media Relations
801-626-7212 •