Spy Hop and UNP: Shining some light on the west side of Salt Lake City

Story and photo by COLLIN McLACHLAN

What if you turned on the radio and heard this: “A young man was stabbed today in a probable gang fight in Bountiful.” Would you be surprised? Now imagine if the radio said it was in Rose Park.

“Stereotypes don’t reflect crime statistics,” said Sarah Munro, associate director of University Neighborhood Partners.

Founded Nov. 1, 2002, UNP is a program that “brings together University and west side resources for reciprocal learning, action, and benefit.” According to its website, UNP collaborates with communities and nonprofit organizations in an effort to “provide access to higher education.” Its drive comes from the idea that education is the key to strengthening both families and communities.

“UNP is not a service organization,” Munro said. “What we do is meet with local nonprofit organizations on the west side and establish partnerships that will benefit the community.”

UNP has many challenges to its work. “The difficult thing is that people want to know what changes are happening,” Munro said.

She said it’s difficult for UNP to measure its success because success doesn’t come from UNP’s work alone. Since its main focus is to create partnerships, UNP finds success when its partners do.

This doesn’t mean that success cannot be tracked. One organization that UNP has partnered with in the past is Spy Hop Productions.

Spy Hop Productions works to help students on the west side.

Spy Hop Productions is a youth media arts and educational enrichment center. Spy Hop’s purpose, according to its website, is to “empower youth to express their voice and with it create a positive change in their lives.”

According to the site, Spy Hop works with some 1,800 students every year in the fields of documentary arts, video production, audio engineering, music and interactive media. Founded in 1999, Spy Hop has been “acknowledged by the Sundance Institute as setting the standard for media arts learning across the nation.”

Students learn things at Spy Hop that go beyond the classroom. “These kids are being taught to express themselves in a positive way,” said Virginia Pearce, director of Marketing and Community Programs in a phone interview. “It gives the kids a chance to be proud of something, which goes a long way.” A lot of students at Spy Hop live on the west side and come from backgrounds which Spy Hop refers to as “underprivileged.”

Spy Hop works directly with its students over long-term mentor-based instruction. The students get hands-on tutoring as they work on media stories, documentaries or music recordings. “There are so many success stories, I couldn’t think of just one,” Pearce said.

Matt Mateus, a programs director at Spy Hop, shared one student’s story that can be counted as a success for both Spy Hop and UNP. He says a student who grew up in Rose Park in an underprivileged family came to Spy Hop wanting to be a recording engineer. But he needed special classes that Spy Hop couldn’t provide. Spy Hop did, however, have contacts with universities that offered those classes. After the student had worked to raise the money, Spy Hop helped to send him to a school in Arizona that had a recording engineer program. “That student now works in Salt Lake where he owns his own recording studio,” Mateus said in a phone interview.

Spy Hop and UNP do still share a common belief that drives each organization. “Preparing students for higher education is directly related to Spy Hop’s programming goals,” Mateus said. The organization collaborates with Salt Lake Community College (SLCC) quite a bit.

“A lot of our students are underserved,” Mateus said. “They usually don’t have the opportunity to jump into the U of U, so they go to SLCC.”

These types of success stories are different from the articles normally published in the newspaper.