Homelessness does not mean hopelessness

Story and photos by SHANNON O’CONNOR

From an outsider’s point of view, a homeless person on the side of the road may look intimidating or unapproachable.

“I usually don’t pull over or stop to donate money because I feel like they will waste the money on drugs,” said Sadie Swenson, a Westminster College student. Swenson’s reasoning is a common opinion, but that isn’t always the case.

All homeless people don’t have the same story. They come from different backgrounds and are on the streets for various reasons.


Francis Reeding standing on the corner of 400 S. 600 East in Salt Lake City.

Francis Reeding, 65, stands on the streets of downtown Salt Lake City for about six hours a day,  hoping to get enough gas money to go home to California. He has been living out of his car for three months.

Reeding fought in the Vietnam War starting in 1968. When he got home from the war, in 1970, he experienced hearing loss and suffered from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. Later, Reeding went to the University of Utah in 1976 as a math major. But since then he has struggled to keep a job. Now he feels hopeless and apathetic to get his life back on track.

“It’s embarrassing standing out here holding this dang sign,” Reeding said.

Although it is common to see people holding up a cardboard sign, it does not mean they are all the same. The homeless need a helping hand and The Road Home, located at 210 S. Rio Grande St., can get them off the streets and into housing.

The Road Home is the biggest homeless shelter in Utah and is always ready to help men, women, children and families.


The front of the Road Home located at 210 S. Rio Grande St. in Salt Lake City.

“Everyday I see people that I think are beyond hopeless and I see them make it and overcome homelessness,” said Celeste Eggert, Road Home development director.

Eggert has been with the agency for 17 years and has been the development director for 12 years. She fell in love with the shelter because of the clients’ strength and courage and she loves the mission of the Road Home.

The mission is to educate people about shelter and housing and to “get people out of homelessness and back into the community,” Eggert said.

How does this get accomplished? By the effectiveness and success of their programs: Permanent Supportive Housing, Rapid Rehousing and the emergency shelter.

“Collaboration is huge, many of the programs we’ve done have gotten national attention,” Eggert said.

Palmer Court is part of the Permanent Supportive Housing program. Palmer Court, located on 99 S. Main St., is an apartment complex that was purchased by the Road Home. It houses up to 300 of its chronically homeless clients. The chronic clients are people who have been homeless for one year or longer due to mental illness, addiction, or substance abuse. When they live at Palmer Court they sign a lease and pay rent that is reasonable with their income.

Eggert explained how the chronic clients need a slow transition from homelessness to living in housing. Being homeless is all they know and they’re scared of change, on top of trying to combat their personal trials. Specialists are needed for the severe cases. The Road Home is considered to be the general practitioner and they bring in the specialists.

“We try to collaborate, never duplicate services and work closely together,” Eggert said.

The agency partners with people who specialize in a variety of the clients’ necessities, such as jobs, rehabilitation, free medical care, school enrollment for the Salt Lake City districts and therapy. The combination of the staff, specialists and housing is designed to provide Palmer Court clients with a path to recovery.

Rapid Rehousing is the homeless family program. In 2009, it was brought to light that there was an increase in homeless families. Since the program was launched the Road Home reports that “87% of families on that program will never be homeless again.”

What is provided through Rapid Rehousing? According to the website, the families are offered “barrier elimination, housing placement assistance, short term subsidies and supportive services,” until they can get back on their feet.

The third program is the emergency shelter. This is for the clients who need a roof over their head for 24 hours. The men’s and women’s shelters consist of beds, bathrooms, showers, microwaves and hygienic products.

Elise Adams was homeless for five months and never stayed in a shelter.

“They have all these rules and they’re usually run by a church so the rules are often arbitrary. I think it’s easier to sleep in a park undisturbed,” said Adams, who uses a male pronoun.

Once he was informed that the Road Home is not a religious shelter, and there is the emergency shelter program, he admitted he would have stayed there.

Eggert said, “We don’t give up on people, we’re always going to work with them.”

Helping the homeless is financially beneficial for Utah and the community. But more importantly, it’s saving people’s lives. The majority of the beds are used by the clients who stay six months or more. Once individuals get the proper help, they can move up to housing and reach their full potential.

Eggert admits it’s a challenging population to work with. But she said it’s worth it because the staff, donors and volunteers are making a difference. The Road Home is a shelter that recognizes the clients’ unique situations and offers the support needed to overcome homelessness.

Body Buddies, a Salt Lake City fitness company, changes lives

Story and photos by DAVID FISHER

Working at a desk in an investment firm office was the last thing Kristy Jo Hunt wanted to do for the rest of her life. She decided to take one of the biggest risks she has ever been faced with. Hunt, 28, created her own independently-run nutrition and fitness business known as Body Buddies, without any prior experience in the field of business.

In addition, Hunt was not always a fitness guru.

Three years ago, Hunt was overweight and a victim of binge eating. She also suffers from severe scoliosis. Orthopedic doctors had told her that by age 40 she could be in a wheel chair if she did not change her eating habits and stay active because of her deformed back.

Kristy Jo Hunt poses in the gym after working with a client.

Kristy Jo Hunt poses in the gym after working with a client.

However, she conquered her struggles, gained a newfound interest in the field of health and wellness and worked toward her goals of becoming a professional dancer and fitness instructor.

This new interest eventually motivated Hunt to become a certified personal trainer and fitness nutrition specialist through the National Academy of Sports Medicine. She made drastic changes to her lifestyle, and wanted to help others make lifestyle changes as well. Thus, Body Buddies was launched in January 2014.

Hunt put together a business plan through watching multiple business startup podcasts, attending start-up business conferences and seeking advice from friends and family. She had to make some personal sacrifices along the way, including quitting her full-time job and learning to live off of $20,000 a year.

Those sacrifices underscored her commitment to seeing the success of her clients and independent business.

“Body Buddies is first a people thing, then secondly a business,” Hunt says.

Education is an important aspect of her business model.

Hunt provides weekly coaching calls and meal plans for clients in Utah. The coaching includes a fat loss and muscle gaining workout regime that clients follow on a six-days-a-week basis for 12 weeks. Each workout plan is individualized based on a survey clients fill out at the beginning of this lifestyle change. Questions include food preferences, any kind of physical ailments and a daily schedule.

Clients who pay a base fee of $50 also have access to 250 power food recipes that are full of protein, replace unwanted fats and increase energy levels. Every recipe is taken from her own published cookbook, The Power Foods Lifestyle.

An example of a power foods recipe is Hunt’s chicken ranch slaw burritos. These are a healthy alternative to any kind of processed burrito that is often found in the grocery store. Many of her recipes are healthy replacements to microwaveable freezer meals.

Chicken ranch slaw burritos are one of the many available recipes Hunt provides in her cookbook

Chicken ranch slaw burritos are one of the many available recipes Hunt provides in her cookbook.

“You are the master of yourself,” Hunt explains. “I provide the base, and you create the results.”

Body Buddies originally started with only 50 clients. It now has more than 1,000 clients. Hunt manages multiple client binders, calendars and daily scheduled emails and lists. She even has clients from around the globe in places such as Africa and Europe.

Hunt provides daily coaching calls to her clients. This is where they truly open up about themselves and achieve the results they want to see. She speaks to the individual over the phone and finds out what is and isn’t keeping them motivated. If clients have any questions about their diet, workouts, or life in general. Hunt is available to provide answers.

Some of the best results Hunt has ever seen came from her client, Amy Bellamy, in Salt Lake City. Bellamy has been a client of Hunt’s for almost a year, and has stuck with the Power foods lifestyle the entire time. Hunt explains that Bellamy was constantly motivated to achieve her goals of having a bikini body.

Amy's amazing body transformation from following Hunt's coaching

Amy Bellamy was able to transform her body by following Hunt’s coaching. Photo courtesy of BodBuds Instagram.

Hunt filmed and produced 100 instructional workout videos for her Body Buddies YouTube channel. It was through this channel that many of her clients discovered her business. These videos create an easy and accessible way for clients to understand how to successfully utilize all of their muscles while working out in the gym. For example, clients learn how to successfully perform a seated row weight lift to activate muscles both in their back and in their arms.

Through Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest, Hunt has created a successful way to market to a wide audience of clients.  Hunt has more than 7,000 followers on social media.

Instagram is her main method of gaining followers. She posts workout videos, before-and-after result photos of her clients and motivational quotes every day. It is a quick way to instantly communicate to her followers. However, these posts are only previews of what can come from the full Body Buddies experience.

"The Power Foods Lifestyle" is available for purchase on Hunt's website.

“The Power Foods Lifestyle” is available for purchase on Hunt’s website. Image courtesy of Hunt.

By using hashtags such as #FitFan, #CleanEats and #WeightLossJourney, Hunt has gained public attention of her Instagram posts. These are hashtags that people wanting to start their own fitness journey investigate. Clients see her social media posts and then reach out to her to receive her coaching to start their own fitness journeys. She wants to be the person to help change clients’ lifestyles and make them love their bodies.

Instagram user Tyler Griffin, 23, a student at the University of Utah who uses the handle TGriff08, is a client and one of Hunt’s many followers. “Although I finished my 12-week program with Kristy back in September of 2014 as part of a reshaping of my body during the summer, I still follow her to seek constant new ways to work out, discover new recipes and see the success of many other of her clients who went through the same process that I did,” he says.
Griffin had lost more than 15 pounds during the 12-week process and gained a tremendous amount of muscle to his body. When grocery shopping, he is more aware of the foods that are beneficial to his lifestyle so he can maintain that muscle build that he worked for. 
“There were times when I felt like I wasn’t going to stick to this intense 12- week program,” Griffin says. “But Kristy provided a constant motivational push to keep working for my final goal — and I reached that goal, and I felt like a completely new person when I started my final fall semester.”
Griffin has referred multiple family members and friends to Body Buddies so they could achieve the same lifestyle changes that he accomplished with Hunt’s help.
One such friend was Brooke Legeman, 19, of Salt Lake City who started working with Hunt two weeks ago in hopes of removing the freshman 15 that she gained this past year.
“Being a part of the Body Buddies program is something that I want to commit myself towards to start a completely new health lifestyle,” Legeman said in a phone interview. “Kristy is helping me balance school, work and my fitness goals so that I can achieve the success that I want to achieve. I feel like I am in control of my body and making it back into the shape that I once had … or maybe in even better shape.”
Legeman finds herself going to the gym almost every day now, and avoiding all of the fast food that she was guilty of eating during her freshman year.

Hunt has started her own motivational seminars that she calls “Girls Night Out.” These empowering presentations are held at Salt Lake City gyms. Hunt wants to change the way clients think about themselves, and have their bodies reflect the changes that they can see.

“I’m not a feminist, I’m an empowerist,” Hunt says. “Integrity is the name of the game for people in life. Know where your integrity is at, and never let it crumble.”

Salt Lake City couple takes PALS program into their own hands

Story and slideshow by STACEY WORSTER

Spend time looking at adoptable pets and meet PALS volunteers Carol and Eric Hochstadt.

The Placing Animals with Loving Seniors (PALS) program managed by The Humane Society of Utah benefits both the owner and animal.

Meghan Zach, a volunteer at the Humane Society, said, “It is very beneficial to both the animal and the owner when the owner is in need of a companion and something to worry about, and the animal gets a new loving owner.”

The Humane Society of Utah, located at 4242 South and 300 West, offers low-price deals to people age 65 and older who are looking for a new addition to their life. The adoption fee is waived when they adopt a dog or cat that is at least 8 years old.

“It gives the seniors something to focus on, a reason to get out of the house,” Zach said.

“A lot of the younger dogs are far too energetic for an older adult to take in,” she said in the foyer of the Humane Society. “That is why we strongly push the older dogs for the seniors to adopt.”

Zach said that when an older adult walks in the door, the adoption counselor on duty always asks about their future plans as a pet owner and arrangements that are in place if an emergency were to occur.

“Unfortunately,” she said, “animals are mostly viewed as property so a lot of people are asked if they have a plan if something unexpected were to happen.”

Zach said helping people pick out their new addition is one of her favorite things to do while volunteering.

“It is different helping seniors pick out their new pet because they have decades of experience,” she said. “It is so fun so hear their stories, they love telling them as well.”

Zach is unsure how many older adults adopt pets at the Humane Society of Utah.

“We don’t keep numbers of who buys what dog,” she said. “I usually do at least two or three senior adoptions a week, and I am just one of six adoption counselors so I am sure the other counselors help seniors as well.”

The Humane Society uses word-of-mouth and advertising to spread the word about the PALS program.

“We have two volunteers that go to the senior living centers, we have the PALS program listed on our website and in newspapers,” Zach said. “Every year the advertising to seniors increases, we are just trying to help them find a friend and companion.”

Eric and Carol Hochstadt have taken the PALS program into their own hands.

“We have been volunteering for The Humane Society of Utah since September of 2009,” Eric said. “After retiring we felt that we could do something more to help the dogs in the shelter, this is when we came across the PALS program.”

The couple has spearheaded the program since October 2013. “Making seniors aware of this opportunity is our hope and desire,” Carol said.

Eric said, “We think our work is effective, and the program is progressing if there is awareness.”

So far, the couple only have anecdotal evidence of the program’s success. They hope counselors will begin noting whether an adoption is through the PALS program so they can gather quantitative data.

“Seniors are smart enough to know that there are plenty of costs that go along with owning an animal,” Carol said.

“Just because they get an animal for small cost or free of charge does not mean it won’t be an expensive purchase,” she said.

The Hochstadts said they are passionate about making older adults mindful of all the options that are available to them.

“Even if they don’t go and adopt an animal, it is interaction for them. As long as we’re helping them, we want to be there,” Eric said.

Carol added, “If seniors decide that owning a pet is not the best idea, they can still come to the Humane Society and walk the dogs. It can give them a sense of responsibility and self-worth.”

Walking a dog can help people strike up conversations with strangers. This is another benefit for an older adult who owns an animal.

“It is very important to have interactions if you want to stay sharp throughout aging,” Carol said. “Having a pet opens up that line of communication. Think of the walks you have gone on and recognized someone’s animal and a conversation started because of the pet.”

The biggest addition to the PALS program is the monthly and sometimes weekly visits the Hochstadts make to different Salt Lake City senior centers.

“We have checked out many different senior centers around the Salt Lake City area. Most of them told us we could not bring animals in,” Carol said. “This defeated our purpose of coming in because having animals there is the whole goal and best advertisement we could have.”

However, Tenth East Senior Center allowed Eric and Carol to bring in animals during their visits.

“The person we talked to at the Tenth East Senior Center was obviously a dog lover and wanted to encourage seniors to adopt a pet,” Carol said.

Because this center allowed the Hochstadts to bring in animals from the Humane Society, they decided to recontact the directors of the other senior centers in the area.

“We told them that Tenth East was allowing us to bring in dogs, and it is a county facility,” Carol said. “They didn’t know what to say so they agreed to let us bring in dogs, but they had to be small dogs, and we have to bring potty pads.”

The couple’s persistence paid off.

“It was great, an employee from a senior center that was adamant about us leaving animals outside the door changed her mind,” Carol said. The employee told her, “If you’d like to come once a month, you should.”

The employees who work at the senior centers give the Hochstadts a call and let them know when there are going to be a lot of people in the building.

“We usually arrive around a quarter to eleven. People seem to be there before lunchtime,” Carol said. “Then we end up talking for awhile and leave around 12:30 p.m.”

The Millcreek Recreation Center put up a table for the Hochstadts to set up their display and talk about the PALS program.

“We sat right next to a fireplace. It was very inviting for people to come and visit,” she said. “It was great because they would tell us their stories about their pets. Even if they aren’t particularly interested in adopting a pet, they are able to tell their stories.”

Many aspects of the PALS program are altered to impress aging adults, but giving people the option to take home a pet can be comforting — as long as it’s a good match.

Carol said a family adopted a puppy for their aging mother, and one week later returned it.

“They came back to the Humane Society and adopted a 10-year-old dog and she loved it. Perfect temperament,” Carol said.

The Hochstadts have found that pet owners find it comforting to care for an older animal.

“Just as they shouldn’t be put out to pasture and considered not valuable because of their age, the older animals that are turned in to the shelter shouldn’t be ignored and considered unadoptable,” Carol said.

The couple said this volunteer job is incredibly rewarding.

“People we have helped adopt a pet still thank us every time they see us,” Eric said. “They say they cannot imagine life without their companion.”

Emeritus Salt Lake focuses on building relationships with residents

Story and photo by IAN SMITH

Emeritus Salt Lake offers care to its residents.

Emeritus Salt Lake offers care to its residents.

Picture yourself as an elder, and you know your time on this earth is decreasing. You know you can no longer take care of yourself. You need assistance. To everyone else, it may be time for a nursing home.

You pack up your stuff. Where did the time go, you keep asking yourself? How did life flash that fast and how has it come to this? You set off in the car that takes you to the home. As you pull up your first impression is that it could work for you. But you still have many questions and not that many answers.

“No one wants to go into a nursing home,” said Anne Palmer Peterson, executive director of the Utah Commission on Aging. The Utah Legislature created the commission in 2005 to address issues related to the fast-growing aging population in the state. Peterson said it is a young state, but it also is the “sixth-fastest aging state in the nation.” Among other things, the commission has studied housing options for older adults. The findings were published in New Trends in Housing for Utah’s Aging Population.

“We want people to be thinking proactively about their futures,” she said.

Even so, it can be difficult to leave all of your memories behind you.

The idea of a “nursing home” isn’t too appealing to many people, though.

Brian Culliton, the executive director at Emeritus Salt Lake at 76 South and 500 East, said people have very different opinions of nursing homes.

Every facility is different, whether it’s a nursing home or assisted living center. Some facilities, like Emeritus, offer help for certain issues residents might be dealing with. Dementia, for example, is taken very seriously at the assisted living facility.

“We provide a family orientation with a caretaker,” Culliton said in a phone interview. “We have a well rounded understanding of what that resident’s day looks like. We want to keep it routine. We have other care providers that will come and talk to give a better understanding of the disease.”

Culliton said the staff and volunteers who work at Emeritus Salt Lake are passionate about the work they do and want nothing more than to help the people they are caring for.

Emeritus Salt Lake is located at 76 South 500 East.

Emeritus Salt Lake is located at 76 South 500 East.

“I’m really passionate about attracting the right [residents],” he said. “It’s that feeling of leaving home if anyone has dementia, you’re leaving your familiar space. You’ve been there for 50-plus years and now you’re going to a new space. It goes back to that care.”

Culliton knows that some older adults are afraid to be alone. But, sometimes that fear prevents people from seeking help.

He said Emeritus Salt Lake aims to offer more than just the borderline help. Staff go above and beyond to help the new residents by developing a personal relationship with them as soon as they walk in the door. Residents are given an orientation and shown around the building.

“With assisted living, every department head goes and introduces themselves and gives them the care that they expect,” Culliton said. “We look at it as kind of like a marriage. Know each other right up front. If we look at the process at the point when somebody applies, we go to their house or hospital and get to know the family immediately and when they move in, we talk about what is best and how to care for the seniors.”

Markel Martinez, a resident assistant at Emeritus Salt Lake, knows how important it is to build relationships. He has had residents find friends at the facility and even fall in love.

“I would want the resident to know that I’m there to help them,” Martinez said. “To be their friend that they can trust and talk to.”

The life and success of Kirsten Morrise

Story and slideshow by NATALIE CHRISTENSEN

Meet Kirsten Morrise, her friends and family through photos.
Pierre Robin Syndrome is not a very well-known condition that is found in between one in 8,000 to one in 30,000 children born.

Pierre Robin Syndrome is a condition that comes in three stages, namely a cleft pallet, micrognathia (meaning a smaller jaw) and glossoptosis, an obstruction by the tongue from breathing.

Kirsten Morrise, a resident of Salt Lake City in the Sugar House area, has been dealing with Pierre Robin syndrome from the day she was born.

With her cheery personality and positive attitude, you wouldn’t believe the struggles this 20-year-old has gone through. She has been in and out of hospitals her whole life and  has undergone 40 surgeries. She has struggled with depression, been bullied through school and has overcome some learning struggles.

At a very young age she had a tracheotomy placed on her throat. Not only was this a burden for young Kirsten, but also for her mother Lisa who was taking care of two other children with medical needs.

“Kirsten was very sick and we were basically running an ICU and Timothy (her brother) was bouncing off the walls, and Michael (her brother) needed breathing treatments,” her mother Lisa said. “She was in the hospital 16 times her first year.”

Lisa said it was by the grace of God that she made it through that first year. Even with her two older boys needing help, having a child with a tracheotomy meant she needed to be at Kirsten’s bedside at all times.

When Kirsten had her tracheotomy removed at the age of 1, Lisa was able to return to work while neighbors watched Kirsten. Soon after however, problems started rising again.

“There were days when she couldn’t walk,” Lisa said. “And it was very strange … and things got a lot worse.”

Because of the lack of oxygen to her brain, Kirsten was having seizures which were getting worse and worse. Even with treatment, her seizures weren’t getting any better.

“‘Kirsten is sick get over it,’ was basically the attitude of a lot of professionals had that I talked to,” Lisa said. “But she kept getting sicker and sicker, and it got to the point where she couldn’t sit down on a couch without falling off because she was so out of it.”

As many times as Lisa tried to take Kirsten back to the hospital, they weren’t getting any help.

“And it’s like you’re running into a brick wall,” Lisa said. “It’s the scariest thing in the world to have your child be sick and have people not pay attention to you.”

Finally Kirsten was able to get the treatment but needed more surgeries.

She missed a lot of school because of the surgeries, and her social life wasn’t going very well either. A lot of Kirsten’s friends didn’t know how to treat her because of her surgeries. They saw her as being delicate rather than a normal kid.

“A lot of people don’t know what to say to me, because I’ve been through so much,” Kirsten said. “But I say they’re human. Do I really want them to be fully aware of what I’m experiencing?”

When Kirsten turned 6, she started skiing in Park City with The National Ability Center, a program that helps young kids recognize their strengths and helps build their self-esteem. The National Ability Center allowed Kirsten to participate in downhill skiing, and she had her own instructors to help her.

“My mom got me into skiing to help my upper trunk strength,” Kirsten said. “But as I got older and got better at it, it became not a pursuit (of) something to prove — I’m not delicate — but another activity I could add to my collection of talents I had.”

Kirsten went on in 2009 to win the gold medal in downhill skiing in the Special Olympics in advanced skiing.

Kirsten enjoyed skiing much more than physical therapy, it was more enjoyable and fun, and she could be outdoors. A lot of children with disabilities prefer to have their physical therapy this way, and Kirsten always looks back on the skiing experience with a lot of pride.

In 2005 Kirsten had screws put in her jaw called jaw distractors. The screws were visible on the outside of Kirsten’s face. When the screws were turned it forced her jaw forward so the jaw bone behind it could grow.

When asked if it hurt, she explained, “Yeah, you try getting the bone in your face being gradually moved forward.”

But, she added, “knowing what the end result is supposed to be makes it easier to endure.”

When she was 12, she attended LDS Brighton Girls camp. She enjoyed that summer so much she went back a second time and then finally went back as a helper in the kitchen in 2009 and then worked as the Craft Shack in 2010.

Kirsten loved it so much because the people there didn’t treat her like she was a disabled person. “They treated me like I was a human being,” she said. “There I had a blank slate, no one knew about my past … they let me do everything that everybody else did.”

Even having to wear an oxygen tank on her back as she went hiking her first year, she had fun with the girls telling them she was a cyborg.

If you ask anyone who worked with Kirsten at Brighton Camp a huge grin will come across their face.

Michelle Theurer was one of Kirsten’s good friends who worked at Brighton Camp with her. “It was great she always has something to say,” Theurer said. “So there’s never a quiet moment with her and she’s a really hard worker. Even with her limitations she’ll do whatever she can do.”

Theurer said Kirsten was always positive and was involved. She made things so much more fun because she saw them in a completely different way. “We would have time where we’d just hang out and it would be so fun to tease because she just dishes it right back at you, and she’s really ticklish.”

When Kirsten entered high school at Highland High, she was bullied by students taking her scooter and teasing her, calling her retarded and stupid.

“I have cerebral palsy and I have mood disorders, and I have hypotonia which means low muscle tone,” Kirsten said. “Those things have kind of caused with the bullying because of my posture and people look at me funny and also not being very athletic influenced the bullying.”

While attending high school, Kirsten was also going to college because of how much her surgeries held her back.

Kirsten attended Utah State University, because neither Brigham Young University nor the University of Utah sounded appealing.

“I made a plan to get to college,” Kirsten said. “And even though I got to college late, I had a plan I would get all of my high school work done by a certain time, and I would be able to function well enough to go to college.”

She picked social work as a major because she wanted to help others. “I feel like I have a capacity of empathy and I feel like I can give so much,” Kristen said.

Theurer also attended Utah State with Kirsten.

“Even though she may have challenges,” Theurer said. “She is always quick to realize that others have challenges too. She doesn’t seek for pity, but she does seek to serve others.”

Kirsten is looking toward the surgery that will fix it all. The procedure is called an End to End Anastomosis. Doctors will take out the part of the trachea that is scarred and then sew the ends of her trachea together. She went in early 2013 to Cincinnati to have the surgery done, but her throat wasn’t ready for it. So, on Dec. 10, 2013, she had surgery to advance her upper and lower jaws and tongue.

“Even though I have all these issues, I have a plan for how I’m going to do things and make sure I can do them,” Kirsten said. “I can take care of myself, I can do school, I can go on hikes, just not on big ones, and I’m a gold medalist in downhill skiing. Anything I put my mind to most of the time, I can do.”

For some Utahns with disabilities, religion plays an important role in their lives

Story and photos by NATALIE CHRISTENSEN

Religion plays a huge part in many people’s lives, not only those living in Utah, but also throughout the United States.


The LDS Chapel at 2700 South and Filmore Street. Kirsten Morrise attends this ward weekly.

According to a 2007 Pew Research Center study, about 78.4 percent of the U.S. is of a Christian faith, while 4.7 percent are of other faith, and only 16.1 percent of the population is unaffiliated with any religion.

Some people with disabilities who have faith look toward their deity in a way that people without disabilities don’t. In Utah especially, religion plays a big part in the lives of many people. About 62 percent of Utahns are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Three local LDS individuals who have disabilities have a range of different thoughts toward their relationship with their creator.

Jeremy Chatelain is a seminary teacher for the church. Just after he got married, he was on a trip with this family in Idaho because his brother was going to leave on an LDS mission. A tradition in his family when he was growing up was jumping off a bridge near where they liked to vacation. His wife dove in and realized it was really shallow, but she wasn’t able to warn Chatelain. He dove off and broke his fifth and sixth vertebrae, an injury that left him paralyzed from the neck down.

“Religion is a huge aspect of people’s lives who have disabilities,” Chatelain said. “It (religion) gives you a reason to get up in the morning. I think that’s why I keep going every day.”

Chatelain still doesn’t know why this had to happen to him. He admits he doesn’t always have a smile on his face because of what he has to go through every day. But he still looks toward his religion that believes after this life, his body will be made perfect, and that God has a plan for him.

“My faith has been motivation to accomplish the things I’ve wanted to do, along with my family,” Chatelain said.

He earned his master’s degree in education from Idaho State University in 2005, specializing in curriculum and instruction. He is now working on his dissertation about First Amendment implications in LDS Church history from 1829 to 1844 at the University of Utah.

According to a study done by the National Organization on Disabilities, as reported by Disabilities and Faith.org, 85 percent of people with and without disabilities say that religion is important in their lives. Unfortunately, only 47 percent of people with disabilities can attend their church services once a month because of the struggles of getting to their meetings.

Some don’t choose to worship because they feel alienated by their congregation and don’t like the culture of their religion, not their deity, but the way their religion portrays how a person must always act.

Kirsten Morrise, 20, who attends Utah State University, is an active member of the LDS church and loves her religion. But the culture of the religion is something that has rubbed her wrong.

“There’s a stigma to not being within the status quo, the status quo being happy sunshine,” said Morrise, who suffers from Pierre Robin syndrome. The condition makes breathing hard for her because of the way her jaw is structured. She also suffers from forms of cerebral palsy and depression. “Being disabled, people in the church sometimes like to say ‘God made you this way so you could have this trial’ or ‘God is punishing somebody else and making you this way to punish them for something they did.’”

Morrise said she wishes people wouldn’t see her disability as a punishment or a challenge.

But for other people with disabilities, religion can help not only them, but also those in the congregation.


Metal cross on top of the steeple at the Wasatch Presbyterian Church, 1626 S. 1700 East, in Salt Lake City.

“I’ve learned the hard way that being imperfect and allowing people to help provides blessings in their lives,” said Jeni Sewell Roper, who lives in Orem. “(It) blows me away sometimes at just how much this happens.”

Sewell Roper, who has cerebral palsy, doesn’t like being seen as a person with a disability. Growing up, she didn’t like people helping her. To her, everyone has a disability — hers just happens to be something that everyone can see.

“Well, I teach and I know that we are all divinely designed to be imperfect,” she said in an email interview. “And I believe personally that I said ‘ok’ to this before I was born.”

Sewell Roper admits that during her teenage years she would have committed suicide if it weren’t for her religion. “If this was all that life had to offer what’s the point?” she said.

She taught herself how to walk and doesn’t have to use a wheel chair or crutches. She now participates in and helps out with 5Ks around the Salt Lake Valley and is a part of the National Speakers Association. She speaks to LDS youth groups around the state about her life. The title of her speech is “Wiggle Room.”

“And I’m learning as I speak that my disability helps me relate to people on a very intimate level,” Sewell Roper said. “Because ALL of us have ‘stuff.'”

The Veteran Support Center provides help for Black veterans in Utah

Story and slideshow by LORIEN HARKER

Visit the Veteran Support Center on the University of Utah campus.

There are 147,944 veterans in Utah, according to the Utah census of 2011. Also according to the census, 1.3 percent of the population is African-American.

Needless to say, African-American veterans are a definite minority in Utah.

The history of African-American veterans in the military is rich, and at some times controversial. One of the first African-American regiments to see battle in World War I and World War II was the 369th Infantry Regiment, nicknamed the Black Rattlers or the Harlem Hellfighters. This regiment was segregated from other white regiments, yet the fighters were heavily decorated.

By the end of World War II, the regiment had suffered 1,500 casualties, and 171 members had received the Legion of Honor.

Similar African-American regiments that have served the United States Military, such as the Red Tails, Buffalo Soldiers, and Tuskegee Airmen, are some of the most celebrated regiments in military history. Yet these regiments were all segregated.

Regiments of African-Americans and white troops were not integrated until the Korean War. Though these regiments could now be integrated, it could be supposed that racism and ignorance toward African-Americans still existed.

However, for Roger Perkins, the director of the Veteran Support Center at the University of Utah, a troop is a troop no matter what color they are.

Roger Perkins served in the Army for 21 years, from 1970 to 1991. During his years of service, Perkins says that the only time ignorance toward the African-American troops was displayed was in the barracks, never around a superior officer.

“You find ignorant people everywhere you go,” Perkins says.

Though the military may have a history of segregated regiments, the military now is more diverse. White troops make up 67 percent of the military, black troops make up 17 percent of the military, and Hispanics comprise 11 percent of the military.

These numbers somewhat correspond with the numbers of veterans at the University of Utah. Perkins says the statistics are as follows: 26 Asian, 22 African-American, 80 Hispanic, seven Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, 678 white, and 24 non-specified veterans.

The majority of the African-American troops at the U are in the Army and Marine Corps, Perkins says.

He also says there is no special treatment in the military. People are seen as a troop, and nothing more or less.

In regards to race in the military, Perkins says, “We don’t care.”

Though this is most likely true, the VA Salt Lake City Health Care System offers a support group for minority veterans. But why do they feel that they need this kind of support group?

Jinna Lee, Ph.D., a VA psychologist with the post-traumatic stress disorder clinic, says that the support group was formed for minority veterans to feel more comfortable. The familiarity they feel with a person of color is important.

The Veteran of Color Support Group focuses on helping veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. Statistics show that one in four veterans will return from deployment with PTSD. Men are more likely to form PTSD from combat, which is why veterans are often diagnosed with the disorder.

Although only four to seven people typically participate in the group, Lee says talking to veterans of the same ethnic background is comforting to the veterans.

“Issues with race and ethnicity do have an impact of how they function,” Lee says in a phone interview.

Lee says these veterans could potentially feel awkward talking to other veterans who are not of their ethnicity, and it’s easier for people of the same culture to understand them.

Stanley Ellington, the executive director for the Utah Black Chamber of Commerce, served in the Air Force for 28 years. During his time of service, Ellington says he was treated fairly.

Ellington also says that the Air Force made it hard to treat people like they weren’t your friends. During deployments especially, because they all relied on each other, there was a “sense of camaraderie” throughout the entire station.

Ellington says it is not so much an issue of color, but an issue of culture in the military. He likens not understanding someone’s culture to a language barrier. If you can’t speak someone’s language, it makes it hard to form a relationship with them — which he says is key.

Ellington says different cultures have different “paths” they use to get to where they want to be in life, and understanding these different paths means “understanding different terms.” From here, the question of understanding veterans of different ethnic backgrounds becomes a question of being fluent in a specific culture, not race.

Lee says there is such an overlap between race and culture, the veterans look for someone of their own culture to talk about things to make themselves feel better.

Kenneth Hartsfield, 26 , a junior at the U majoring in mechanical engineering, is a member of the Air Force. Hartsfield says he joined the Air Force because he “had no reliable plans after high school and did not want to stay at home and get a job.”

“I wanted to see at least a different part of the country and possibly the world,” Hartsfield says.

Hartsfield says his experience with the military has been relatively color-blind. However, life in basic training was rough for some of his comrades.

“It was a melting pot of life experiences where we all had to depend on the next person to cover our shortfalls,” Hartsfield says. “Some had come from inner city while others came that had only seen a handful of minority people.”

Hartfield’s father was a Green Beret, which is why he grew up in a military town in North Carolina. Not only is his father in the military, but his brother, grandfather, uncle and other various family members also serve.

“My father served 27 years in the Army. My brother is in his first year with the Air Force. My paternal grandfather served in World War II and my maternal uncle served in the Army for four years. I have a lot of extended family that is also serving,” Hartsfield says.

He went to basic training after he enlisted, which he said some had a difficult time adjusting to. Tasks such as laundry and asking questions to superiors came as a shock to some newly-enlisted troops.

“It was a huge culture shock for some but growing up in a military town I and the other well cultured kids had no problem adjusting,” Hartsfield says.

Ellington, Lee, Hartsfield and Perkins all say that racial differences could be a source of conflict between troops. However, all agreed that a more likely cause would be cultural differences.