Sorenson Unity, Multicultural centers are a good value

by NATHANIEL BINGAMAN

Come see the center

Once upon a time, children could look down, find two quarters on the ground and use them for a full day of fun. Some would say those days are gone. With an economy spiraling downward and unemployment skyrocketing, having fun with just 50 cents is a thing of the past. Or is it?

The Sorenson Unity Center andthe Multicultural Center, at the corner of 900 West and California Avenue, offer activities for children at prices that have probably not been seen in ages. The centers serve the community of Glendale, which is located on the west side of Salt Lake City.

“Glendale is a low income community. I love being able to give back to the kids in this area,” said Kaleigh Clark, who works in the aquatic center.

The centers are community-based facility that are owned by Salt Lake City and provide programs and services to the residents of the community.

Although they are based in the Glendale area, the community they serve is much bigger. Anyone can go to the centers and pay the same price as a local resident.

Seniors pay only 50 cents Monday through Friday mornings and a dollar during the afternoons. Children under the age of 17 can swim for 50 cents on Fridays and on the other days of the week it is only a $1.50.

“The prices are low, but families can also apply for a scholarship program,” Clark said. The scholarships are offered to children whose families qualify for government assistance, such as Medicare and food stamps. The scholarships allow the kids to participate in as many programs as they want for only $10.

In addition to low cost swimming, people can participate in basketball, soccer, snowshoeing, T-ball, softball and the list goes on and on.

“My kids love it. They have so much fun and it costs so little,” said Claudia Corona, whose children have participated in many different activities offered at the centers.

Corona used to take her kids to soccer practice there. At the time she was in need of work. She noticed they had a job opening. Within a couple weeks she was happily greeting patrons at the front desk. You will probably see her warm smile on your next visit.

“I love my job, I am able to see families come in every day smiling and having a good time,” Corona said. “It is fun seeing mothers and daughters come in to take belly dancing classes together.” Yes, for $10 you can learn to belly dance.

The Corona family spends a lot of time at the centers. Her daughter began working there as a volunteer. “She had a great time playing with the kids. She started as being a referee for youth soccer. Now she works here part time.”

Volunteers are able to participate in various sports programs as youth coaches and referees. “We love our volunteers. They do a great job with the kids,” Corona said.

Coaches at the center are asked to take a test to determine their commitment to the children. They are told to focus on sportsmanship, playing as a team and having a good time. These are not the coaches who are going to yell at your child over mistakes they make on the playing field. It’s all about having fun and learning a little in the process.

For you working parents who need a place for your child to stay out of trouble, the Sorenson Unity Center offers after-school programs for kids 5 to 13. The kids in the program take field trips, swim at the pool, hike, do arts and crafts projects and get help with homework. The center also gives the kids a safe place to learn in a connected and safe environment. These children also learn how to give back to their community.

One program allows the children in the after-school program to be involved in a pen pal program. Children at the center write to seniors who are living at the Sunday Anderson Senior Center. “The kids here are so sweet and smart. They love writing and getting the letters,” said Clarissa Warath, a lifeguard at the center.

Many thought the good old days were gone. But at the centers you can take a step back in time. Things are inexpensive and good values are being taught around every corner.

Sorenson Unity Center a product of collaborations

Story and photo by DEREK SIDDOWAY

Community gardens, dental services, recreation center and art gallery; the Sorenson Unity Center offers a plethora of activities for residents of the Glendale and Poplar Grave neighborhoods, all rolled into one convenient package.

Built in 2008, the Sorenson Unity Center (formerly the Sorenson Multicultural Center) is the result of combined labors between Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County and various nonprofit organizations. Located at 900 W. 1383 South, the center houses a combination of services — computer labs, fitness facilities and child care, to name a few — that community members can take advantage of.

“The great thing about the unity center is we have so many diverse programs and services,” said Director Nichol Bourdeaux, 36. “It really is a one-stop show for the community members of the Glendale area.” Past examples of the center’s “diverse programs and services” include Planned Parenthood, computer literacy classes, food preservation and canning, relationship and substance abuse workshops and film screenings.

This gallery, located at the southern entrance of the Sorenson Unity Center, features "Reflections" by Alyssa Chamber. It showcases a wide array of human emotion.

Bourdeaux says the community has “embraced” the center and uses it for various public and private functions. However, this “one-stop show” serves more than a stage for community activities. Numerous venues are available for long and short-term rent as well, including conference rooms, theatres and classrooms. The Sorenson Unity Center also allows community members to exhibit their art in two galleries positioned at the south and east entrances. Past exhibits include “Reflections,” an exhibit by community member Alyssa Chamber that explores the spectrum of emotion people experience throughout life’s trials.

“We are really working as a collaboration: nonprofit, community agencies and government agencies providing services to the community. It’s not one entity providing something,” Bourdeaux said. “Because of the variety of programming and services it’s a natural collaboration between all the different cultures; this is their community center.”

Examples include Horizonte, an alternative school that teaches adults English as a second language and basic education classes. KUED’s Ready To Learn Workshop spans a six-month period and covers a variety of parenting classes on topics ranging from child development to anti-bullying and nutrition. Salt Lake Donated Dental operates in the southeastern corner of the center and provides discounted or free dental hygiene services.

Patrons who take advantage of the center’s offerings don’t need to make special arrangements if they have children. Parents can place their children in the drop-off Child Care Center while exercising or attending classes. Children ages 8 weeks through 8 years can be placed in childcare Monday through Friday for as low as $1.50 per hour.

The Computer Clubhouse, a computer lab specifically for children ages 10 and up, allows neighborhood youth to “use technology creatively to acquire the tools, problem solving skills and confidence to lead successful lives,” according to the Sorenson Unity Center’s website. In addition to open access, children can attend scheduled classes such as Lego robotics, engineering, graphic design and film design.

The Sorenson Unity Center houses a variety of nonprofit organizations selected through its Programming Partnership.

Not just any program is admitted, however. In order to ensure the quality of nonprofit organizations, the Sorenson Unity Center developed a Programming Partnership in 2011. Programs must follow the stipulated guidelines in order to use the center. Requirements include proper food and business permits, identifying the Sorenson Unity Center as a partner and adherence to scheduled meeting times. Programs wishing to continue their service at the end of the year-long agreement must be re-approved by the center.

“We are working with 25 local nonprofit organizations that want to provide services to the community for free,” Angela Romero said. Romero is the program coordinator at the Sorenson Unity Center and is responsible for selecting partner organizations.

“Through the programming partnership we have specific guidelines to match what we do here,” she said.

While Romero admits fine tuning may be necessary, she sees the partnership as a vital part in the collaboration between the Sorenson Unity Center and outside organizations.

“Our biggest goal is to make sure everyone in the Salt Lake community is aware of the services we provide,” Romero said. “This place is for them.”