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All it takes is a single "yes" to build a community, says Kearns Junior High Principal Kandie Barber. After that, everything else follows.

Four years ago, Barber said yes to a grant from United Way that would open her school up as a community center to students and neighbors alike. That decision led to the creation of an after-school program, a mobile health clinic, a community English-speaking and computer class and a student-inspired mural.

Last year, adult volunteers said yes to giving service in United Way's Day of Caring at Kearns Junior, and the example they set led students to create their own day of caring, which had the junior-high-schoolers planting flowers, washing fire engines and working at the food bank.

Barber said one of her students told her that only shopping made the student feel good, but volunteering at the food bank was much more rewarding.

"They found out how good it felt to think outside of themselves and to help others," she said. "Everybody's always looking for things to make them happy, and helping others is really where you can get a lot of happiness."

This month for the second time at Kearns Junior High, 60 Day of Caring volunteers from Holland & Hart law and 3M Health Information Systems said yes to cleaning the courtyard and picking up trash around the school, tutoring and reading with students and moving and assembling tables.

Still, the service bug spreads.

"By example, it continued on. Now all of our kids do service and they love it, and hopefully that encourages them to do it more often," Barber said. "So this day helps expand it, so more and more people do more to help each other."

This was United Way's 20th annual statewide Day of Caring. This year, nearly 4,000 volunteers from 100 local companies provided service to 115 one-day projects. Even though Kearns Junior only ended up with 60 of those volunteers, their service made a difference.

As Barber watched two volunteers heave a table up the stairs, she thanked them, saying students would have waited three months for the 20 large science tables to be assembled. With the help of the volunteers, the work was done in a day.

"We have two janitors," said Anne Schmidt, community learning center coordinator at Kearns Junior. "How are two janitors going to put together 20 tables? … It just makes such a difference to have all these hands on deck."

The service at Kearns Junior is meaningful not only because it helps the students, but also because it helps the community.

The junior high became a community center in 2008 because 78 percent of the students come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, and 53 percent are ethnic minorities, according to the Utah State Office of Education.

Now the school has become a place to feed a variety of the community's needs, from the mobile health and vision clinic to clothing swaps to English and computer classes. The school sees about 75 community members using the center every day.

"Really the idea is all your basic needs will be met," Schmidt said.

Another facet of the community center is the after-school program that keeps about 70 to 80 students learning after the last school bell has rung.

When students complete an hour of after-school tutoring, their reward is hanging out in the old wrestling-room-turned-clubhouse complete with couches, Mac computers, guitars, a big-screen TV and graffiti art.

The idea of the program is that if students are connected with their school socially, they will have a better school-day experience, said Schmidt.

"We're trying to have a continuum of learning and achievement and help the kids be successful during the school day but after school as well," she said.

Barber said services like the after-school program are especially needed in junior high schools because that is when students determine the course of their high-school careers.

"This is the time when you can totally turn them around, so this is where we need the services," she said.

At this year's Day of Caring, the junior high was cared for from top to bottom, and through that service, so was everyone else.

"[The Day of Caring service] boosts the morale of our students, it boosts the morale of our teachers, it boosts the morale of our staff," she said. "It just makes everyone feel better."

Twitter: @justiola —

At a Glance

On Sept. 13, United Way's Annual Day of Caring engaged 3,855 volunteers from 100 local companies in 115 one-day projects that saved communities more than $615,000 in services.

At Kearns Junior High, 60 Day of Caring volunteers cleaned the courtyard, picked up trash, hung signs, tutored and read with students, and moved and assembled large and heavy science tables.

More than a junior high, Kearns is also a community center that serves about 75 citizens daily with English and computer skills classes, clothing swaps and bimonthly health and vision clinics.

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