The center began in the early 2000s when residents at the Hartland, whose constituency at the time was about 75 percent refugees and immigrants speaking dozens of languages, wanted a place to go to help each other gain a foothold in their new home whether that was learning how to fill out a job application, where to find the nearest bus stop or how to speak English. The center was adopted by the University of Utah's University Neighborhood Partners in 2004.
Mohamed emigrated from Somalia with family members when he was just 14, and he didn't know a word of English. He eventually learned enough that by the time he moved to Salt Lake City after finishing high school, he started working with the Hartland Center to find help applying for college. He has since graduated with a bachelor's degree in social work and is working on a master's.
"I am who I am because of Hartland," Mohamed said.
Since joining up with the U., Hartland has grown into a partnership between faculty, students and residents who share the goal of helping more residents like Mohamed succeed in Salt Lake's west-side communities, according to University Neighborhood Partners Director Rosemarie Hunter. Hunter said that starting in 2001, the university recognized that it needed to improve its outreach to residents on the west side, who were severely underrepresented on campus. The Hartland provided a way for the university to start building those ties "so that the idea of higher education actually becomes a choice [for west-side residents,]" Hunter said.
"Ideally, we want to build their own capacity as leaders," she said.
The new space for the Hartland represents new opportunities to serve its growing population. Most of its clientele still reside in the Pebble Creek complex, but thanks to word of mouth, the center was getting too big for its space. Fundraising efforts and community donations, including a $300,000 gift from Goldman Sachs, helped Hartland buy its new building in 2011. There is still approximately $150,000 left to be raised for the entire project.
The center now has room to take in clients who need its services whether that's long-term help learning English or financial literacy, or short-term assistance with reading mail or filling out legal documents.
Juan Gilberto, a Hartland volunteer who started as an immigrant himself, celebrated the Hartland's new center by performing a song he wrote, called "Hartland." The Spanish lyrics talk about the many nationalities that come together and celebrate diversity. Gilberto said it's important for people who are new to the community to have a place like that.
"People like us that were received with open arms are receiving others with open arms," he said.