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When they were freshmen in high school, friends Ashton Palmer and Andrew Hagedorn read a newspaper story about a homeless man who froze to death in his car.

Ashton and Andrew were moved to action by the report: They promised each other they would help homeless people however they could.

That promise, now nearly 4 years old, has been fulfilled again and again. Despite the challenges of high school and their extracurricular activities — Ashton is captain of her school's varsity water polo and swimming teams, and Andrew was a varsity lacrosse player — the pair are still committed to the cause.

Together, they have raised more than $800,000 for local organizations, including The Road Home shelter and the Utah Youth Mentor's Milestone project, which provides housing for at-risk youth who have aged out of foster care.

They offer simple reasons for their commitment to service. "I'm a very fortunate person," said Andrew, 17, who was a student at East High until recently moving to Joplin, Mo. "I worry [about] if I'm getting an A in a class. They worry about their next meal or where they are going to sleep."

"It's heartbreaking to see the kids," said Ashton, 17, a senior at Cottonwood High. "I have a really good life."

Volunteering to earn "community service" credit on college applications is a common ritual for ambitious youth, but these two don't appear motivated just by obligation. "They're doing it with vigor," said Marianne Brough, executive director of the Utah Youth Mentor Project.

Just as clich├ęd, perhaps, is the older generation's assumption that teens don't care about giving back. Instead, Ashton and Andrew have demonstrated that's simply not true, said Celeste Eggert, director of development for The Road Home.

"So few teenagers are engaged," Brough added. "[Andrew and Ashton] have a vision of what needs to be done."

Andrew and Ashton started fulfilling their promise to each other by bringing up the subject at Youth to Youth, their church group at Midvale's St. James Episcopal Church. Their group was motivated to volunteer at The Road Home, serving dinner one night.

After dinner, as the youth cleaned the shelter's kitchen, a group of diners began profusely thanking Ashton. "They were so appreciative," she said.

Through their membership and later leadership on the Salt Lake County Youth Government Commission, Andrew and Ashton kept volunteering to help. Fundraising for The Road Home began on a small scale, with the duo holding bake sales, pancake breakfasts, fun runs and car washes. They volunteered to answer phones during the shelter's radio-thon pledge drives.

Emboldened by their volunteer work, the Utah teens began cold-calling elected officials, businesses, community leaders and other youth to talk about youth homelessness, raising awareness — and money — for those who are kicked out of the foster-care system when they turn 18.

"The youngest ones were the ones who affected us the most," Andrew said. "We could help them now, act on this now."

Of the youth, Ashton added: "That's where it starts. They can become chronically homeless for the rest of their lives."

In their research, the pair found the Utah Youth Mentor Project, a nonprofit agency that helps teens develop life skills while providing them a place to live. Brough said Andrew and Ashton have raised thousands of dollars for what's termed the Milestone project, which has recently opened a 10-bed house for young men who have aged out of the foster system. Several weeks ago, a similar home opened for young women.

"It means a lot to kids to see these kids caring for them," Eggert said.

Andrew and Ashton have continued fundraising, and now have donated enough money to The Road Home to fund a caseworker or provide more than 16,000 nights of lodging.

Ashton continues serving. Earlier this month, she and others raised more than $4,000 through a fundraising concert by The Sally Bytheway Chorale, and on Friday she worked for two hours at a local soup kitchen.

As for Andrew, he misses the community service and fundraising projects he left behind in Utah. "I'm already looking for community service around here," he said in a phone interview from Missouri.

Season of Giving

To donate to the charities that Ashton Palmer and Andrew Hagedorn support:

The Road Home, 210 S. Rio Grande St., Salt Lake City; to donate, visit http://www.theroadhome.org or call 801-359-4142.

Utah Youth Mentor Project, 699 E. South Temple, Suite 320, Salt Lake City; to donate, visit http://www.youthmentorproject.org or call 801-755-3735.

For a list of other groups seeking assistance this holiday season, please go to http://www.sltrib.com/giving. —

Season of Giving

I To donate to the charities that Ashton Palmer and Andrew Hagedorn support:

The Road Home, 210 S. Rio Grande St., Salt Lake City; to donate, visit http://www.theroadhome.org or call 801-359-4142.

Utah Youth Mentor Project, 699 E. South Temple, Suite 320, Salt Lake City; to donate, visit http://www.youthmentorproject.org or call 801-755-3735.

For a list of other groups seeking assistance this holiday season, please go to http://www.sltrib.com/giving.