It was ghastly weather outside but all warm smiles and hugs inside as about 50 west-side residents gathered Saturday to celebrate the start of a community leadership training organization.
Cheers went up as a banner proclaiming the "Westside Leadership Institute" was unveiled at a conference building at the Utah State Fairpark.
The institute is a project with joint participation from the University of Utah's University Neighborhood Partners, the Salt Lake Neighborhood Housing Project and the Weed and Seed Program.
Sarah Munro of the University Neighborhood Partners termed it a grass-roots program that residents have requested.
"When we were doing about a year of information gathering and talking to people who live or work on the west side, people wanted more support and tools to organize themselves around issues that are important to them. They'd like to have a greater impact on decisions that affect their communities," she said.
U. of U. football coach Urban Meyer encouraged the group to not only support the university, but to make use of the school's many libraries, people and sporting events to help enrich families and neighborhoods. "Take advantage of the priceless resources right up the hill," he urged, pointing east.
"Everyone here is a leader," insisted motivational speaker J. Otis Smith.
Smith, in a lively 30-minute presentation, debunked three myths: "That someone else will take care of it," ("That's a myth that blocks us from communicating"), the idea that "I can be perfect," and "the person who talks the most is the best."
He also urged west side residents to identify the assets in their area and not only discuss the good things there among themselves, but also contact the media so positive stories can emerge about the west side.
"We can turn what were deadlines into headlines," he said. "Why don't you just tell somebody every day something good that happened on the west side?"
Smith also encouraged would-be activists to believe they can make a difference, be patient with others who seem reluctant to get involved and to seek multiple opinions. "Every committee needs one person who is over 70 and somebody who is 15, 16 or 17," he said.
Kathy Burton, a Fair Park resident and bank trust officer, said after the meeting that she first decided to attend because a neighbor invited her but learned a lot once there. "I think it's really important to be involved in the community," she said. "This community has a lot to offer and a lot of those things are very under-recognized."