Utah Senate Majority Whip Ann Millner, a former president of Weber State University, said when she moved to Utah, she observed that returned missionaries had higher levels of maturity, which made a positive difference in their civic engagement and employment prospects.

“We need opportunities for other students, other young people to do the same thing,” Millner, sponsor of SB206, told the Utah Legislature’s House Education Committee on Tuesday.

The legislation would create the One Utah Fellowship Program, which would pair young adults who want to serve their communities in meaningful ways with qualifying nonprofit organizations and agencies that need consistent volunteer help. Young men and women who complete 1,700 hours of service would be eligible for a $7,400 stipend they could use for college or other higher education expenses. The stipend would be provided through AmeriCorps, the federal agency for national service and volunteerism, said Millner, R-Ogden.

While serving, One Utah Fellowship participants would earn $5 an hour from the state, which would be matched by the organization they are working with, “and that’s to make sure that everybody is committed, and we’re making this program work and we all have some skin in the game,” Millner said.

The program is patterned after AmeriCorps, and it will rely on federal eligibility guidelines for qualifying organizations. The legislation has a $3.3 million fiscal note.

“This is not for ecclesiastical missions. This is for community service in our state,” Millner explained

“What we’re trying to do is create our own Utah program or our own brand of this program so that we would give high school graduates in the first couple of two or three years after they graduate a year to go in and do some service to do it for nonprofits in areas where we need the most help and assistance,” she said.

Many Utah schools and nonprofit organizations rely on the service of volunteers but the impact of their service can vary depending upon their training and how often and consistently they serve.

For example, the Ogden School District needs trained tutors to work with students in grades K-3 on math and reading to help bring them up to grade level.

The district needs people who can work with students every day, who can be scheduled week after week. “That becomes a real help to a teacher,” she said.

The service opportunities give young men and women a chance to build their skills and explore careers which they may aspire to or decide aren’t for them, “which is really nice to do before you start college,” Millner said.

While the committee roundly supported SB206, Chairwoman Candice Pierucci, R-Herriman, said she, too, would support the bill but “I’m wrapping my mind around the concept of we’re asking people to do service and now we’re going to be essentially paying you for it by giving you a scholarship. I worry that we’re gonna be missing out on students who are already service driven.”

Millner said she anticipates that the fellowship program, which would be overseen by the Utah Department of Community and Culture, will have a learning curve its inaugural year, starting with about 500 young people.

“That’s why it’s a pretty small program at this point. But if we could make it work, I think we could be a model. Utah is a place that we believe in service and this really helps everybody,” she said.