The Sorenson Multi-Cultural Unity Campus Gives Underserved Salt Lake Neighborhood a Welcome Gathering Place

A Gathering Place

For teens like Sujeit Chacon, the Sorenson Unity Center is a lifesaver. “If this wasn’t here, I would probably be like a lot of teens out on the street causing trouble,” says the 16-year-old. “The other kids don’t know what they are missing.”

Chacon is talking specifically about the Computer Clubhouse, one component of the Sorenson Multi-Cultural Unity Campus, where she spends afternoons engaged in technical and computer-based programs and where she has found her path to a future in engineering. Now a high school junior, Chacon has been visiting the Computer Clubhouse since she was six and doesn’t regret a moment. She has lead other local kids through the clubhouse’s Teen Leadership Committee and spent a week during the past two summers with teens from around the world at the Teen Summit, at Northeastern University in Boston, Mass. Despite growing up in an underserved community on the west side of Salt Lake City, Chacon is now focused on graduating from high school, going to college and sees universities such as Harvard and MIT as a future possibility.

With stories like Chacon’s as inspiration, leaders in Salt Lake’s Glendale and Poplar Grove neighborhoods created a community center for local families that provides a variety of after-school programs, health care opportunities, and cultural events. The Sorenson Multi-Cultural Unity Campus is a welcoming gathering place bringing resources that strengthen families and build a more cohesive community.

Sorenson Community Centers

The Sorenson Multi-Cultural Unity Campus is composed of the Sorenson Multi-Cultural Community Center and the Sorenson Unity Center and is set in an area of Salt Lake City with a wealth of cultural diversity, but lacking in community services. By providing critical resources, the Sorenson campus helps families overcome difficult obstacles and improve their chances of success. Children and teens benefit from year-round sports programs, after-school and summer enrichment programs, a Computer Technology Center and cultural performances.

For the past 20 years, the Sorenson Multi-Cultural Center has been home to many community activities. Teens, adults and senior citizens have enjoyed the benefits of a swimming pool, two multipurpose gymnasiums, a health clinic, and other gathering spaces. As the popularity of programs increased through the years, the need for additional facilities was apparent to community members.

Filling the Gaps

Opened in 2008, the Sorenson Unity Center fills many of those gaps, providing resources such as a 7,000-square-foot fitness facility, adult education courses offered through Salt Lake Community College, a computer lab for adults, a new home for the Computer Center for children, teens and adults, a full-service dental clinic, a drop-in childcare center, and a 150-seat performance space that includes dressing rooms and a reception area.

“The west side now has a first-rate facility comparable to the best community centers in the state,” says Judge Andrew Valdez, who sits on the Third District Juvenile Court. “One of the reasons I moved back to the west side after I was appointed to the bench was to become part of the community again–so the Sorenson Unity Center is like music to my heart.”

As a juvenile court judge, Valdez sees first-hand what happens when families struggle and teens are set adrift without purpose or guidance, which is why he is enthusiastic about the center.

“The Sorenson Multi-Cultural Unity Campus gives kids something constructive to do during critical after-school hours, the time when most juvenile crimes are committed,” says Valdez. “Kids are literally growing up in the center.”

Chacon couldn’t agree more. “I call it my second home,” she says. “I would cry if anything ever happened to the clubhouse or the Sorenson Center. I would literally die if it wasn’t around.”