Lion’s Heart Park City reaches a milestone of more than 10,000 volunteer hours
Enrollment is now open for the next school year
In 2016, Parkite Karla Olson formed the Park City chapter of Lion’s Heart, a countrywide organization that champions teen volunteering for national and local nonprofits.
By 2018, Park City’s Lion’s Heart groups achieved a milestone of 2,000 volunteer hours, and last week, the volunteer hours peaked at 10,040.
What makes this achievement more meaningful is that a handful of these students have been with Lion’s Heart from the very beginning, and they are now graduating, Olson said.
“I’m so proud they stuck with it,” Karla Olson said. “I feel like we’re sending these well-rounded, aware, empathetic, kind and empowered kids out into the world.”
On May 22, the Park City Lion’s Heart chapter celebrated a year-end celebration and handed out awards to the senior class, Olson said.
Of these students — Tyler Gallwas, Gabriel Hopkins, Bodi Marzka, Blake Matamoros, Sydney Bruemmer, Alli Macuga, Riley Olson (Olson’s daughter) and Claire Schmid earned the Golden Lion Award, which is given to seniors who started in sixth grade.
To qualify for the golden lion award, students need to be an active member of Lion’s Heart for six consecutive years and have accrued at least 150 service hours, Olson said.
Adding to the awards total, five senior girls — Emma and Hannah Smoak, Hillary Fox, Calry McAleer and Sofia Bernasconi received special recognition for their consistent volunteer work throughout the years.
Another senior, Josie Johnson, who is currently training for Women’s Downhill ski jumping, received the Lion’s Heart TOBY Award, Olson said.
The TOBY, which is an acronym for Think of Others Before Yourself, is awarded to a Lion’s Heart individual, an entire group, or a group of members who may not necessarily be in the same group in grades 6-11 who go above and beyond volunteer expectations.
Members and groups of members are nominated each year through the Lion’s Heart website by people who know them best, including their class coordinator, chapter president, peers, teachers and family, Olson said.
“This is so impressive because (Josie) has been all over the world training, and still always shows up for Lionsheart with a great attitude and smile,” she said.
Lion’s Heart was founded in 2004 by Terry Corwin, and Olson started the Park City Chapter of Lion’s Heart in 2016 with the goal to give local students an opportunity to give back to the community.
“I think these kids have so much to give back, but they don’t know where to start,” she said. “Sometimes all it takes is just a road map to do that, and Lion’s Heart is that beautiful road map. It shows how they can make volunteering a part of their everyday lives.”
One of the things that sets Lion’s Heart apart from other adolescent-based volunteer groups is that it’s co-ed and run by teens themselves, Olson said.
“Parents drop off their kids for Lion’s Heart meetings, and then they leave,” she said. “We have the kids run the meetings and decide on the different projects.”
Founding member Bodi Marzka, who was the Lion’s Heart Park City chapter’s 2022 president, is grateful for the leadership skills he has learned throughout the years.
“Lion’s heart to me was a place where I could get together with my friends and do good for the community,” he said. “It was also a place that felt like an actual responsibility since it was run by teens instead of adults.”
Although he had been involved with many service projects over the years, Marzka’s favorite was organizing a drive for school supplies for a kindergarten class in Texas hit by Hurricane Harvey in 2017.
“Lions heart and the community managed to get each and every kid in the class a backpack and plenty of school supplies for the upcoming years,” he said. “I saw the community directly care for people — who they had nothing in common with — for the greater good. Also, it was amazing to see the kids enjoy the items we got them.”
Olson’s daughter, Riley, remembers a project Lion’s Heart did with the nonprofit called Little Miracles, which helps single mothers.
This particular family had adopted eight special-needs adults. Riley was in charge of painting an Avengers-themed mural because two of the family’s boys loved the Hulk and especially Captain America.
Although she struggled with the mural, she completed it and showed the boys.
“The eyes of the taller boy lit up as he looked in our direction, and he covered his mouth, repeating ‘Oh my God!’ over and over,” she said.
The reaction of the other boy is also something Riley will never forget.
“With a big proud grin on his face, he said, ‘Someday, I’m going to be like Captain America, and I will be a proud soldier, just like him. God bless America,'” she said. “With those words he spoke, I could feel tears streaming down my cheeks. Never in my life did I imagine that I could have created something that not only inspired someone but created something that brought joy to their entire world.”
Park City High School junior Katelin Allely, who won a Silver Award this year for having the most individual volunteer hours at 90, said she loves Lion’s Heart because it gave her and her fellow volunteers ways to have fun while working on serious projects.
“During Covid we could not go out and volunteer so we made clay hearts to bake in the oven. Then we sent them to first responders, which was really cool,” she said. “Another volunteering activity that we did was we went to USANA, and we packed weekend meals for kids who do not have parents home over the weekend or they are just a bit less fortunate. It was really cool because every meal that we packed meant that there was another kid who got to eat.”
Olson remembers another Little Miracles project that brought everyone to tears.
Lion’s Heart remodeled the home of a woman whose daughter had just died of cancer, Olson said.
“We had everyone running around putting in new kitchen cabinets and painting the walls,” she said. “Our group was in charge of the living room and putting up the Christmas Tree.”
The Lion’s Heart kids decided to decorate the tree in purple and blue and adorn it with dragonfly clips.
“I’ll never forget what happened when the lady walked in and saw the tree,” Olson said. “She nearly fell to her knees and told us that her daughter’s sign was dragonflies.”
These sorts of experiences touch Lion’s Heart volunteers and give them the motivation to continue serving, Olson said.
“I have seen how Lion’s Heart fills these kids up,” she said. “I have seen my sixth grade girls go from being so nervous that they could hardly talk with or even sit next to people they didn’t know to taking charge and grow into empathetic thought leaders and responsible and confident young adults. That has, honestly, been such a privilege.”
Lion’s Heart Park City Chapter is currently enrolling students for the upcoming school year, Olson said.
“We have eight groups that can hold 20 members, and we are currently accepting enrollment for any child who is going into sixth grade next year,” she said. “We also still have room for students who are sophomores and freshmen.”
Olson is honored that the Park City Chapter continues to serve after six years.
“I’m very proud of what these kids have done,” she said. “And I know there is more we can do.”
Santa Claus returns to the Park City Ice Arena on Tuesday, Dec. 12, from 5 to 7 p.m. for the annual Santa Skate! Don’t forget to bring your ski or bike helmet to wear while you’re on the ice. Complimentary skating and rentals.
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