It all started as a simple class project, but a creative initiative launched by Utah State University Brigham City student Heather Winegar is touching lives on two continents in very personal ways.
For her Human Dimensions of Natural Resource Management class, Winegar came up with an idea for a service project that would get she and her daughter and friends outside for exercise, spark awareness in recycling and help children in diverse circumstances struggling with life-changing challenges.
“I started collecting aluminum cans along the roadsides in Box Elder County with my 10-year-old daughter and a couple of her friends about a year or so ago,” says Winegar, an undergraduate recreation resource management major and resident of Bear River City, Utah. “We pull the tabs off the cans for Ronald McDonald House Charities and send proceeds from the recycled cans to Kenya’s Samburu Youth Education Fund.”
Winegar chose RMHC because of her experiences with a loved one who benefited from the charity’s services while seeking treatment at Utah’s Primary Children’s Hospital. RMHC uses only the tabs from cans, as they’re easier, less costly and more hygienic to store and ship for recycling than the entire can.
Winegar learned of the Samburu Youth Education Fund from Adam Beh, a visiting faculty member in USU’s College of Natural Resources in 2010-11, who founded the charity with colleague Brett Bruyere after first visiting the region in 2005. The fund provides tuition for needy students in the Samburu District, located in northern Kenya. Beh has since returned to Kenya to continue his work with the project.
“Dr. Beh told us about his first-hand experiences in witnessing opportunities made possible by the fund,” Winegar says. “We learned that a little support goes a long way in providing children — especially girls — with opportunities to go to school.”
Since starting the project, Winegar estimates that she’s saved more than 25,000 cans.
“On Sept. 11 this year, we went out and collected 911 cans,” she says. “That was our goal to commemorate that day.”
That amount of cans yields about $22, Winegar says, which doesn’t sound like a lot. But, in Samburu, $22 covers a substantial chunk of a child’s annual tuition.
At USU Brigham City and in the surrounding community, word of Winegar’s efforts has spread and people of all ages are lending a hand, says Brigham City program coordinator Melissa Thomas.
“This project has inspired children and other USU Brigham City students to act as the catalyst for environmental awareness and global change by creating a recycling program,” Thomas says. “Heather’s efforts are encouraging connections between people and nature and their community.”
Winegar says she likes the project’s global reach, its multi-generational and multicultural participation and its simplicity.
“It’s something everyone can contribute to and benefit from,” she says.
Following completion of her bachelor’s degree, Winegar hopes to build a career in humanitarian work and with wildlife refuges.
“I have big aspirations but no definite plans,” she says. “Perhaps my work will even take me overseas.”
Winegar adds that she’s grateful to the faculty, staff and students of USU Brigham City for the support she’s received with her project and her education.
“I love USU Brigham City — the faculty and staff are exceptional,” she says. “They’re the big reason for my success.”
- “Worth a Thousand Words: USU Scientist Uses Photos to Spur Conservation,” Utah State Today
- USU Brigham City
- USU Department of Environment and Society
- USU College of Natural Resources
Contact: Melissa Thomas, 435-919-1248, email@example.com
Writer: Mary-Ann Muffoletto, 435-797-3517, firstname.lastname@example.org