UTAH — The legislative session ended on a high note for The Policy Project and The Teen Center Project. Legislation passed that will bring two landmark changes with ripple effects felt throughout the state.
As The Policy Project’s founder and president Emily Bell McCormick stated, both Utah and the project ‘made good history’ by becoming the first state in the U.S. to supply free period products in state buildings and by securing $15 million in funds for The Teen Center Project, which along with another $3 million the organization raised from private donors, will fund more than 60 centers throughout the state.
The Teen Center Project hopes to provide services for students and teens to meet basic needs. These centers hope to provide services like laundry, food pantries, showers and toiletries, family advocate workers, and mental health support, among others.
These accomplishments piggyback The Policy Project’s successful efforts in 2022, where the passing of HB162 made Utah the first state to put period products in every K-12th grade public and charter school, called The Period Project-.
“Coming out of the session with $15 million for our kids that are the most vulnerable is hugely important and impactful for our state,” McCormick said. “We are all so tied to each other, sometimes we forget that, so this win was really a signal that we should be reaching out to the most vulnerable in our society.”
The Policy Project was created out of McCormick’s desire to scale ‘good.’ As a mother of five, she spent years of her life volunteering for various organizations but never felt that the roots of the issues were addressed. The Policy Project is playing the long game, celebrating big wins while laying foundations for future progress.
“A lot of ways that I had seen service and had been servicing was dealing with issues after they happened, things like delivering a coat to someone who needs a coat, etc.,” McCormick said. “That is a very necessary part of service but I want to go upstream of that and really help to intercept problems before they become problems. We worked on The Period Project and realized that girls don’t have equal access to the classroom because they are required to have a specific product to attend.”
The Policy Project was able to get private donors to donate dispensers for all the schools, and upwards of 337,000 girls now have access to period products that did not before. Knowledge gained through that experience allowed insights into other needs of teens.
“If you are not fed, clean, or able to get food in your home, you are not able to fully be present in school,” McCormick added. “One in 50 students in Utah are classified as homeless [stats from Utah State Board of Education], one in three students are on free or reduced lunch which means they are economically disadvantaged. Those hardships play out in the classroom.”
The $18 million in funding slated for Teen Centers in high schools around the state will offer a space for teens to get grab and go food, take a private shower, do laundry and talk to a trusted adult about other community resources. Schools can apply for a $250,000 grant through the Utah State Board of Education to fund a Teen Center.