How 2 Utahns, 3 organizations are helping make the state better

Five honorees received awards on Tuesday for their work as ‘unsung heroes’ to help Utah prosper.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Taki Truong volunteers at the new Salt Lake City Bicycle Collective on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2023. The collective received an award Tuesday for its work refurbishing and donating bicycles to people in need.

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Providing free bicycles, health care for those in need and an economic boost are a few of the ways two people and three organizations are helping make Utah better.

Five honorees received Informed Decision Maker of the Year awards Tuesday from the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute, for their work behind the scenes to help the Beehive State prosper.

“These are genuinely, truly unsung heroes,” said Abe Bakhsheshy, a University of Utah professor who delivered the keynote speech. “They are making a genuine difference every single day in this state.”

The awards, which are in their fifth year, honor people and organizations based on responsibility to the community, integrity and relevance, accountability, collaboration and a positive work environment.

Champion for economic growth

Theresa Foxley is chief of staff at rPlus Energies, a Utah-based company that focuses on utility-scale renewable energy and energy storage development.

Foxley is a native Utahn who has spent her career, including a stint as the head of the Economic Development Corporation of Utah, “championing economic growth” in the state.

(Charles West | Special to the Tribune) Theresa Foxley

She has been quoted as saying she is an “unabashed promoter of Utah economic assets and quality of life.”

Leader in behavioral health

Ross Van Vranken is the outgoing executive director of the Huntsman Mental Health Institute, and has been director of the mental and behavioral health hospital and services at the University of Utah (of which HMHI is a part) since 1991.

The institute is a multi-million-dollar enterprise supporting a behavioral health care system that is anchored by a 170-bed acute psychiatric and substance use hospital that services all ages, disorders, and socioeconomic groups.

Gardner’s program described Van Vranken as a leader in behavioral health since the 1980s, and said his leadership “inspires individuals and teams to foster an environment of inclusivity, collaboration, compassion, accountability and innovation.”

Bicycles for children, refugees, immigrants, others in need

Bicycle Collective is a group of nonprofit bike shops that refurbishes bikes and then sells or donates them at four locations in cities along the Interstate-15 corridor.

The collective puts bikes in the hands of those in need — with a focus on children, newly settled refugees, immigrants, people who are unhoused or experiencing housing insecurity, people recovering from substance use disorder, and those in households with low and moderate incomes. Bicycle Collective gave 1,349 bicycles to people in need in 2023.

“We are laser-focused on transportation equity,” said Donna McAleer, the group’s executive director.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) An eclectic collection of classic, old and newer bicycles and parts make it through the Salt Lake City Bicycle Collective where they are refurbished by professional bike mechanics then sold or donated, pictured Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2023.

People need a way to get from Point A to Point B, she said, and bikes are a sustainable, affordable way to do that.

Using community to build economic stability

Circles Salt Lake is a nonprofit dedicated to ending poverty in Salt Lake County. According to the organization’s website, Circles fulfills its mission “by building bridges of friendship and community that support individuals and families on their journey from surviving to thriving.”

Under the Circles model, a person or family experiencing poverty (called a “leader”) is paired with volunteers (called “allies”) to provide support — along with resource teams and the greater community — that begins with a 12-week training program.

Circles uses community to support families and help people experiencing poverty become financially independent and free of government services and gain hope and dignity.

The average duration in the program is three years before graduating.

Free health care for underserved communities

Seager Memorial Clinic in Ogden has completed more than 84,000 patient visits since 1988.

It provides “non-judgmental” medical, dental, vision and mental health care, free for patients.

The clinic’s patients have varying levels of need, said Jerika Mays, the clinic’s executive director — from those who are unhoused to people without health insurance and people transitioning between jobs.

“Health really sets the stage for all areas of our life,” Mays said. She told the story of a patient who couldn’t get a job as a truck driver because of unmanaged diabetes. After getting a referral to the clinic and receiving free health care, Mays said, the man was able to pass a physical and is now employed.