We believe that of all the world's natural resources, children are the most precious. In them lie the elements of imagination, the building blocks of innovation, the fundamentals of peace, the capacity to love immeasurably. No investment in their growth is to small, or too large; and no responsibility is greater than raising and educating them well.
"Friend-2-Friend has taught me leadership, initiation, work ethic, and communication skills that have made me a better student and contributor to my community. Friend-2-Friend gave me opportunities to create friendships, involve myself, and use creativity to make real differences for my community. I have never had so many opportunities for change than at Olympus High School, and I am so grateful to have taken every opportunity because I learned so many things - especially how to grow up."
How We Began
You may have noticed the beautiful hand-painted mural in the upper hallway of Cottonwood Elementary School in Holladay, Utah, and wondered what the story behind it is. In 1998, Jen Wunderli enlisted a group of willing parents to decide the best way to get students at Cottonwood Elementary to build unity and cultivate genuine kindness all while getting the kids excited to learn how others around the world do the same.
Jen said, "Our goal was to reach beyond the walls of our school and find another community to strengthen, with a program that put the students outside of themselves. When you serve somebody else that’s not within your community, the community becomes stronger. Students will learn not only about service, but also how to be a friend with someone who lives across the world. And then maybe they will be kinder to the child who lives across the street.”
In 1996-97, Jen had travelled with Choice Humanitarian to Vudimudi, India and to Mwambalazi, Kenya on a humanitarian trip and fell in love with the families who live in these villages. Jen said, "Their communities are rich in tradition and connection because they need these values to survive.” Jen wanted to share this with the kids at Cottonwood Elementary during her time as PTA President elect and then again the next year as PTA President. Thus Friend-2-Friend was born.
The first village adopted by Cottonwood was Vudimudi, on the East coast of India. The following year they adopted Mwambalazi, Kenya and Cottonwood was filled with everything African. Teachers, PTA, and Administration put together a year long syllabus incorporating lessons on geography, science, math and English. Students counted pigs in Swahili, studied the rain cycle in the Serengeti, made African masks, danced to African drums, and wore kangas for a week after making them for an art project. Each student was paired with a student in each of these villages and wrote monthly back and forth as pen pals. We thank Choice Humanitarian who helped organize a way to get them to these villages and back again on time. A walk-a- thon raised over 25,000 dollars per country to build a school for each village. The school in Mwambalazi, which still thrives today, was named Cottonwood Elementary School. At the end of each year, the PTA organized a festival to celebrate the efforts and fun that went into this project. In 1999, the program won a state PTA award. We are very grateful!
Jen organized efforts again in 2010 at Cottonwood, and after her youngest child moved on to Junior High School, Friend-2-Friend became a non-profit serving our Utah community. 200 kids register every year to take part.
Jen said, “I love what I do and have done for years. I get to spend time with 200 pretty incredible students from Olympus High School, and a non-paid board of talented, hardworking, women who never get tired. I started F2F with the hope that my own children would learn to be compassionate and accepting through serving others, but I quickly realized that important traits like these should be acquired naturally in order to serve with pure intent. This is what we teach, that it has to be real! Our students have learned to create change, to do the right thing, to choose to be kind, to make positive choices, to serve with love, to find a new friend, to value hard work, and to see a need and do it without being asked or without applause. I have seen increased compassion, non-judgement, and self-confidence. It gives them an identity and purpose, with increased social and relationship skills, and we always see happy faces at the end of a project.”
Today, we serve wherever we are needed in the community. We also create projects and implement events that benefit our community. Community engagement is at the forefront of what we do. Our annual “Unity in the Community, an Evening of Service" is among our favorites. We connect private donors, community partners, and religious denominations. We invite by advertising the event and anyone is welcome to come.