Granite Park Junior High continues to serve community with dinner and more
Jan 22, 2020 11:48AM
● By Bill Hardesty
Volunteers help families find gifts during the third annual Dinner at the Park at GPJHS. (Bill Hardesty/City Journals)
By Bill Hardesty | [email protected]
In their continuing effort to be a community-oriented school, Granite Park Junior High School (GPJHS) held their third annual Dinner at the Park on Dec. 21. This was a way to bring teachers, students and their families together at the beginning of the holiday recess.
This year the event was planned and sponsored by a nonprofit called the Best Seat in the House. Besides a dinner provided by Papito Moe’s, a local Puerto Rican food truck, there was a magic show, a visit with Santa, and a clothing giveaway, including new winter coats in child to adult sizes.
"Teachers are not required to be here, but they come," said Aaron Wilson, GPJHS principal.
Wilson continued, "Students mean a lot to us on a very human level. When we say we care about you, we really mean it."
They were expecting about 400 attendees.
"We don't get out much. This gives us an opportunity to see different cultures and to meet people," said Thao Truong, a refugee from Vietnam, while enjoying the dinner.
"We come with the kids to enjoy Christmas and to say ‘Hi,’" Amjed Aldahalk, who emigrated from Iraq four years ago, said after dinner.
Students and their siblings were able to visit with Santa. After doing so, they were given one wrapped gift and were also able to choose one unwrapped toy.
After making his choice, one student asked for a gift for his baby sister.
The toys were a result of corporate giving arranged by the Best Seat in the House.
Internationally recognized, but local magician Jason Fun (his real name) performed for the families. He started doing magic when he was 10.
"My father taught me my first magic trick," Fun said.
According to his website (JasonFunMagic.com), he has performed on three different continents, and has appeared on local TV several times, including Fox 13 with Big Budah, Good Day Utah, and KSL's Studio 5 with Brooke Walker.
Along with his assistant and wife, Marcela, they created and run the Utah Valley Magic Academy. The magic classes are for children 8-12. The magic is mixed with the development of social, communication and physical skills.
Ivan Gonzalez created the Best in the House nonprofit in 2018 after working at nonprofits such as the Ronald McDonald House and Utah Youth Village in Salt Lake City.
"I have a great opportunity to give back because so many people helped me," Gonzalez said as he reflected on his childhood.
Gonzalez grew up in poverty, so he understands what it means to be a low-income kid. He also knows the impact adult mentors can have.
In 2019, the nonprofit helped 3,000 kids in the Salt Lake area and helped children in foster care, with intellectual disabilities, who are critically ill or have life-altering conditions, who are refugees, or live in low-income or disadvantaged families.
The name, Best Seat in the House, is a result of two reoccurring experiences. The first is that as Gonzalez sees these children distracted from their daily struggles, he says, "I have the best seat in the house."
The other experience is when parents see their kid, who is suffering, being a regular kid even for a short time. "They have the best seat in the house," Gonzalez said.
According to their website, "We want all children to have a rich, fun, and rewarding childhood.” To that end, the nonprofit provides tickets to concerts, sporting events, festivals, and other events in the area; provides themed events for kids; purchases sports or activity supplies; arranges “meet and greet” events with musicians and celebrities; and provides or pays for lessons and extracurricular activities.
More information about the Best Seat in the House is available at Bestseatslc.org.