Julie Stephens has no qualms about getting her hands dirty.
This summer, however, she's opted to don a gown and tiara — complete with a garden hoe as her scepter — to serve as the community's Sandy Mountain Festival Queen.
In her 30-plus years in Sandy, Stephens has been known for her work as a massage therapist, 16 years with Sandy Area Metro, and more recently, her volunteer work.
For the first half of her time in Sandy, Stephens said she kept her giving fairly anonymous, and volunteered with city efforts such as community center events, benefits for the Sandy Public Library and delivering Meals on Wheels, and assisted schools in their kindergarten classrooms.
More recently, Stephens has teamed up with a group of local women to assemble and pass out care packages for homeless women. The women have led the charge in this effort for five years, gathering hygiene supplies, snacks, clothes, sanitary supplies, incontinence products and more to give to women in need.
"One of the first years we gave out bags to the homeless women, we were under the Burnside bridge and there was an elderly woman with a walker," Stephens recalled. "She'd just gotten out of the hospital and didn't know where she was going to sleep for the night. We gave her a bag, and she couldn't express the gratitude. She couldn't believe someone would offer her this. All she could say is 'Bless your heart.' The hardest thing is not being able to offer people more."
Regardless of how much Stephens has done for others, she was "stunned" to receive the honor of Sandy Mountain Festival queen.
"The women on the court do amazing things in the community," Stephens noted. "I really have enjoyed getting to know the court, (and) it's great being recognized in the community I've loved for 30 years. It's been really nice."
Stephens has noticed how "volunteerism has fallen off," but remains inspired to give back.
"You know that feeling you have when someone opens a gift you gave them?" she asked, comparing gift giving to volunteering. "It opens your heart. I don't know of another thing you can do that feels that incredible."
When she's not planting seeds of change in her community, Stephens is nurturing actual seeds in her home garden.
"The plants are amazing," she noted, adding that she grows a large assortment of flowers, salad greens and more. "They're this whole little entity that thrives if you give it the barest necessities. It's a beautiful process."
Of course, even Stephens' gardening connects back into her altruistic actions. She makes quite a few dishes from the food she grows, and that food seldom only stays in her kitchen.
"If someone's sick, we're able to take a quart of soup over to them," she noted.
In her capacity as queen this year, Stephens is looking forward to enjoying her usual favorites at the festival, listening to the music and visiting vendors she's come to know from the event. Plus, it's ample opportunity for Stephens to socialize.
"I like being a part of the community and going to the store or post office and running into people," she said. "I like being able to make a small difference."
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