North Houston Youth Spend Youth Conference Serving Others
Contributed By By Anne Billings and Ciera Kizerian, for LDS Church News
It’s not all that unusual for a youth conference to include some kind of service activity. But completing three different major projects in two days?
That is exactly what about 170 Houston Texas North Stake young men and young women did Easter weekend. During the conference, built around the theme “We Are His Hands,” the bishops’ storehouse made 1,700 pairs of shoes available for Haitians in need, planted nearly 150 trees in a historic neighborhood, and assembled some 7,000 meals at a food bank.
While the conference included a few other activities, the youth spent the majority of the time serving others. They worked hard, but most agreed they enjoyed the work.
“The service was my favorite part of youth conference,” said Sophia Velasco, 18, of the Cypress Creek Ward. “It felt great to be going out and actually doing good instead of just talking about doing good.”
This service had a positive impact not only on the youth themselves and the recipients of their service, but also on some community members who watched how the Mormon teenagers served.
“The next generation is going to make a big difference. Especially if they’re like these kids,” said Natasha Allsbrooks, who has helped coordinate volunteers at the Houston Food Bank for about four years and has worked with many groups of teenagers. She said this was “a good group. Not only did they listen, they were all motivated. They really actually seemed like they had passion behind what they were doing. And from this age group, that’s a great thing to see.”
The youth spent one afternoon of the conference at the Houston Food Bank, where they performed jobs ranging from sorting cans of food to stacking boxes and driving pallet lifters. They assembled approximately 7,300 meals for local families in need.
In their tree-planting project, the youth partnered with nonprofit organization Keep Houston Beautiful. They planted 141 trees in the historic Oaks of Allen Parkway area in downtown Houston. According to stake youth leaders, the organization originally planned to give the youth 50 trees to plant, but stake leaders told the organization the youth could do more.
“We are helping the trees, and in turn we’re helping ourselves and others,“ said Kayla Flores, 14.
Growth in service
Youth and adult leaders who planned the conference felt that service as a theme would help the youth grow and draw closer to the Savior.
“We have learned that through service, they grow more than through any other type of activity,” said Houston North Stake President David Bertoch. “And they’re having a good time. They can have fun while they’re serving, but I know too that they feel this is something unique and special.”
One of the first ideas was to find a way to help Haitian earthquake victims affected by the January 12, 2010, earthquake. Working with LDS Welfare Services through the bishops’ storehouse in Haiti, they identified shoes as a specific need. But as the committee planned the conference, they realized they really had time for only two projects.
“We really wanted to do the shoe drive,” said Sterling Boyd, a youth committee member who helped plan the activities. “So we made time for it.”
The youth planned and carried out a shoe drive several weeks prior to the conference, collecting shoes at each meetinghouse in the stake and organizing a fun run, with the price of admission being a pair of new or used shoes. At the conference, they sorted, counted, organized, and packed nearly 1,800 pairs of shoes.
“It’s really special that a whole bunch of kids [in Haiti] are going to be able to walk around safely, without cutting their feet or getting infections from just walking around barefoot,” said Adam Peabody, 16, of the Klein Oak Ward.
Berthony Theodor, who manages the bishops’ storehouse in Haiti, said the shoes will do a great deal to help Haitians in need, especially those in remote areas.
“This is a great example of how members of the Church are relieving the suffering of others wherever they live,” Brother Theodor said. “The contribution members make to support recovery efforts in Haiti after the earthquake teaches me the lesson that no matter where we live on the planet, we are just one.”