If I were to ask you, “What is the most important thing in the world to you?” most of you would reply, “my family.” Others would answer, “my covenant relationship with the Lord” or “my church”; some would say, “my friends” or “my neighbors”; others, “a good education for my children.” A few would tell me, “my job,” and a number would answer, “my home.”
If these are the most important things in the world to you, then your community must also be important because it is in the community that most of these elements exist.
Do you like the community in which you live? Does it meet the needs you feel it should meet? If not, you don’t have to move to live in a better community. You have the power to change it—through volunteerism.
I am a genuine believer in the value of volunteer service. It is well for government agencies and charitable institutions to devote time, money, and manpower to upgrading our health, education, and social welfare. But it is ultimately the volunteer, bringing to his or her task a large fund of faith and humility, who can really reach into the hearts and minds of those in need.
The prophets have told us that we were placed here on earth so that we might have joy, and one of the greatest sources of joy is found in service to others. Elder Richard L. Evans, who served as president of Rotary International, said that in order for an individual to enjoy a complete and full life it must include four facets: (1) the family; (2) a vocation (a woman’s vocation may be that of homemaker); (3) church activity; and (4) community service. Psychologists tell us that the need to be of service is as basic as the need for food and shelter. An excellent way to fill this need in our own lives is to reach out into our community to help solve community problems.
The face of any nation mirrors the family life of its people, for the home is the child’s first country and the family his first citizenry. Good families help build good communities, and good communities strengthen family life. A stable family life also contributes to the development of emotionally and socially healthy, responsible adults.
As women, and as wives and mothers, we can nurture a spirit of community service by first creating a spirit of volunteer service to one another in the home, and then taking that spirit into the community. Too often we have wrapped ourselves in the safe cocoons of our close circle of friends, our wards, our immediate families, or our television sets. But we need to care enough to become deeply involved with the rest of mankind. We can’t pull ourselves into a shell, isolate ourselves and let the world go on around us. We can’t just expect that all will be right with the world. It is our responsibility to get out and make things go right.
Each of us, as a member of the great Relief Society organization, can be a leader. Our voices should be heard in the forums that are open to us—in the PTA, in the Church, in the schools, in civic organizations, and especially in our families. Together we are an arsenal of influence for good which is not being fully utilized.
As women in the Relief Society, our record of individual compassionate service to our sisters and neighbors is commendable and should not be diminished. However, we can broaden our sphere of service to include the total community. Take an in-depth look at your community, join hands with other women and organizations to determine its needs, and then form a partnership to work toward meeting those needs. Many of our women have done just that and have built a unique legacy of partnership in meeting their common needs and solving common problems:
• When a group of women in Tremonton, Utah, recognized the need for a senior citizens center to serve the community and the surrounding area, they were the catalysts in forming a partnership with other civic, church, and youth groups to renovate an old store. Their efforts were so successful that they received national recognition. In fact, they were so successful in making the building attractive that the owners sold it. So the women, building on their past experience, began again, this time renovating an old school building and greatly expanding the activities offered for the senior citizens.
• Another group of women in Elsinore, Utah, recognized a genuine need for a community center to provide a suitable place for the town council to meet and for civic organizations to carry on their activities. They joined with other civic clubs, the town council, citizens, and former citizens to restore the old “White Rock” school house. Built in 1898, it had been in use as an elementary school until 1956, then for twenty years had stood vacant until its restoration as a bicentennial community project in 1976. In July 1977 a fire burned the roof of the building. This same group of dedicated women again worked with other organizations to re-restore the building. Today the building fills a community need and adds beauty and dignity to Elsinore.
• Founded as an emergency room by a women’s club in 1923, Doylestown Hospital today is a modern 183-bed full-service facility serving picturesque Bucks County in suburban Philadelphia. This not-for-profit hospital benefits from the services of nearly 800 adult and teenage volunteers who perform twenty-eight different services under the direction of the women who own and operate the hospital. This service is given in order to provide optimum hospital services for the community at the lowest possible cost.
• Unhealthy wastewater and sewer conditions became so severe in Basin, Wyoming, that the women had to put on boots to go out in their yards to hang laundry on the line. Realizing that these conditions posed a threat to the health of the community and their families, a Latter-day Saint woman and the civic club to which she belonged took the leadership in marshalling the support and resources of the entire community to install new pipelines and clean up and beautify the community. This group of women received national recognition for their efforts. Individual Latter-day Saint women have also made great contributions with their selfless service:
• One young Latter-day Saint woman played a major role in the establishment of a children’s receiving home in Billings, Montana. Before the home was in operation, city officials often had to take abandoned children into their own homes. Now a new arrival at the well-kept home is always met with a cheerful smile at any time of day or night. What started as a labor of love by members of this woman’s club is now a community endeavor, with each club member responsible for a specific phase of the home’s operation. They also take the children on field and shopping trips, go with them on excursions to various community and cultural events, and invite them to dinner in their homes.
• Several years ago a woman’s civic club in Provo, Utah, identified the need for a cultural center in the city that would serve as a meeting place, not only for its own members, but for community social and cultural events. One Latter-day Saint woman was so dedicated to the project that she raised almost all of the funds for construction of the beautiful Provo Women’s Cultural Center, which is now paid for and is enjoyed by families and civic groups throughout the year.
• The mayor of Cannonville, Utah, is a dynamic, compassionate, gentle woman who was left a widow with a small daughter to rear. She moved back from Washington, D.C., so that her daughter could enjoy the sense of family she had known as a child. During a town meeting which she invited me to conduct, the citizens identified a number of community needs, among which were a community center, an adequate water system, fire fighting equipment and a volunteer fire department, new and improved housing, a town park with playground equipment and picnic facilities, and a health clinic. Households responded to the call for help—and they have achieved all of their objectives! There is a great sense of accomplishment and pride among the citizens of this small community, because they were all partners in achieving their goals through their own efforts. (Although she had made the decision not to run for reelection as mayor, this woman had so endeared herself to the citizens that they petitioned her to serve a third term.)
• An amazing woman in Fillmore, Utah, now in her nineties, has devoted a lifetime to improving her community. She organized the youth to help in community projects, which in turn helped them to develop a sense of responsibility. She calls them her “Teen Angels”—and she doesn’t ask them to do anything she doesn’t do as she works along with them.
These are but a few examples of the significant contributions women have made by becoming involved in community service.
A number of our General Authorities have encouraged us to become part of the community decision-making process to ensure that we will have the quality of life we desire for ourselves and our families. President Spencer W. Kimball has on many occasions urged both men and women to involve their families in community service. (See Ensign, May 1979, pp. 82–84.)
If we truly believe in ourselves and in the God who loves and protects us, together we can build a society more humane, more compassionate, and more rewarding. May we all seek to know God’s will and reflect his love in our actions towards one another.