Latter-day Saints who contribute in their community simply to better it frequently find unexpected blessings of both greater capacity and increased opportunity to serve. Almost every ward or branch has members like the following who have tasted the joy that comes through service, acting alone or in cooperation with others.
Dale Hansen of the San Dimas Ward, La Verne California Stake, learned from experience that when you’re committed to what is right, you can even go up against big money and win.
If he had known the personal costs in advance, Dale Hansen might have had second thoughts about getting involved in the fight against card casinos in the city where he and his new bride had moved. But when he learned that gambling interests had been quietly trying to win approval for the casinos without alerting the public, he joined the Committee Against Card Club Casinos in Pomona (California).
Organized by a local resident long active in community affairs, the committee included citizens of many faiths. Partly because of organizational and leadership skills learned through Church service (he was ward elders quorum president), Brother Hansen was soon made co-chairman of the group.
The consensus of city officials and community leaders was that plans for the casinos were too far along to be stopped. But the committee managed to arouse enough public opposition to force a referendum. It came as a surprise to almost everyone when voters refused, by a very narrow margin, to approve the casinos.
The wealthy interests backing the casinos did not let the matter rest. They managed to get the issue on the ballot again, and this time they openly poured their resources into the battle. They promoted the casinos as a way to boost the local economy. (Casinos located in some other small cities have not had that effect, Brother Hansen comments, but their money and their influence does seem to control local government.) There were lawsuits and other legal threats aimed at the committee by the opposition’s battery of lawyers. Brother Hansen was the victim of a smear attempt a few days before the election.
But the casino proposal was defeated soundly, despite the fact that backers had poured some $2 million (U.S.) into their campaign, whereas the committee against the clubs had spent $14,000, plus fees for one hired attorney (paid largely by the group’s organizer).
It was a difficult 18 months for the Hansens. While he was deeply involved in the antigambling campaign, his wife went through a difficult first pregnancy and their baby’s first months. “Laurie made a tremendous sacrifice,” he says.
But defeat of the casinos helped preserve the quality of life in Pomona, as well as protecting property values, he comments. “This was like a fight for freedom. When you have an entity with that much money and power running your city, the citizens don’t matter anymore.”
Sari Laine of the Jyväskylä Ward, Tampere Finland Stake, says that one way to prepare for serving in the community is “to keep your eyes open and be ready to address the imperfections you see.”
A few years ago I moved back to Jyväskylä, my hometown in Finland, after a lengthy absence. While walking along a lake, I remembered that when I was a child there had been a park located nearby where I used to ride my bicycle and practice the rules of traffic safety.
I found the park, but to my dismay it was run-down and unkempt. I asked the city’s director of volunteers, Leena Hänninen, how the park could be renovated. She invited me to a training session for city volunteers where I was able to present ideas for restoring the park. Those attending seemed excited about the plan.
Leena invited various city workers and officials to take part in the project. Liikenneturva, an organization which works to increase traffic safety through communication and training, participated, as did the local neighborhood association of residents who desired to improve the area and provide recreational opportunities. Volunteers, including members of the Church, cleaned and painted, and city workers mowed the lawns and repainted the pavement markings. Donations were secured to purchase new pedal cars, and Liikenneturva and a firm called KoneAnttilat Oy donated children’s biking helmets.
Since its renovation, the park has operated without any entry fees. It is one of the few free recreational activities that local families can enjoy together. During three summers, approximately 18,000 children and adults have visited the park to drive the pedal cars and spend time together. The elderly living nearby come often to sit and enjoy the children’s presence.
Carol McAdoo Rehme of the Loveland First Ward, Greeley Colorado Stake, spreads happiness among the elderly with a weekly sing-along.
By chance, I discovered that a neighborhood nursing home needed a pianist and immediately volunteered. Twice weekly, I played music in the dining room during the lunch meal. It was a low-pressure opportunity to practice hymns and sight-read new music.
But one day an elderly resident recognized “Bicycle Built for Two” and sang along as I played. Others spontaneously joined in, so when the song ended I checked in my music book for other old favorites. That was all it took. We had a new program: a weekly sing-along that we moved to the comfortable confines of the lounge room.
My bag of music expanded to stacks of sheet music and pounds of books. Our repertoire grew, ranging from Gay Nineties melodies to wartime songs, from familiar hymns to show tunes, from patriotic marches to nursery songs. As word spread, both the program’s popularity and resident attendance increased.
What a revelation it was to hear their chorus of memory—to see eyes light up, toes tap, and hands clap. Ninety-eight-year-old Gladys couldn’t recall what she ate for lunch an hour earlier but knew the words to nearly every song I played! Eleanor, limited to her wheelchair because of a degenerative disease, kept rhythm by nodding her head, the only part of her body she could control. Betty, a double amputee unable to do but able to tell, was instrumental in explaining phrases like “tootsie wootsie” and “wiffle tree.”
And me? I witnessed the pleasure the songs brought. I listened to venerable voices ringing out. I lifted my voice with theirs as we joined together to “make a joyful noise” (Ps. 66:1).
Jeff Walker of the Green Valley Ward, Las Vegas Nevada Green Valley Stake, found that it only takes one concerned individual to make a difference but that continual motivating efforts are needed to help a program succeed.
In spring 1997, 15-year-old Jeff Walker represented Green Valley High School in Henderson, Nevada, at a press conference featuring members of the class of 2000. The purpose was to discuss what it meant to be a member of this class and what students projected their world would be like in the next century.
Jeff, who had been elected Green Valley’s sophomore class president for the 1997–98 year, realized that the class of 2000 might well receive more media and public attention than any previous group of graduates, saying, “I felt very uncomfortable with the idea of our class being takers of attention without having made a significant contribution to society.”
Consequently, he developed a training program for community involvement to take to other sophomore class leaders in southern Nevada. The purpose of his program, “2000 Tomorrows,” was to unite all participating classes in an effort to make positive changes in their communities.
The training program showed youth leaders step by step how to assess community needs, develop service projects, and involve as many classmates as possible. A banquet was scheduled for the end of the school year, when a panel of civic and business leaders presented a trophy to one of the schools.
Throughout the year, Jeff called participating class presidents monthly to encourage and assist them with their projects. “I’ve learned that it’s really hard to motivate people,” he says. Of the 15 schools that agreed to participate, 7 followed through, and 6,000 students took part. Cimarron High School in Las Vegas won the trophy for involvement. Students there volunteered at local junior high schools throughout the year, making presentations about teen pregnancy, peer pressure, and related issues, as well as helping younger students prepare for high school.
For 1998–99, the Nevada state student council became involved, and schools throughout the state were invited to participate. A primary requirement for a service project is that at least one member of the class of 2000 be involved in spearheading the project.
“Community service is a hard thing for many people to fit into their schedules, but they’ve got to ask themselves if they really are ‘too busy,’” Jeff says. “Service does affect people’s lives, and I saw our project really help some people and change them for the better.”
Linda Petersen of the Unity First Ward, Burley Idaho Stake, was the originator for Brighter Beginnings, a mentor program that helps the community reach out to about 40 unmarried mothers each year.
“What alarmed us is that a third of the babies born in these two counties are born to young women who haven’t even graduated from high school,” says Sister Petersen, a member of the Mini-Cassia Child Protection Team, a volunteer organization operating in Minidoka and Cassia Counties, Idaho. She has often helped teach the importance of sexual abstinence, but unfortunately abstinence isn’t always the choice young people make, nor is placing the baby for adoption, “so we felt we needed to help those young women who decided to keep and raise their children.” It is important, she says, to give each young mother greater self-worth and the opportunity to learn good parenting skills in order to “make it the brightest future we can for her and that baby.”
A few months after Sister Petersen shared her idea for the program with others on the child protection team, they had lined up a registered nurse and many volunteer mentor moms to help give Brighter Beginnings its start.
The group seeks to help young mothers graduate from high school and learn how to care for their children in a nurturing environment. Each mentor mom goes into a young woman’s home once a month to teach parenting and safety skills and also makes herself available to answer the young woman’s questions. It is hoped that the experienced mothers can be role models and “sounding boards” for the young women, Sister Petersen says. A registered nurse will visit and check on the baby’s health at two and four months of age.
More than nurses and mentors are involved. Volunteers help in other ways. Laurel and Eagle Scout projects provide some quilts and wooden toys for the children. Once a month, senior citizens help babysit while young mothers get together at the local senior citizens’ center to talk and receive instruction in such things as nutrition and safety. One of Sister Petersen’s favorite memories is of an older gentleman tenderly cradling a little baby for an hour as the class went on.
Brighter Beginnings is funded by a government grant under the title “Building Stronger Families,” but it is the mentor moms and other volunteers who give it life, Sister Petersen says. Without them, no amount of money could make the program work.
Hearing a call for volunteers on the radio, Natalia de Savigny of the Ottawa Third Ward, Ottawa Ontario Stake, phoned to find a youth group service project.
Our adventure in raising garlic began when I was a youth leader looking for a project for our ward youth. In a local radio volunteer-a-thon, the public was asked to phone in and donate community service hours. People willing to help were put in touch with agencies and other groups needing volunteers. We were introduced to the garlic project as a fund-raiser to help the Ottawa-Carleton Association for Persons with Developmental Disabilities (OCAPDD).
The project required that 50,000 garlic bulbs be planted at the farm in fall 1996 with subsequent weeding in the spring and summer; harvest would be in late July or early August. Garlic was chosen because it is a high-yielding crop, the only drawback being that it requires a fair amount of manual labor.
We soon realized that this project would require a larger group than just the youth of our ward, so we got approval to recruit volunteers from the area wards and branches. Although it was not easy to get the support needed, we went from about 30 people, including the youth and the full-time missionaries with the first planting, to over 100 members with the second. What had taken two days the previous year took less than four hours in fall 1997. Members, including the youth, continued to help throughout the spring and summer with scheduled weeding days.
The project turned out to be such a success in 1998 that we decided to carry on the project again in 1999. It has been an ideal opportunity for families, friends, neighbors, members, and nonmembers to work together to help the community. Our association with the OCAPDD has opened up other chances to offer our help. Along with the garlic project we were able to help harvest three tons of squash, pumpkins, and decorative gourds in fall 1997 and 1998. And throughout December 1997 we provided volunteers for a gift-wrapping fund-raiser at a local shopping mall, donating over 2,800 hours of service and helping raise over $8,500 (Canadian).
We have had wonderful opportunities to provide selfless service to the community. We are helping people in need and hope that through our service, our members’ hearts are touched to forget themselves in the service of others.
Robert Dickie of the Milford Haven Branch, Merthyr Tydfil Wales Stake, took initiative to clean up a cemetery where his son is buried.
Robert Dickie of Milford Haven noted that the cemetery where his son is buried was cheerless and unkempt. With permission from the local authority, he formed a society and started making changes.
The members of the society, many of them Church members, cleaned off the accumulation of lichen and dirt on old graves so that most of the names became legible, installed a gate to give access to wheelchairs and pushchairs, and uprighted tilting grave stones. They planted Lady’s Mantle, which adds leaves and flowers while it suppresses weeds, along adjacent curbs in the old part of the cemetery. They also arranged for English yew trees to be clipped annually.
In the newer part of the cemetery, the society members cut the grass weekly. They provided six benches for visitors. They planted roses and winter flowering shrubs as well as thousands of daffodils and snowdrops. By laying a water pipe to the farthest area, they were able to provide water.
The society hopes to complete a memorial to the hundreds buried there. As the usual workmen see the improved appearance, they have begun to appreciate the help, especially the regular visits of Primary children.
A certificate of commendation from an environmental group was awarded the group at the town hall on 20 April 1998.
Karen Baker of the Aliso Creek Ward, Santa Margarita California Stake, saw a need to teach her own and other neighborhood children the joy of service, so she started an organization to help.
Kids Who Care offers children 13 and under—generally too young to volunteer on their own in community agencies—the opportunity to learn about service early.
Founder Karen Baker enlisted her own younger children and invited other mothers and their children as well.
Several embraced the idea, and now the regular service projects carried out by Kids Who Care involve 20 to 30 children. Their monthly projects can range from recycling plastic trash and planting trees for an Earth Day activity to pooling their money to help provide dinners for the homeless at Thanksgiving. One of the most meaningful and enjoyable activities for the children, Sister Baker says, was taking valentines they had made to senior citizens at a retirement home.
When Kids Who Care came to the attention of syndicated columnist Elaine St. James, her comments appeared in the Los Angeles Times.
The organization changed children’s focus, she wrote, from “What am I going to get?” to “What can I do for someone else?” Not only have the children become less materialistic, but “when kids are involved in service activities with their peers, it becomes a socially acceptable way to spend time and to have fun.”
The parents have learned, she reported, that a monthly activity “has a much more long-lasting impact on the child than a once-a-year happening, such as serving a holiday meal at a homeless shelter. It inculcates the ‘helping others’ mentality at an early age, so it becomes a habit in a child’s life” (“These Children Help Raise Their Village,” Los Angeles Times, county edition, 13 Apr. 1998).
Deanna Daugherty of the Springdale Ward, Rogers Arkansas Stake, says there is currently an unprecedented opportunity in her community to help strengthen families.
The Harvey and Bernice Jones Center for Families in Springdale, Arkansas, offers local residents a variety of recreational and educational activities from ice-skating to adult education classes. Among its facilities are a family history research center provided by the Church and a family resource room set up and staffed by Latter-day Saints two nights a week.
The family history center and resource room came to be included in the Jones Center because of seeds sown by a Primary service project several years ago when children of the Springdale Ward collected food for donation to St. Francis House, the local Episcopalian outreach center. Joyce Brown, director of St. Francis House, persuaded the newspaper to do a story. Several Church members became involved as volunteers at the Episcopalian facility, and Mrs. Brown learned she could rely on Latter-day Saints for a wide variety of help. It was she who helped link her LDS friends with those in charge of the Jones Center.
Bernice Jones believes that what one owns in life isn’t nearly as significant as what that person can give to help others. The Jones Center is her gift to the people of Springdale and surrounding areas to “serve families, strengthen the community, and glorify God.”
Offered the opportunity to help the center fulfill this purpose, local LDS leaders consulted with the Church’s Public Affairs Department. It was determined that the Church would donate the resources—software, microfilms, and so forth—for the family history center, and that a family resource room would also be established.
Some 400 patrons a month come into the family history center to do research, notes Deanna Daugherty, the stake’s public affairs director. So many people are interested that regular family history classes have been scheduled. This interest cuts across denominational lines; of the center’s volunteer staff of 24, only 10 are LDS.
The family resource room, Sister Daugherty says, is quite popular too. Children beg, “Mom, can we please stay?” It has tables with games that families can sit down and play. It offers 35 lesson packets (their teachings about worshiping God are general, not doctrinally specific) and other materials to help parents.
The two facilities have fostered much respect for Latter-day Saints because, Sister Daugherty says, “We’re giving service without a price tag.”
The First Presidency
“We wish to reiterate the divine counsel that members ‘should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness’ (D&C 58:27) while using gospel principles as a guide and while cooperating with other like-minded individuals.
“Through such wise participation as citizens, we are then in better compliance with this scripture: ‘Governments were instituted of God for the benefit of man; and … he holds men accountable for their acts in relation to them’ (D&C 134:1).
“Therefore, as in the past, we urge members of the Church to be full participants in political, governmental, and community affairs. Members of the Church are under special obligations to seek out and then uphold those leaders who are wise, good, and honest (see D&C 98:10).
“Thus, we strongly urge men and women to be willing to serve on school boards, city and county councils and commissions, state legislatures, and other high offices of either election or appointment, including involvement in the political party of their choice” (First Presidency letter, 15 Jan. 1998).
The Prophet Joseph Smith
“A man filled with the love of God, is not content with blessing his family alone, but ranges through the whole world, anxious to bless the whole human race” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith , 174).
President Brigham Young
“Let every man and woman be industrious, prudent, and economical in their acts and feelings, and while gathering to themselves, let each one strive to identify his or her interests with the interests of this community, with those of their neighbor and neighborhood, let them seek their happiness and welfare in that of all” (Discourses of Brigham Young, sel. John A. Widtsoe , 303).
Elder James E. Talmage
“The Master associated love for God with love for fellowman; and surely love comprises duty, and duty means effort and action. See Matt. 22:35–40. A very large part of the course of education provided in the school of mortality is attained through association with our kind and the righteous observance of duty in community life. We are not here to be recluses nor to hold ourselves aloof from public service, but to live in a state of mutual helpfulness and effective cooperation” (Articles of Faith, 12th ed. , 525).
Elder John A. Widtsoe
“No man can selfishly stand aside and say, ‘I am sufficient unto myself; in the community I have no interest; though I obey its laws, I do not serve it.’ A man must obey the laws of and vigorously serve the community. Every act of man’s life must relate itself to the good of other men” (A Rational Theology as Taught by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints , 160).
President Harold B. Lee
“We must urge all members as individuals to become involved in public issues within and without political parties. … One of the things that is wrong with politics [is that we] have been staying away from our district meetings where the delegates to conventions are made. When, too late, we see the wrong people on the ticket, then we get in and do some foolish things that cause enemies to the Church. …
If we were in it at the beginning and were studying the issues and the people, active in our own parties, we would be far more influential” (The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, ed. Clyde J. Williams , 363).
“We ought to teach our people now to come out and exercise their franchise. Whatever the country they live in, be sure they become active in politics as individuals but not as a Church group” (The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 366).
“The reason why we get into the hands of autocrats in politics is because many of us criticize and stay home and don’t go to our district meetings. And we don’t allow ourselves to become candidates, or representatives to vote for those who will represent us in the nation, or the county, or the state” (The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 367).
President Ezra Taft Benson
“Let us seek to take an active part in our local, state, and national affairs. We are commanded by the Lord to do so. It is as binding on us as any of the Lord’s commandments” (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson , 675).
“We must become involved in civic affairs. As citizens … we cannot do our duty and be idle spectators. It is vital that we follow this counsel from the Lord: ‘Honest men and wise men should be sought for diligently, and good men and wise men ye should observe to uphold; otherwise whatsoever is less than these cometh of evil’” (D&C 98:10) (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, 683).
“The most dangerous threat of all comes from the disinterested—that great group of otherwise intelligent people who shrug off any responsibility for public affairs” (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, 628).
Elder Bruce R. McConkie
“To worship the Lord is to stand valiantly in the cause of truth and righteousness, to let our influence for good be felt in civic, cultural, educational, and governmental fields, and to support those laws and principles which further the Lord’s interests on earth” (Doctrines of the Restoration, ed. Mark L. McConkie , 372).
Elder Neal A. Maxwell
“A person could get so caught up in making civic contributions to his community that he could lose his family. By the same token, one cannot readily save his family in an environment in decay. Thus we have obligations to contribute to the civic betterment of the communities in which we live” (The Neal A. Maxwell Quote Book, ed. Cory H. Maxwell , 59).
Elder Dallin H. Oaks
“Citizens … should be practitioners of civic virtue in their conduct toward government. They should be ever willing to fulfill the duties of citizenship. This includes compulsory duties like military service and the numerous voluntary actions they must take if they are to preserve the principle of limited government through citizen self-reliance” (“The Divinely Inspired Constitution,” Ensign, Feb. 1992, 74).
President Gordon B. Hinckley
“Now, I want to say to you, and I say it with a plea in my heart, get involved. Get involved on the side of righteousness and truth and decency and sobriety and virtue. You, and others like you, are the great hope of this world. …
“The problem with most of us is that we are afraid. We want to do the right thing, but we are troubled by fears and the world drifts about us. …
“‘Be not afraid, only believe.’ I commend to you these wonderful words of the Lord as you think of your responsibilities and opportunities” (Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley , 128–29).
“Let us not forget that we believe in being benevolent and in doing good to all men. I am convinced that we can teach our children effectively enough that we need not fear that they will lose their faith while being friendly and considerate with those who do not subscribe to the doctrine of this Church. Let us reach out to those in our community who are not of our faith. Let us be good neighbors, kind and generous and gracious. Let us be involved in good community causes. There may be situations where, with serious moral issues involved, we cannot bend on matters of principle. But in such instances we can politely disagree without being disagreeable. We can acknowledge the sincerity of those whose positions we cannot accept. We can speak of principles rather than personalities.
“In those causes which enhance the environment of the community, and which are designed for the blessing of all of its citizens, let us step forward and be helpful. An attitude of self-righteousness is unbecoming a Latter-day Saint.
“… Teach those for whom you are responsible the importance of good civic manners. Encourage them to become involved, remembering in public deliberations that the quiet voice of substantive reasoning is more persuasive than the noisy, screaming voice of protest. In accepting such responsibilities our people will bless their communities, their families, and the Church” (Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley, 131).