Service rendered by members of the Church around the world comes in many forms, but over the past 10 years that service has usually come in one color: yellow.
Whether rendering emergency aid after a natural disaster or cleaning up the local park, the Mormon Helping Hands program, with its bright yellow vests or T-shirts, has become a welcome sign of hope for those in need during the past decade.
Mormon Helping Hands is a priesthood-directed Church program that, teamed up with the welfare program of the Church, contributes to relief efforts and facilitates other service projects around the world.
In the Beginning
Officially established in 1998, the Mormon Helping Hands program was created as a way for Church members in South America to reach out and serve their communities. Starting in Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Chile, Church leaders designated an annual day of service for members to give of their time and efforts in a prepared service project.
During this first official organized effort, tens of thousands of Church members of all ages in South America collaborated to participate in a multinational service project. In an effort to strengthen and beautify their communities, members spent time repairing and painting schools and hospitals and cleaning parks, streets, and other public spaces.
Not long after the first service day, the idea spread to Brazil, where service continued and the program began to grow. By 2002 the organization had been named one of the most important volunteer organizations in Brazil because of the good it brought to the people.
Today, millions of hours of service have been donated by hundreds of thousands of volunteers in all areas of the world. What began as a multinational service project in a few countries of South America turned into a worldwide relief effort for people in need. The program currently operates in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, North America, and the Pacific.
After Hurricane Ike stormed through the southern United States in 2008, work crews were organized to help with cleanup. Members in southeast Texas joined together to clean up debris left in yards and to distribute hygiene kits, cleaning kits, and food boxes in areas devastated by the storm. Local bishops’ storehouses stocked with food, water, tools, and other necessary supplies provided resources for those in need.
When flooding killed some 20 people in the midwestern United States and left thousands homeless in 2008, Church members and missionaries donned yellow Mormon Helping Hands T-shirts and helped with sandbagging and other relief efforts. The Cedar Rapids Iowa Stake set up a relief warehouse filled with the wheelbarrows, shovels, and work clothes the Church sent. As part of the area most heavily affected by the flooding, the stake also received funds to purchase power washers and generators. The community accepted the relief efforts with gratitude.
While disasters provide opportunities to serve, no disaster is necessary to involve members in reaching out to their communities. Working to improve communities gives Church members the opportunity to give their time and talents to bless others in need and to show that their community is important to them.
In November 2007 more than 100,000 members in Africa participated in a continent-wide service project cleaning up communities. Their efforts included cleaning and landscaping the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital in Cape Town, South Africa; planting more than 50 trees in Olivenhoutbosch, South Africa; filling potholes and clearing glass and rubble along roads in Kitale, Kenya; and repairing playground equipment.
At the conclusion of the project, Nikki Bishop, CEO of the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital, commented that “the difference this is going to make to the children, parents, staff, and visitors will be enormous. We are deeply grateful. The project has gone tremendously well, transforming the hospital. I am delighted and thrilled.”
One of the important principles taught by Jesus Christ and lived by His followers is that of service: “And behold, I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom, that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God” (Mosiah 2:17).
Not only do Mormon Helping Hands projects accomplish much good for those in need by making use of the time and talents of members, but they also bless those rendering the service. They help members become more sensitive to the challenges others face. As members follow the example of the Savior, their testimonies are strengthened, and by serving together, members become more united.
“First of all, it helps us internally,” said Mike Martin, then president of the Pretoria South Africa Stake, after the 2007 All-Africa Helping Hands Day. “We are better able to bond with each other, and it develops unity; but really it is great just to be out there in the community, see some of the issues that people face, and try in a small way to make a little bit of a difference.”
In partnership with government leaders, education officials, and private businesses, some 50,000 Church members and friends worked together in April 2005 to improve the conditions of 200 schools in São Paulo, Brazil. Painting doors, cleaning classrooms, and repairing desks were some of the ways volunteers served in the schools.
Such service events bring many different groups of people together; these people improve the areas and form friendships. Relationships developed while giving service can build bridges of understanding and strengthen relationships with officials and the community.
Mormon Helping Hands projects are not meant to be proselytizing activities. Rather they are meant to be opportunities to promote Christian service that might not otherwise occur.
In September 2006 members in the Bristol England Stake worked within their community to improve a struggling community farm. In one day members were able to work on a wheelchair access path; paint; dig; clean; and build educational toys, bird boxes, and feeders for the farm. More than 2,500 hours of service were given, and the improvement was noticeable. The local mayor visited the farm, expressed his gratitude, and said how impressed he was with what had been accomplished.
Through the Mormon Helping Hands organization, Church members worldwide have rendered service, improved communities, and formed friendships. The service projects have not only touched lives but also have deepened the faith of those involved and built bridges in communities and organizations.
Photograph by Norman Burningham
Photograph by Craig Dimond