My neighbor came across the street and said, “Hey, guess what we’re doing for youth conference? We get to build two barns.”
I grunted. “Two barns? Thrill city. Whoever came up with that dumb idea? Youth conferences are supposed to be fun.”
“We’ll have fun working.”
“Get real,” I told him. “I have a hard time cleaning my room.”
Maybe the adults thought I was Laman or Lemuel at the next stake dance committee meeting. I asked them, “Whatever happened to white river rafting for youth conference? Do you really expect us to get up at 5:00 A.M. on the first three days of our summer vacation?” One of the girls on the committee decided she wouldn’t go as she’d wreck her fingernails. She threatened to organize something for her own ward. None of our complaining did any good. The stake youth leaders stuck to their plan.
A fierce hailstorm pelted Duvall, Washington, the night before the conference. “Bummer, now they’ll have to cancel our exciting barn building extravaganza,” I said sarcastically.
Miraculously, the weather cleared, and I found myself standing with 180 kids in carpenter aprons, pockets full of nails and wearing a T-shirt that read, “You Love Who You Serve.”
We were given the choice of helping to build a barn/shed or a barn/house. I picked the barn/shed. It sounded easier. We banged nails. It wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t awful. Ward Roney, the to-be-owner of the barn/shed was a sturdy man, weathered by long hours on the tractor. He told me his favorite sound was the belch a cow makes when she’s in a warm shed eating hay. His old shed blew down in a bad storm, and the insurance wouldn’t pay to replace it. He was either brave or foolish to let a bunch of teenagers build his shed. Surely he realized we’d never finish the huge thing. If we could do it, one observer noted, it’d be an Amish barn raising by Mormons for Catholics.
Brother Beecham, the builder in charge of our shed, held the American Homes world record for the fastest home framed. The old record stood at 36 hours, and Beecham’s crew accomplished it in four. I got a kick out of watching him stroll across thin high timbers like they were sidewalks. With the construction boom in Seattle, I knew Brother Beecham was passing up a lot of money to teach us.
Normally, when I work I look at my watch every five minutes. Before I knew it, the walls were up, and we were ready for a crane to position the giant trusses of the roof. But there was no crane. Instead of machine power, we’d use muscle power, and some of the muscles were mine. The ground crew strained to position one truss. Then three of us on the roof pulled up the point with a rope as the ground crew hoisted. We cheered when the truss was securely nailed into place. What a team. Up there, 30 feet off the ground, a great sense of brotherhood developed between the “roof crew.” It was great up there. It was fun. I really developed a closeness to all of them as we worked and sweat and hammered our thumbs hour after hour.
The first day some of the girls were afraid to hit the nails on the head. By the second day they were mean. They’d developed aim and aggression in their hammering. Unfortunately, the girls used their new skills on the boys at the pie eating contest, which turned into a pie throwing war.
Meanwhile the people at the barn/house site made decent progress on the first floor. They were laboring for an LDS family of eight who’d used their savings to drill a well that turned out to be dry. The Dazey family was packed into a small trailer. They’d obtained a small, portable sawmill and cut logs into lumber. Building their barn/house was a dream come true. One of my friends who worked on the site said, “We were digging a ditch for the septic system. After a few hours, it got to where I started taking pride in the ditch and I thought the straight sides were kind of pretty. I’ve never felt that way about a ditch before.”
I added a word to the theme, “You Love Who You Serve.” I thought it should also say, “You Love Who You Serve With.” I didn’t know 75 percent of the people the first morning. We’d lived in the same stake for years and never spoken to each other. On a construction site, you have no choice. You have to say to the person next to you, “Grab the end of that board.” “Watch your head!” “Help me nail this down.” And people were great. If you asked them for an 18-foot board they got it. True, the physical structures were impressive, but even better were the structures built between each other.
There were lag times when there was no work for me, and I thought I’d have fun if I had nothing to do. But I really amazed myself. It got so I wanted to work.
Mr. Roney told us the quality of our work was A-1, top-notch. The look on his face as this place went up taught me I’m happiest when making someone else happy.
It appeared that there was no way we could finish two such big projects in just three days. We poured on the steam. At first a few people hung around the first-aid station and in the hay, drinking pop. But even the “resters” helped when the TV and newspaper reporters came out with their cameras. We wanted to work through dinner, but after a half hour, the adults made us come down. Funny, I’ve never refused food before. Dusk was stealing precious light. There were just a few things left to do. Thirty of us stayed to finish instead of going back to the city to clean up for the dance.
That evening we had a victory celebration! We danced in a barn we had built, and it didn’t fall down. After seeing each other at our worst for three days, our appearance mattered very little. The last day we had a testimony meeting in the barn/house, and 200 people sat on benches on the top floor. The sun streamed into the room, bathing everyone in the warm blond reflection of new wood. I thought, “We built this; we really did it.” We had saved the Dazey’s and Roney’s more than $20,000.00 in labor costs.
When the sacrament came to me, I thought of Jesus Christ in a whole new way. He was a carpenter. I remembered working along with my friends and feeling something. I glanced around. It wasn’t just my friends; the Savior was there too.
When I’m 82 I’m going to take my grandkids out to Duvall, Washington. I’ll hobble out to “my barn” and whap it good and hard with my cane to demonstrate how sturdy it is. And I’ll say, “This is the barn my friends and I built at youth conference in 1986. I don’t know what’s wrong with these young whippersnappers today. Why don’t they do something worthwhile?”
Nuts and Bolts
Following the barn raising, we asked ourselves, “What made the difference? Why did this youth conference work when other years we came up short? Why did one of our young men feel confident enough to build a shed for his grandfather? Why did the stake dance committee youth say, “Let’s do the same thing next year!” Why had we spent so much in previous years when this year’s costs were cut by one-half? Here are a few guidelines we followed that we feel made the difference.
1. Prayerfully decide on an activity.
In the beginning, a counselor in the stake Young Women presidency was given the assignment of prayerfully searching six years of New Era magazines for youth conference ideas. As she studied, she reflected on the flashy and expensive activities our youth had planned in the past. They seemed so unsatisfied, always wanting more and bigger the next year. She came to the realization that our stake could no longer compete with the world’s standards of fun and entertainment. It was chilling to speculate on a conference as dramatically different as a service project.
Coincidentally, when the adult specialists were called they had independently focused on the same idea as the Young Women counselor—a barn raising.
2. Prayerfully select specialists.
The Tanners were a new couple in the stake. No one was aware that he was a builder. Their expertise was crucial when setbacks developed. The manufacturer of the trusses wouldn’t assemble and deliver until three days after youth conference. Brother Tanner knew how to apply just the right pressure to get the trusses there on time. The plans for the barn/house were submitted with the standard load of 40 pounds per square foot, but the city said the structure had to have the barn specifications of 120 pounds per square foot. Five days before construction was to commence, Brother Tanner had to scrap the blueprints and completely redo the engineering, foundation, etc. He and another builder burned midnight oil to get the plans back to the city. Since no plans were approved, he couldn’t get the trusses. What a mess. It was a miracle to finally have everything approved and ready and be able to begin the projects. The Tanners started a new business and moved out of the stake soon after youth conference. They were there when we needed them most.
3. Prayerfully locate recipients.
The Roney’s are prominent members of the Catholic faith and the community. It was possible they might not accept help. Sometimes it is harder to receive than to give. When the high councilor approached Mr. Roney and suggested rebuilding his fallen barn, he was overwhelmed. A few minutes later he said, “I knew the Mormons took care of their own, but I had no idea they’d extend the help to others.” The Roney family showed profound appreciation toward us, allowing their daughter to attend girls’ camp, encouraging the stake to hold functions at their farm, and setting up a scholarship fund for our youth.
4. If the event is newsworthy, involve the media.
When the TV and newspapers were informed about the barn raisings, they said they’d send someone out for a few minutes. Although reluctant at first, the reporters were so impressed they stayed for up to three hours. Favorable segments appeared in newspapers and on local newscasts.
5. Publicize and recruit.
Getting the first registrations for the conference was like pulling bent nails. Then the committee held a fireside to drum up enthusiasm. One young man who put up a bit of a struggle when we tried to recruit him completely surprised us with his enthusiasm. The builders showed him what needed to be done, and he caught on like a pro. He worked up such an appetite that when we saw him in the chow line he held a plate loaded with vegetables. The Young Women counselor said, “Todd, I’m amazed you eat so many vegetables.” He turned to show his other plate of food. And this was only his first time through the line. It really touched us to see Todd, a young man with so much going for him, sit down with another boy who felt like he was somewhat of an outcast. The lonely boy had been struggling all day until Todd showed him the way to use his hammer and worked with him. Working side by side, the youth not only established bonds between themselves but with the adults as well. It was worth any effort to encourage each person to attend.
6. Meet often.
The committee met every two weeks from March to mid-June. We needed the meetings to try to tie down all the loose ends because so many unexpected ends unravel—like the T-shirts that weren’t ready, or the huge barbecues we borrowed which turned our hotdogs into charcoal strips, still frozen on the inside. The greased pig contest slipped away from us. The piglets were raised on a concrete floor. When released, they would only root in the grass and refused to run. The kids stood aching for action, but what’s the challenge in tackling a pig sniffing the ground?
7. Plan evening diversions.
After the games and climbing the greased pole, the bonfire featured an original song by Allen and Leony Hunt. The lyrics grew on us like muscles as we hammered: