Field of Service

by Lara Mayo Bangerter

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    When you’re building a park, it’s definitely a case of work now, play later.

    What do you do when there is only one park in your town and 1,875 people to share it?

    “That’s easy,” says Tyson Ekker, a 14-year-old teacher. “You make another one.”

    And that’s exactly what the youth of the Huntington Utah Stake, who live in the small towns of Huntington, Cleveland, and Elmo, did. For their youth conference service project, they decided to use donated supplies to restore an old, run-down, vacant park, creating a second facility for people in their communities to enjoy.

    Just off the highway was an old baseball park covered with salt grass and weeds. The only hint that the lot had ever been used for baseball was the old backstop on the corner. But in three short hours the entire scene changed. The park buzzed with more than 70 youth, either carrying shovels or paint brushes. It was the first week of summer vacation, the first day of youth conference, and already hot outside—an ideal day for fun summer activities.

    There was no stopping these youth from serving. “We’re making a difference for the little children, for the whole community,” said Rachel Humphrey, 17, of Huntington. “And that makes it all worth it.”

    Some teens scattered sand for the volleyball court, while others dug holes for trees, a sprinkler system, and a drinking fountain. Some picked up trash around the park and cleared fresh lanes for the baseball field. Others painted semitrailer tires with bright colors, to transform them into children’s playground equipment. Of course, they had to try their hands at making sand castles with the fresh sand, and lots of paint was “accidentally” dripped on clean faces.

    But however much the park will mean to the community, it will also mean a lot to those who helped restore it, for this service project affected the Huntington Stake youth directly. “Not only have we helped others, but now we have a place to play baseball and volleyball,” Tyson said.

    “Someday, when I have children, maybe I will bring them here to play and show them what the youth, working together, were able to do,” said Elayna Luke, 14, of Huntington.

    Everyone hoped their efforts would be contagious throughout the community. “I hope people will see that someone cares,” said Kelly Kay, 15, of Lawrence.

    “And then maybe others will help also,” said Natalie Stream, 14, of Huntington. “It’s just like if you clean up your yard, people around you are likely to clean up theirs too.”

    The park was coming together quickly, but everyone knew there was no way the park could be completely finished in just one morning. “We’ve created an ongoing service project for ourselves,” said Clint Oveson, 15, of Cleveland, as he shoveled dirt into a tire. “It’s even a service project our children can continue to work on.”

    But if Alissa Barton, 16, of Elmo, had been told the service project would go on longer than one morning before she arrived at the park, it probably would have made her head hurt. She didn’t even want to come for the one morning, but her mother insisted. “Now I’m glad I came,” she said. “Now I understand better why service brings you closer to your Heavenly Father. Service helps me take on a more Christlike attitude, and it feels good.”

    The Huntington community will no longer have to plan all its events around one park’s schedule. There’s now another park in town. All because the youth of Huntington Stake decided the community needed another place to play ball, and they weren’t going to wait for someone else to make it happen.

    Photography by Lara Mayo Bangerter

    They hauled weeds and trash by the wheelbarrowful. They painted tires, well, tirelessly. And they hauled sand and set railroad ties around the volleyball court.

    They dug trenches for the sprinkler system (top), hammed it up for a group photo, and painted MORE tires. And by the time they were through … they had a strong sense of investment in the future of their community. And what better way to christen their new park (top) than by playing in it?