Turning Hearts

by Marissa D. Thompson

Editorial Intern

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Who would have guessed? Turning their attention to the older members in their ward turned out to be fun.

Would you ever believe that the quiet, grandmotherly lady in your ward first kissed a boy on a dare? Or that the smiling, old grandpa who’s been in your ward forever once drove his car into the side of a barn because he forgot that he had to hit the brakes instead of yell “Whoa”?

It’s probably difficult to imagine that the seniors in your ward ever did such crazy things—especially when the only thing you know about them is what bench they usually sit on during sacrament meeting. But that’s not the case for the youth in the Dalton Gardens Ward, Coeur d‘Alene Idaho Stake. They know all about the lives of the ward’s elderly members. Of course, it hasn’t always been that way. It wasn’t until their ward’s “Family History Can Be Fun” night that they began to learn about the older people’s lives.

But ever since then, their hearts have been turning—not only toward their ward’s seniors, but also toward their ancestors and toward each other.

All this turning began when the Dalton Gardens Ward youth took Malachi’s prophecy to heart and became excited about family history work (see Mal. 4:5–6).

They did this by filling out pedigree charts, having classes on the importance of genealogy, visiting with their ward’s senior citizens, and organizing a ward activity in which they acted out episodes from the lives of the grandparents in their ward family.

And what’s been the outcome of all this excitement? For one thing, the ward’s generation gap has narrowed.

“Now when you go to church, you see a lot of the young people going up to the older people in the ward and saying hi and maybe walking them to class,” says Russell Isaacson, a 16-year-old priest. “Before we might have just walked by them because we didn’t really know them at all, but now we see them as our friends.”

Desiree Wallace, 15, interviewed Virginia Gjevres about her life. Desiree found out about Virginia’s first teddy bear and her longing for a dog. And she learned that while Virginia was growing up she was so accident prone that everyone called her Calamity Jane.

“I didn’t really know Sister Gjevres before I interviewed her. I had only seen her at church. But now I just have this love for her, and I want to adopt her as my grandma,” says Desiree, who doesn’t have any grandparents living nearby.

As connections were made between the youth and the elderly in the ward family, it caused some to reflect on the importance of forming eternal connections with their own ancestors.

“The grandparents just really seemed enthusiastic about us getting to know them better. They looked so happy,” says Cassie Gatten, 15. “So it made me realize that when we do genealogy work for our ancestors who have died that they’re probably really happy about that too.”

Interviewing the grandparents about their lives, writing the scripts, finding costumes, and then having rehearsals to make sure everything was just right took a lot of time. But the youth said the time spent was worth it when they saw everything and everyone come together on the night of the activity.

“Sometimes I didn’t really feel like it was worth all the time it took to put this activity together. But then when I saw the final night and the looks on the faces of the elderly as they watched incidents from their lives acted out before them and as they realized that the youth in the ward care about who they are, it all seemed worth it,” Cassie says. “It also made me want to live my life in a way so that if someone were to write a play about me when I am old I wouldn’t be embarrassed by it.”

After acting out scenes from Reny Sampert’s life, Kim Pearson, a 17-year-old Laurel, and her group sang Reny’s favorite song, “O My Father.”

“When we were singing ‘O My Father,’ Reny got tears in her eyes, and you could tell she was really touched,” Kim says.

“This activity brought us so much closer to the older people,” says Amber Isaacson, 15. “A lot of people in the ward are related, but there are families like mine who are not, so it’s just really neat to get to know them like the relatives do.”

Even though Amber and her brother Russell don’t have any relatives in the ward, in doing this activity Russell has realized how much some of the ward’s grandparents have contributed to his life.

“Talking with the elderly in our ward helped me to understand that they are actually a part of me because they helped form the Church here in Coeur d‘Alene. And just to look at it today and see how I’m involved and see the key part they have played in my life makes me grateful that I was able to get to know them better,” Russell explains.

Learning about the grandparents in the ward has also given Russell some understanding about the effects that trials can have in a person’s life.

“Talking with Frances Young and learning about the different trials she went through in her life helps me to see how things like that have made her the great person she is today,” Russell says. “It’s just interesting how different experiences can mold a person.”

Cassie says she learned a lot of new things about the people she interviewed too, even though they were her own grandparents.

“A lot of what I learned about them was a surprise to me,” she says. “But in learning about their youth, I realized where some of their characteristics came from.”

Cassie has also learned that it is only by understanding her heritage that she is able to understand herself.

“It made me really want to figure out where I came from,” she says. “We’re made up of all these people and we don’t even know what they are, so how can we know what we are?”

Whether they learned more about themselves, about their ancestors, or about the seniors in their ward, one thing is certain for the youth in the Dalton Gardens Ward—their hearts have been turned.

“Doing this brought us so much closer to the elderly,” Amber says. “The older people were excited to share their lives with the youth, and we were excited to know about their lives. Everyone wanted to do a really good job with the skits because they had become such good friends with the elderly that they wanted their skit to be the best.”

Everyone in the ward took part in the activity. The Primary children sang, the Relief Society prepared food, the youth performed, and the older members brought their heirlooms to put on display.

A few hours before the activity started, all of the heirlooms were dropped off at the church, making several large piles of mismatched items. By the time everyone arrived, just a few hours later, the piles of items from various families had been organized into an old-fashioned bedroom, kitchen, and living room. All the mismatched items had come together to form a perfect display. And this is the way the activity affected the Dalton Gardens Ward. There was a group of people—some old, some young, some related, some not—that have now come together so well that no one would know they weren’t all from the same family.

Photography by Maren Mecham and courtesy of the families

Leo and Fay Lee (in a recent portrait) shared more than personal belongings with the youth in their ward. They also gave their time and attention—a gift that has brought the whole ward closer together.

Sister Reny Sampert was 17 when the picture at right was taken. Times have changed since then, but by interviewing people in their ward, the youth have found they still have lots in common.

It started out as a mismatched pile of household goods and furniture, but after some time and organization from the youth and their leaders, it turned into a homey reminder of days gone by.

At age 12, Frances Young (left) faced a lifetime of experience. And although age brings trials like health problems, she has helped the youth learn that if you have people that care about you, even tough times can be positive experiences.