David Conrad makes a fine-looking dachshund out of an orange balloon. He can whip out a wiener dog in about 30 seconds. A twist here and a twist there. Voila!
Then there is Dan Christensen, who likes doing magic tricks, has built a gas-powered airplane, collects foreign money, and started the MHL, the Mormon Hockey League, in his neighborhood.
Andrew Willis sings. Baritone, in case you’re wondering. He also likes history and science, and he just graduated from high school.
But let’s be honest about this. We’re not writing about these guys because of dachshunds, deep voices, and disappearing rabbits. And, actually, they don’t want to talk about their hobbies. They’d rather discuss other areas of their lives.
Okay, David, take it away.
“At Christmastime, I got my entire ward together and we had a collection of toys and food for needy families in our ward and stake area. We had one gentleman in the ward dress up like Santa Claus, and I put on a red hat—I was Santa’s helper—and we went door to door delivering food and toys. When we knocked on the doors and said ‘It’s Santa Claus,’ the kids’ jaws dropped. They were so happy, all of them jumping around.”
Your turn, Dan.
“My sister Nicole volunteered at a hospital, and so I just followed after her when I was old enough. I like volunteering. I like helping people.”
And, finally, Andrew.
“My friends and I love to hang out with Peter and do stuff. We’ll always include Peter. We’ll go out in the car; we’ll rent a movie. Sometimes we’ll take Pete out with us to see a flick and get something to eat.”
Peter, Andrew’s 15-year-old brother, has Down’s syndrome.
“All my friends like to come to my house, and I like hanging around my family. We have a warm house, and my best friend has said that,” adds Andrew, whose thoughts about a warm house have nothing to do with the furnace.
And the stories don’t stop here.
Becky Altimirano, 18, worked with the Fraternal Order of Police and planned a Christmas party for handicapped children in her area.
“You can make a difference in someone’s life, and that’s what I felt,” she says. “I felt really good about it.”
So did Sarah Drinkwater, 16, after she finished a project similar to David’s. For many years her ward had collected food and toys during Christmas to give to needy families. But the youth never had an opportunity to meet the families receiving the assistance. When Sarah, a member of the Sewell Ward, was called as Mia Maid president, she decided to change things. She wanted the youth to meet the people they were serving.
“I wanted to do something for the people living in the battered women’s shelter, so we decided to have a party for them at the ward,” she says.
Before the day was over, women and their children had received gifts and food, and Sarah knew her idea was a good one. “You just can’t replace the personal contact. We had one-on-one contact, and each child was assigned a big sister or big brother from the Young Men and Young Women. We found out they are real people. It was just great.”
David, Dan, Andrew, Becky, and Sarah are all members of the Cherry Hill New Jersey Stake, and all of them, plus many others, are finding the time to make differences in their communities. As they do, they see the differences in their own lives.
In Medford, New Jersey, Kristin Feuz, 17, a member of the Medford Ward, noticed that Medford was celebrating its 150th anniversary in 1997, which coincided with the Church’s sesquicentennial celebration. So she went to work. Along with other members of her ward, she helped plant flowers and clean up several different areas in Medford.
Shall we go on?
Robert Bramhall affiliated himself with a postmen’s food drive, where mail carriers picked up nonperishable food. The food, which was taken to a Camden, New Jersey, food bank, then had to be sorted. That’s where Robert came in. He had helped do the same thing when Andrew was working on his Eagle Scout project, so he knew what he was doing.
“We had about 100 tons of food, and between everybody that helped, we put in more than 150 hours into the project. It gave me a good feeling to know that we were doing something that was going to affect so many people,” he says.
So what’s the deal? Why are all these young people, with busy lives of their own, taking so much time to do things for others?
“I’ve thought more about my brother this year than usual because of scripture mastery [in seminary],” Andrew says. “One scripture we did this year was the scripture in Matthew, the one that says ‘Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me’ (see Matt. 25:40). Every year there is something about service, and service has been on my mind more than it has before because it seems to be so stressed. I know that’s really important, to please God.”
“You know,” adds Dan, “how there’s that song ‘Because I Have Been Given Much’? (Hymns, no. 219). Well, I, too, must give. It’s my way of giving, other than tithing. Helping other people and seeing their reactions. It helps to strengthen my testimony to see the expressions on people’s faces when I’m serving them.”
Dan remembers the times when he wishes he could do more than answer phones, sort files, or distribute magazines and water to the hospital’s patients. “There are some people who really look like they are in pain, and there’s nothing I can do about it. What I do is worth it, though. If you can just help one person, that’s great.”
David, who calls himself “the balloon guy” and has business cards to prove it, shares many of Dan’s feelings.
He runs his own business working parties and making balloon animals to entertain children. David’s work provides a pretty good cash flow for somebody who wants to major in music in college and is preparing for a mission. “But I like to incorporate service and my work together. I was at this fund-raiser where I was doing balloons there for the kids. It was fun.” When asked, only then does he confess he volunteered his time and accepted no money.
“You get that good feeling of service,” he adds.
There you have it, a group of young people who have learned that service is important, and that stepping outside of their own needs and wants to influence others for good is a richly rewarding pursuit. Sure they’re busy, and they don’t have to do the things they do.
But since they began making time for others, they’ve learned something very important. They might like to sing, play hockey, and twist balloons into animals, but they love to serve.