One bright, warm Saturday morning, gangs of teenagers invaded the little town of Guadalupe, Arizona. They were all dressed alike. They were spraying paint, breaking up concrete, hanging out at the park, and having a loud, noisy time.
Of course, they were also laying sod, repairing mailboxes, cleaning up empty lots, building handicapped ramps, landscaping homes, restoring the median in the middle of the main road, interviewing residents for town and family histories, furnishing some temporary homes, and, in general, doing good wherever they went.
Persuading more than a thousand teens to donate their muscles and their time on a Saturday was due to the efforts of the East Valley Youth Service Committee, an organization combining youth in Gilbert, Arizona, from St. Anne’s Catholic Church with the youth from five Gilbert LDS stakes.
The whole idea of interfaith service projects got started when Father Doug Lorig of St. Anne’s Catholic Church wrote a letter to Salt Lake City asking how the youth in Gilbert of both the Catholic and LDS faiths could become united. The answer came through President John Lewis of the Gilbert Arizona Stake. The youth could become united as they served together.
But where? Who needed lots and lots and lots of helping hands?
The town of Guadalupe was the answer.
Guadalupe is the name of a major road that runs through the towns of Tempe and Gilbert, Arizona. Everyone knows Guadalupe Road. It’s a major thoroughfare lined with fast-food restaurants, gas stations, churches, and neighborhoods. But most teens didn’t know what is at the end of Guadalupe Road, right where the street ends. At that spot, just a little over a mile square, is the tiny town of Guadalupe.
Several members of the East Valley Youth Service Committee were assigned to do some calling. Their quest, to find some places that needed service. One young woman contacted Mary E. Hoy, the assistant town manager of Guadalupe. “She called and said, ‘We’d like to do a project in your town. What would you like us to do?’” said Mary. “I had a couple of pages of things that needed to be done because we have so much need here.”
To Mary’s great surprise, instead of picking one or two items off her list, the report came back that the committee had anticipated being able to do almost everything on her list. “The town has been very excited,” reports Mary. “They love the idea of these teens coming to help.” With nearly 1,500 teens and their adult leaders attending, the town’s population doubled for that one day.
Mary’s list included turning a flood retention basin into a park, painting a mural on a noise wall, replacing or repairing all mailboxes, building ramps for houses of handicapped residents, hauling rubbish from the lots of elderly residents, painting homes and repairing roofs, interviewing families for the town’s historical record, beautifying the town’s center street median, and collecting furniture for and landscaping around emergency housing.
The first meeting was at a public auditorium, when the whole idea of working together in service, in addition to gathering support and donations from the community, was presented to anyone interested. Chad Heywood, 16, of the Freestone Park Ward in the Gilbert stake, said, “I’ve had a lot of kids come up to me and ask how they can get involved in it. It’s a fun thing to do now.”
Jennifer Barger, the adult volunteer supervisor from St. Anne’s Catholic Church, said, “I think the more they got involved, the more eager they were to participate. It’s a growing thing, with each other and with the town. It’s been quite a neat experience.”
As the planning for the project progressed, the teens involved started to discover a change in their attitudes. Aubree Wright, 17, of the Gilbert Ninth Ward, Gilbert Val Vista Stake, said, “The first couple of meetings, I was not feeling like I wanted to go. The more I went, it just became such a neat thing. I was looking forward to it. I’ve seen it in other kids too. You can tell that it’s starting to touch them.”
You might not think that getting together on one Saturday and hauling sod or painting a house would do all that much for world peace. But each action, each person doing one good thing, can begin to change the world. Standing shoulder to shoulder with shovels and rakes in hand with God’s children of other beliefs and cultures can make a difference. Melissa Geiger, 19, of St. Anne’s Catholic Church, was asked to be a youth representative on the planning committee. She said, “It sounds like an enormous task, making peace in the world. We can start small and meet on a common ground of service. That was our basis.”
Whether it’s spending four hours at a cannery, packing boxes at a food bank, or getting your hands blistered while raking gravel, service improves most those who give it.
The youth of Gilbert, both Catholic and LDS, now know each other a little better. And with each opportunity to serve, they will learn a little more what it means to live a Christlike life.
“The memory that I have of the Guadalupe Service Project is the unity that was among us. I never heard a complaint out of anyone’s mouth. It was like we were a herd of angels, ready to serve our brethren.”
Mary Petterborg, Burk Street Ward, Gilbert Stake
“I have a tremendous appreciation for the people of Guadalupe. Their humble attitudes and happy faces make the long service worthwhile.”
J. Ryan Bevan, Cody Ward, Gilbert Stapley Stake
“I was involved in the landscaping of the temporary housing, and it was hard work. I’ve never lifted so many wheelbarrows full of rocks and dirt in my life! I was so tired and so sore the next day, but it felt so good to serve.”
Cambria Tuttle, Catalina Ward, Gilbert Greenfield Stake
“It was like in Mosiah 2:17, where it says, ‘When ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.’”
Jeri Anne Sundberg, Mesa, Arizona
“When I saw hundreds of people my age wearing the same shirts and working together, I was amazed. So much good is accomplished when we all come together with one heart and one mind.”
Trisha Colvin, Neely Ward, Gilbert Stapley Stake