Loralee Anderson and friends prove that, yes, teenagers can make a difference as they answer calls for help with an “SOS” of their own.
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Loralee Anderson was tired of watching TV. It seemed like every time she turned on the news there was another story about teenagers getting into trouble. Why don’t they ever show the good things teenagers are doing? she wondered. Do people really think we are all bad?
Flash forward a year later. High school students from all over the Salt Lake Valley are gathered one morning, helping deliver food to the homeless. A man quietly approaches, takes an apple, and tells Loralee that he wishes the world had more teens like the group assembled here. Loralee watches her friends flipping pancakes and handing out fruit, and she smiles. Service is not just changing attitudes; it’s changing lives. Thanks to Loralee, teenagers from around the Salt Lake area are answering calls for help with an SOS of their own—a storm of service.
Starting Out Slowly
For Loralee, an 18-year-old from South Jordan, Utah, SOS began as a question: What can we do to show the world that teenagers are good? She was tired of all the negative attention teenagers were getting—especially in the media. So she decided to do something about it. During her junior year at Bingham High School, Loralee started thinking of ways young people could do something positive for the community. She came up with the idea of organizing students from around Salt Lake into service teams, one at each participating school. Schools Offering Service, or SOS, would be a huge volunteer force of students working together to serve.
“People need to know that kids are good, that they are involved in positive things,” Loralee says. “I wanted a service club in my school, so I just decided, ‘Let’s make this work.’”
But for all her enthusiasm, Loralee had a hard time getting SOS started. When she began suggesting the idea her junior year, her student government leaders wondered if she could make it work. “A lot of people said it was too big of a thing to take on,” she says.
Discouraged, Loralee put her ideas for SOS on hold. She turned her attention back to student government—she was junior class secretary—and to applying to colleges. Later that year, however, she was elected vice president of the Utah Association of Student Councils. Now she had the resources and the contacts to make SOS work.
Searching Out Samaritans
Armed with posters and fliers, Loralee went from school to school recruiting volunteers. “I’d go to the school to tell people about SOS and get them signed up and into teams,” she says. Each school’s team would do monthly service projects like visiting retirement homes and reading to the blind.
For example, students from Copper Hills High School, a school located in a Salt Lake suburb, organized a Christmas talent show for South Valley Care Center. After performing, they decorated the care center for the elderly with handmade ornaments and handed out candy canes. Tiffany Tolbert helped coordinate Copper Hills High School’s SOS projects. She says SOS has helped her make new friends and learn to lead. Most of all, it has given her a chance to help people. “I really enjoy doing service because I want to make a difference,” she says.
And as if monthly service projects weren’t enough, twice a year SOS teams from each school combined for regional service projects like feeding the homeless.
More than 300 people joined SOS during its first year. For regional projects volunteers collected clothing, blankets, and more than 2,000 pounds of food for the homeless. They also prepared kits with brightly colored school supplies and collected teddy bears to send to developing countries. And, in only a year, SOS spread to 25 schools in the Salt Lake area. For her work with SOS, an insurance company awarded Loralee its 1999 Spirit of Community Award. Salt Lake County commissioners declared February 10 “Loralee Anderson Community Service Day.”
Sending Out Smiles
But Loralee insists that you don’t have to be in something like SOS to make a difference. “You don’t have to do a huge 24-hour service project to make an impact on someone’s life. The small acts of kindness, a kind word, a smile—those small acts are what count,” she says.
Small acts of service like smiling are what Loralee is known for. “She has always loved people and cared about people; she has real compassion,” says Loralee’s mother, Sandra Anderson.
In addition to Loralee’s work with SOS, she has volunteered with special-needs children and worked with Peer Leadership, a statewide organization that teaches youth to say no to drugs. She also has held many student government positions and has served as president of her Laurel class.
Loralee says she just wants to follow the Savior’s example. She says her love of the gospel deepens as she serves. “For some reason, when you are serving, humility comes upon you. You can show Heavenly Father that you love Him. My testimony has grown so much through service,” she says.
Now a freshman at BYU, Loralee is considering majoring in, what else, youth leadership. She wants to inspire youth to focus on what they each can do to make the world better. “I think people underestimate the power they can have. Individual deeds do impact lives,” she says. “The youth are going to take the world by storm.” A storm of service, that is.