“Strengthening the Community,” Ensign, Sept. 2006, 77–78
Getting up before 6:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning to shingle roofs, paint houses, and mow lawns after being soaked in a mountain downpour the day before might deter some people, but not Andy Pearce and Ryan Wheeler, youth from the Alpine Fourth Ward, Alpine Utah Stake.
Arriving before the majority of their youth counterparts, who came at about 8:00 a.m., they climbed a roof and began reroofing in a small neighborhood in Provo and didn’t want to eat breakfast until they’d finished a good portion of the job.
These young men were just 2 of almost 400 young people and 100 leaders and adults in the Alpine Utah Stake who joined forces June 10, 2006, to work in a neighborhood fix-up project in Provo, Utah, as part of their stake’s three-day youth conference. They reroofed 5 homes, painted 15, and laid a few lawns with sod, performing service on a total of 25 homes.
Some homeowners were skeptical when stake service committee members visited their neighborhood in the weeks before the project to find out what repairs needed to be done.
But eight months of planning paid off as leaders directed the youth, who were organized into “families,” in making requested repairs on each house. They pulled weeds, primed houses, edged lawns, shingled roofs, painted fences, and held a carnival for children to attend while the repairs were being completed.
“It’s just been amazing to watch how hard these kids have worked,” said Joseph Nilson, president of the Alpine Utah Stake. “You don’t have to go too far to find service opportunities, and it’s wonderful for them to get out and see their religion in action.”
The morning before, the group had traveled up the mountain for a sunrise fireside. But a storm met the youth, and they trekked down the mountain in a downpour. They relocated to a nearby college campus to listen to speakers and attend workshops. They got rained out again as they tried to hold some outdoor games.
“I hope the service day [was] the highlight of youth conference,” said JoAnn Tolman, stake Young Women president. “This is why missionaries say that [missions are] the best two years of their lives. It’s because they were in complete service—complete.”
Sister Tolman said some homeowners just stood there and cried with the offers of service:
“Can we paint your house?”
“I can’t afford the paint.”
“We’re going to provide the paint. What color do you want?”
“I have a choice of color?”
She said, “It’s just been like opening the windows of heaven for them, and it’s our opportunity to let the youth reach out.”
Brad Christensen, who was a youth conference coordinator with his wife, Kim, said he hopes the youth will take at least two things from the experience. First, a rain metaphor: when it rains, it doesn’t rain everywhere, but everyone needs water.
“The water in the mountains we pipe to people in the valley so that they can use it even though no rain fell on them,” he explained. “Material wealth is the same way. It rains in different places. What I hope they walk away with is that God expects us to share the wealth.”
Brother Christensen also hopes the youth learn that one way to find more happiness “is the least obvious way they ever would have considered, and that is to get out and work and help other people.”
“I hope they leave here feeling happier and more fulfilled and more full of light today than they ever would playing video games or going to a movie or doing something self-indulgent, and that they’ll catch onto the idea that true happiness is found through helping other people,” Brother Christensen said.
Performing for inmates, refurbishing the roof on the local Baptist community center, or pruning yards—the Oregon City Oregon Stake is in its fifth year serving neighbor to neighbor.
The Neighbor-to-Neighbor initiative—created to unite in service and enhance the image of the Church in the community—brings members together to serve others with whom they would not likely come into contact otherwise, such as the inmates of Oregon State Prison.
Inmates and volunteers worked side by side, shoulder to shoulder, in the demolition and construction of a new chapel.
“I’ve learned that together we can accomplish very difficult things,” said Oregon City Oregon stake president Gene Trone. “Doing the Lord’s work is always worth it.”
The stake also remodeled the chapel in the Coffee Creek Women’s Correctional Facility and performed the musical Honk for inmates, though bringing the production to a secure facility was a challenge. The process of checking all the props and materials took hours.
“But the look on the faces of the guards and the inmates made all the hard work worthwhile,” said Don Ririe, high councilor over this part of Neighbor-to-Neighbor.
“We enjoyed laughing with each other and feeling close to one another,” one guard shared. “No one has ever done this before. Thank you for coming and helping us remember we are really more alike than different.”
Approximately 150 members toured the prisons to learn how they can play a supportive role in reducing recidivism rates in their community.
While this year’s Neighbor-to-Neighbor service projects focused on serving inmates, the stake has also reached out to numerous groups in the community under this initiative, including the Oregon City School District, Clackamas County Mental Health agencies, and Oxford Homes—homes providing shelter to women recovering from substance abuse.
This year each ward within the stake was assigned to an Oxford Home to assess and address the needs in each. Bishops and Relief Society presidents each toured their ward’s assigned home, and volunteers cleaned, painted, weeded yards, repaired roofs and decks, and completed other construction projects.
“Never has there been a better way for my family to grow than serving in the Neighbor-to-Neighbor projects,” said Kati Morris, a member of the Oregon City stake. “I cannot tell you how strong the desire is in my own heart to become a better person.”
Sixty thousand Brazilian Church members have concluded a four-month service project that provided aid to more than 200 hospitals in 150 cities throughout Brazil.
Church members held workshops and sewing bees in which they produced approximately 150,000 items to be donated to local hospitals. The items included bedsheets, shoe coverings, gowns, pillowcases, and infant clothing.
Items such as bedsheets are scarce for many hospitals in Brazil, as most funds go toward medications, hospital equipment, and employee salaries. And since hospital clothing is subjected to sterilization up to four times daily, the clothing has to be replaced frequently.
In one month Restauração Hospital in Recife admits 800 patients, performs 700 surgeries, treats 12,000 outpatients, and handles 12,000 emergencies. Hospital director George Teles was happy to receive supplies from the Church. “We give thanks for any help we get, since we always work beyond our patient capacity,” he remarked. “Now we will have some breathing room in terms of bedclothing changes.”
Members of the Church not only sewed clothes and bedsheets but also volunteered their time giving presentations to school-age children to teach them the importance of helping others. Others worked in hospitals providing service wherever needed.