Sacramento: Members seek to enrich community, strengthen homes, families, Church

Some time ago, the religion editor of the Sacramento Bee called Norman C. Boehm, then a regional representative in northern California. "My son wants to help in the community," the man told the Church leader, asking how the youth should go about it.

For a moment, Brother Boehm was a bit baffled. The editor is not LDS.`Well, naturally, we've been involved in community service," Brother Boehm told the man, "but you need to know we're not the only ones."

The editor responded, "Yes, I know, but you do so much."

Brother Boehm, who served as regional representative for the Sacramento California Region of the Church from September 1993 until August 1995, smiles when he relates that telephone conversation. "We were having youth groups painting out graffiti, and he thought we were the ones to go through to get his son involved," he told the Church News.

However, the editor's opinion of Latter-day Saints is not really surprising as there is a growing perception here that Church members care not only for their own, but also for the communities in which they live. During a Church News visit to this area, Brother Boehm spoke of the faithfulness of the some 50,000 members living in this northern California area - of their challenges, their commitment to living the gospel and their efforts to reach out beyond the walls of their own homes and meetinghouses.

"I think that people here face the same challenges as anywhere - earning a living in a changing economy, keeping up mortgages, keeping up with families," he explained. "My sense is that people really feel strengthened by the Church."

In the greater Sacramento area, members make up about 4 percent of the total population. What were once the Sacramento, Fair Oaks and Roseville regions of the Church include an area some 60 miles long and about 50 to 60 miles wide. With all regional representatives in the Church being released in August 1995, presidents of the 13 stakes here now work under the direct supervision of the presidency of the North America West Area. Working closely with the area presidency are six area authorities.

As in much of California, diversity here is the norm. Ethnic backgrounds are mainly Anglo-American, African-American, Polynesian, Asian or Hispanic. Income is derived primarily from both industry and agriculture. Passenger jets approaching the Sacramento airport fly low over wide expanses of rice fields. Much of the rice produced here is exported to Japan.

"California has a lot to offer," Brother Boehm said. "There will probably be earthquakes, and there will be fires and floods and droughts. But those come and go."

What continues, he explained, is the feeling of community that comes from people working together. Examples of members reaching out include providing food for volunteers and victims of disasters, helping at Red Cross shelters and helping with clean-up efforts after disasters.

In addition, members once helped members of another faith paint the inside of their new chapel, and a local Church cannery is often used by others to can food for the needy.

One Church member here who consistently reaches out is Fenton Williams Jr., the LDS interfaith representative for the Sacramento area and a member of the board of the Sacramento Interfaith Service Bureau. In the 31/2 years Brother Williams has been serving, he has helped the organization feed the homeless, build bridges of trust between youth of different races and cultures in the area, and work with city and county officials on violence prevention programs.

An example of Brother Williams' influence came during a recent annual meeting of the Interfaith Service Bureau, when he was reporting on his responsibilities and began lauding the contributions of others. At that moment, a local minister serving on the board approached the rostrum and said, "And these words are coming to you from one of those `bad' people, those Mormons whom many of us were taught we must not associate with. But by associating with them here, we have learned differently, and we have learned to respect and appreciate them."

Concerning the help members can offer on an individual basis, Brother Boehm said: "We don't expect everyone to do everything. We expect them only to do those things where they have their strengths, their interests and their capabilities."

Using their capabilities is also among the list of things that members are doing to strengthen their homes, wards and stakes. W. Scott Thorpe, president of the Sacramento California Stake, which celebrated its 60th anniversary in 1994, explained how in 1993, the stakes in Sacramento were realigned with longer, thinner boundaries - somewhat the shape of spokes. He said this was so each stake would include portions of both suburbs and the inner city.

Thus, he added, "you can create larger youth groups within the stake, even though you have wards with older members near the center of the spokes. In our stake, we have one ward with 134 children in Primary. We have two wards with 30 or less. With the realignment when you have an activity on a stake level - girls' programs, Scouts, Cub Scouts - you have a larger group of youth and they feel more of a camaraderie."

The challenges in his stake of 3,300, Pres. Thorpe explained, are varied much like those of other stakes - areas with economic problems and youth gangs.

Pres. Thorpe lauded the efforts of the bishop of the Liahona (Tongan) Ward, Tu`anaki Vaihi Toki. "He goes to all the youth basketball games, goes to their activities, has them in his home. What he does best is show that a bishop can be something more than a white shirt and tie. He can be spiritual and have fun at the same time," Pres. Thorpe related.

Obviously, the leadership here is influencing the youth for good. One such youth is Stephanie Thorpe, Pres. Thorpe's 14-year-old daughter, who spoke of the challenges of youth at her school: "In my school there are only three other Mormons. Most of my friends are not Mormon. It's kind of hard because you're around so many people with different values."

She added: "At school, I listen to people talk about how they hate who they are. I don't see how they can hate who they are. The lessons at Church teach that Heavenly Father loves us."

As in other areas in the world, members here face economic difficulties. One good example of combatting these problems is the Sacramento Cordova stake. Stake Pres. Joseph N. Hodgson said a committee was formed of from 15 to 20 people to reach out to stake members "who are down and out. Two people from the committee are assigned to work with a struggling member and help him or her come up with a plan of how to solve their own problems."

Once the plan is formed, the person begins working with his or her bishop to execute the plan.

Speaking of the strength in general of members in the greater Sacramento area, Brother Boehm probably said it best: "Judging by the people willing to respond to calls, going on missions and responding to leadership, I'd say we have a really good group of Latter-day Saints here."

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