Through service, members find, share 'Olympic spirit'

While Olympic athletes from 198 nations were preparing for the 1996 centennial summer games in Atlanta, Steven Echard was practicing his second language.

Devin Prouty was picking up trash from the streets of his city.Cindy Richards was making a quilt.

These Church members from Georgia won't receive medals or sweeping accolades for their efforts. But they, and hundreds of other Latter-day Saints like them, hope their Olympic service - translating, beautifying a city, and making a gift for another nation - will further the Olympic spirit.

Sherman Day, a member of the Smyrna Ward, Atlanta Georgia Stake and an official on the Atlanta Olympic Committee, said hundreds of Church members helped prepare Atlanta to host the world. Several wards and stakes, as well as individuals, are registered as volunteers to help with the "once in a lifetime opportunity," he explained.

Brother Echard of the Centerville Ward, Lilburn Georgia Stake, is using vacation time to serve as an unofficial Dutch translator during the Olympics. He gave up three Saturdays and several evenings to prepare for the event.

To welcome Olympic visitors, Devin Prouty and more than 140 other teens from the Roswell Georgia Stake cleaned the streets of their city in one day - a task that would have taken Roswell city employees dozens of hours. "I realized how important upkeep of the city is and the great impression a clean city will make on tourists," Devin said.

Sister Richards of the Brockett Ward, Atlanta Georgia Stake, was one of several Church members who spent more than 700 hours making an Olympic quilt. Sister Richards' quilt, titled "Go for the Gold," was given to the Great Britian National Olympic Committee as part of "A Gift of Quilts," a project developed by the Georgia Quilt Project.

Other Church members also found the Olympic spirit by participating in community service organizations, such as The Stars of Atlanta. Members of the nonprofit performing group will participate in the Olympics' closing ceremonies.

Kathie Alba, the group's director and a member of the Papermill Ward, Roswell Georgia Stake, said she wanted the girls to get something meaningful out of their participation.

Last year Stars of Atlanta received the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games' Medal of Honor for community service. For their service project, the girls framed pictures for a local homeless shelter.

Missionaries in the Georgia Atlanta Mission have also found the Olympic spirit. They set up a display of pictures, "Strong families Can Hold Our World Together," for Olympic visitors to view free of charge.

"We want to have the chance to share the gospel with some of the 2 million visitors," Elder Thomas Adair said, adding that both members and missionaries will be volunteering their time at the exhibit, answering any question about the display tourists might have.

Elder Adair said many Church members are willing to volunteer their services in almost any way they can. For example, Boy Scouts from an LDS troop lined the streets in front of the Atlanta Georgia Temple to watch a runner carry the Olympic torch by. After it passed, they cleaned up the trash left by spectators.

Val H. Markos of the Peachtree Corners Ward, Roswell Georgia Stake, carried the torch as it passed through Columbus, Ga. Brother Markos is also a full-time volunteer at the Field Hockey venue.

He said he has found the Olympic spirit - which he describes as a bringing together of nations and people all over the world - through his volunteer work. He isn't surprised that hundreds of Church members are giving their time to the Olympics. "There is something for everyone who is interested," he said.

Hundreds of other members are finding the Olympic spirit by working in security, by distributing information, by serving as ushers and by assisting in transportation during the summer games.

Cindy Fleicher, a member of the Sandy Plains Ward, Marietta Georgia East Stake, said she thinks many Church members are volunteering their time to the Atlanta Olympics for some of the same reasons she did.

"I wanted to make a difference," she explained. "I realized that one person can make a difference."

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