As Dale Kirkham, then bishop of the Pocatello (Idaho) 4th Ward, drove through his ward eight years ago, he saw a lot of cleanup work needing to be done. But there was little that could be done by the poor, retired or elderly single residents of the area.
The ward had been doing small service projects since the 1960s, but what Bishop Kirkham proposed in 1980 was a major annual project to clean up an old, rundown neighborhood filled with dilapidated houses, dead and overgrown trees, and neglected yards. That initiated an annual ward cleanup day that has changed the looks of the ward as well as the hearts of those living within its boundaries."Over the years we've taken out 60 to 70 abandoned houses," he reported. "We've replaced sidewalks, repaired chimneys and leveled yards."
At least one day a year, three or four crews work in different parts of the ward, pulling out dead trees, cleaning up yards or fixing houses.
"We didn't select just Mormons," said Kirkham, who was released as bishop in 1986. "We would just see something that needed doing and offer to do it. You wouldn's believe the transformation we've had over the years in our ward." Many less-active and non-members have worked in the cleanup project. One less-active member brought his backhoe and, for two days, worked late into the night. Some members were concerned because the man smoked one cigarette after another as he worked. But the next Sunday the man brought his family to Church when the ward honored him for his help in the cleanup. The family then began attending regularly, and the man quit smoking and bacame an elder.
"Things like that have happened time and time again," Kirkham said.
This year, on April 30, about 75 people turned out for the ward cleanup. As in years past, most of the volunteers weren't professionals, said Dean Durrant, a draftsman who has been involved in the project since it started. He was elders quorum president in the early 1980s when Kirkham got him involved.
"[Kirkham] would look at me and say, `You're going to run the manlift this year,'" Durrant recalled. "The next thing you know I was 30 feet up with a chain saw in my hands trimming trees."
By the end of each cleanup, ward members lose themselves in the service of others, Durrant said.
"It makes the people we help feel good, too," he said. "They understand we care about them."