When 80 young people and their leaders from the Kearns Utah West Stake left for a three-day youth conference at Snow College, an afternoon service project was one of several planned activities - and not the most exciting one, at that.
But for many, the few hours spent lending a hand at homes in the community was the highlight of their July 17-19 experience.Snow College hosts between 7,000 and 8,000 young people at youth conferences every summer. One of the program's offerings - tucked between workshops, water games, a visit to the nearby Mormon Miracle Pageant, eating and dancing - is something called a service scavenger hunt.
Young people and their leaders are put in small groups - preferably with others they do not know well - and sent out to see how many good deeds they can perform during a given time period. Points are awarded for things such as mowing lawns, washing windows and automobiles and a host of other household chores.
The group with the most points "wins." But nobody seems to lose.
Leaders in the Kearns stake, like those of many other stakes traveling to Snow College, wanted to mix service with fun and games when they devised their conference agenda.
"One of the things the Church has always tried to teach its youth is the importance of service," explained Brent D. Roper, first counselor in the stake presidency who assisted with planning the conference. "That is the reason we have priesthood purposes, as well as Young Women values. When we lose sight of those purposes and place the emphasis on fun and games, we miss out on one of the primary purposes for being on earth - to serve and help others."
The youths of the stake found out how enjoyable providing service can be. They scattered throughout rural Ephraim, population 2,810, on their first afternoon here and began helping out, cutting grass and weeds and otherwise cleaning up. Many worked beyond the deadline for returning to campus as they became caught up in their work.
One group consisted of Bishop John J. Allen of the Valley View Ward; Jackie Casdorph, Walnut Hills Ward Young Women president; and several young people. The third door they knocked on was answered by an elderly couple, Hayley and Grace Anderson.
An offer to help with yard work was readily accepted. Before leaving, the group mowed and trimmed the lawn, washed the car and windows in the home, watered plants, raked weeds, swept the sidewalk and, for good measure, fed the cat.
"It was an amazing group," said 71-year-old Brother Anderson. "It was a pleasure to see them work. In fact, it was kind of surprising, because they really were enjoying what they were doing. When they were done, they gave us a hug and away they went. I thought it was very, very nice."
Sister Anderson, 74, gave the group a memento of their visit: a clock she had made of one of the polished rocks she and her husband collected.
"We have told everyone how special it was to have that group come in and be so enthused," Sister Anderson added. "It buoyed us up for days and is something we have written in our journals."
The leaders felt the young people benefited from the experience.
"Once the youths got going, you could tell they really caught the spirit of what service is about," noted Bishop Allen. "I think it's an experience they won't forget."
"More than anything, the young women there enjoyed being able to talk with the Andersons and get to know them," pointed out Sister Casdorph. "They have their address and plan to write them to continue their friendship. If anything, they found that service can be fun."
Added 14-year-old Michael Clawson, a teacher in the Valley View Ward: "It's fun to do things for the elderly, to help them out. I felt we accomplished a lot at the Andersons. I would do it again if I had the chance."
Young men, young women experience the blessings of helping and serving others
Service should be a key ingredient in every local Young Men and Young Women program throughout the Church, according to Elder Vaughn J. Featherstone, Young Men general president, and Sister Ardeth G. Kapp, Young Women general president.
The two spoke with the Church News Aug. 14 about the need for young people to experience the blessings of helping others - through organized activities and in everyday life.
"I know of no better healing process, no matter what the malady, than to serve," emphasized Elder Featherstone. "The objective of the Aaronic Priestood could be summed up in the words of King Benjamin:
"And behold, I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God." (Mosiah 2:17.)
"We would hope that every leader would have a balance in activities, with the main focus on service. Our young people are converted to the gospel when they serve their fellow men."
Sister Kapp added, "Service contributes to feelings of worth. Service can be fun. Our youths want to have fun - and they should - but fun is an attitude, and not an event. When you are happy, feel good about yourself and enjoy what you are doing, it is fun.
"When young people are involved in service, the welfare of the one served and the one who serves can be affected in a most significant way. Over the years as I have asked many young women what activity stands out as being most enjoyable, almost without exception they refer to some activity that involved service.
"It is through service that our young women feel their divine nature and their individual worth. Young Women leaders are helping young women experience joy as they draw nearer to the Savior through their service to others."