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Serving the community

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

Throughout the ages, prophets have extolled service as not only a virtue, but also as a principle of salvation. Today, Church leaders continue this admonition to help lift the burdens of others, both members and non-members.For example, Relief Society general Pres. Elaine L. Jack exhorted LDS women throughout the world to render service in their communities in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of Relief Society: "We've given compassionate service regularly in the past years. Now we can reach out more than ever before and be a greater influence for good as we plan projects that will lead us to a new way of thinking and serving others in our community." (See Church News, Oct. 19, 1991.)

Relief Society sisters throughout the world responded enthusiastically. In the Salt Lake City area alone, community service centers were inundated with offers to help. Richard K. Winters, executive director of the Community Services Council in Salt Lake City, said, "It was exciting to see people get away from the occasional acts of charity that occur around the holiday season. Needs don't know a season. I hope people catch the spirit of this kind of charitable response."

Whether through organized groups or as individuals, Latter-day Saints can know the joy of serving their communities. Following are several accounts of members - men and women, boys and girls - who volunteered their time and love to improve the lives or environments of others.

OAKLAND, CALIF.

Lois Bishop of the Pleasant Hill 1st Ward, Oakland California Stake, will never forget when she went to pick up her daughter from her mission in the Philippines in 1988. Her daughter had been teaching English in a refugee camp, and so Sister Bishop took the opportunity to walk through the camp.

"A little old gentleman, about 85, came up to me and motioned to a little boy with him," Sister Bishop recalled. She assumed the boy was the man's grandchild. "The boy started singing the song, `Brother John,' in English. This obviously meant so much to the grandfather. He was smiling and clapping for this boy because the child was learning English."

Sister Bishop was touched by the incident, but only now realizes how much it relates to her own life. Her voice broke with emotion as she described the following events:

Shortly after Sister Bishop returned from the Philippines, her husband passed away. A short while later, she was asked by stake leaders to help in a Cambodian branch. "The branch president asked me if I could teach English," Sister Bishop related. Interestingly, years before she had learned to teach others to read through an international literacy program. So Sister Bishop not only taught Sunday School in the branch, but she also began teaching English to its members.

The stake employment specialist heard of her work, and suggested to the stake that an English-as-a-second-language (ESL) program might benefit its non-English-speaking members. The stake presidency backed the idea and called Sister Bishop to coordinate a stake ESL program, and in 1990 the Oakland/Hayward Region Literacy Council was created. Sister Bishop received additional training to be an instructor and a trainer.

In two years, the council grew from one person - Sister Bishop - to 22 tutors and about 104 students, of whom 10 percent are non-LDS. She emphasized that the council is a community service program and works in conjunction with other literacy councils in the area. Immigrants from throughout the world can learn English through this program.

"One of the things I love most about teaching literacy is the joy that comes to people's faces when they learn. And that's what knowledge is all about - the freedom that comes to people when they learn. If this program does just a little to bring people to a better life, I will have been more than successful."

ARLINGTON, VA.

When Ed and Jill Casillas moved to Arlington, Va., about 20 years ago, they felt a little lonely and wanted to make some friends. During the holidays they began going around to neighbors and giving awards for the best Christmas trees. Pretty soon Brother Casillas began dressing as Santa Claus for neighborly Christmas Eve visits. Through the years, reaching out to others became a habit for the Casillas, members of the Arlington Ward, McLean Virginia Stake.

Sister Casillas said serving seems to come naturally for her family. "Most people probably serve in whatever area interests them," she added.

And the last of the seven Casillas children created a special interest for the family. Merry, now 9 years old, was born with Down syndrome. Her brothers and sisters are: Cassi, 32; Conwey, 25; Jayne, 23; Nico, 22; Summer, 16; and Sierra, 13.

"We got involved in a support group, PODS (Parents of Down Syndrome Children), when Merry was born. The group asked us if we'd be willing to take in Down syndrome babies who were waiting to be adopted or waiting for their biological parents to decide if they could cope with disabled children," Sister Casillas related.

So from the mid- to latter-1980s, the Casillas family fostered several babies - one at a time - who had Down syndrome. Brother Casillas said that having Merry and other disabled children in their home has had a positive effect on Merry's siblings. "Our children are much more aware of and are very sensitive to disabled people and their needs and are very compassionate," he related.

The policies of the support group changed, so Brother and Sister Casillas haven't fostered the babies for a couple of years, but they continue to reach out to their community in many ways. Brother Casillas continues playing Santa Claus every year, and now includes visits to local special education classes. He also plays Santa Claus at the support group's yearly Christmas party.

Sister Casillas also leads the family in community service projects. For a recent family home evening, she took several members of the family to a local library, which was being renovated, to help reshelve books.

Service, indeed, comes naturally for this family.

ANCHORAGE, ALASKA

Young women of the Anchorage 13th Ward, Anchorage Alaska Stake, are learning the meaning behind the words, "Because I have been given much, I too must give." (Hymns, No. 219.) Several times throughout the past year, the girls have made sandwiches for or served lunch at a local homeless shelter in Anchorage, Alaska. As recently as June 3, 12-16 Beehives, Mia Maids and Laurels made about 200 sandwiches for the homeless shelter.

Karen Kinney, second counselor in the ward Young Women presidency, said that helping the homeless has taught the young women "compassion and concern for Heavenly Father's children, and love for others less fortunate. They are learning that they are a part of the community, and as such they can help in things that are worthwhile and influence the community."

She recalled an incident about a year ago when the Beehives went to a homeless shelter to serve lunch. "One of the homeless people came up to my girls and asked where they were from," Sister Kinney related. The young women responded that they were from the Church. "He asked if they would sing a song. The girls sang, I Am a Child of God.' The man cried. Then he sang,Onward Christian Soldiers.' This really affected the girls."

Mia maid Rachel Miller explained why she and the other young women reach out to those in need: "These are Heavenly Father's children who are homeless and hungry, and it's our duty to help them."

PLYMOUTH, MINN.

When Mike Brough, 18, was assigned through his high school's community service program to help a disabled woman, he was apprehensive. The woman, Lane Douglas, who is in her mid-40s, suffered from polio as a young woman and is paralyzed.

"I was uncomfortable because I hadn't worked with a person who is disabled before," said Mike, who is first assistant in the priests quorum of the Plymouth 1st Ward, Minneapolis Minnesota Stake. "But she got me excited about helping her because of her positive outlook. She's a neat lady. After working with her, I learned to be aware of what other people are going through. People who are disabled might need help in certain areas of their lives, but I learned to treat them like I'd treat anyone else."

Mike began helping Miss Douglas last fall with things like lifting bags of groceries for her, cleaning her van and apartment windows, bringing her a newspaper, and helping her with her checkbook and taxes. Even though Mike is no longer involved with the community service program, he continues to help Miss Douglas.

The young man explained that this awareness of others is helping him prepare for his mission, which he plans for in about a year. "As a missionary, I will interact with many types of people," he said. "I need to be patient and understand their abilities and needs."

Mike's father, Bob, supports his son's efforts to help Miss Douglas. "She knows she can count on him. If he says he'll be there, he'll be there," Brother Brough said.

And in a statement to the Church News, Miss Douglas, who is not a member of the Church, said, "Mike has played an important part of my life by giving unselfishly of his time and energy. He comes every week on his own time to help me with things that would be impossible for me to accomplish myself. I'm lucky Mike passed through my life, and I hope we remain friends."

NORTH OGDEN, UTAH

"Community service is a tool that brings family, friends and the public together in a positive way," said Tricia Judd, 17, of the Ben Lomond 2nd Ward, North Ogden Utah Ben Lomond Stake. "A group may be doing the physical work but it's the spirit and the feeling that the group is doing something right that gets the job done."

And what a job Tricia and approximately 500 other youth from the North Ogden Utah, North Ogden Utah Ben Lomond and the North Ogden Utah Coldwater stakes took on May 16. The young men and women, ranging in ages 12-18, gathered on an early Saturday morning at the base of a hill near North Ogden, which is about 30 miles north of Salt Lake City, and spent most of the day clearing away weeds.

Grant Protzman, Young Men president of the Ben Lomond stake, said it was hard work in a hot sun. "The youth showed up with their hoes, shovels and gloves and spread out. Each stake had an assigned area. The young people created a skirmish line that went across the length of the foothill area, and they worked their way up digging out the weeds."

He expressed pride in the youths' enthusiasm. "They showed real pioneer spirit. For some it was a challenge, but they stuck to it."

He added that because of the size of the hill and the amount of noxious weeds growing on it, the youth were unable to complete the project in one day. He said they plan to continue this service next year.

The idea took root last fall when Richard Harris, who works for the U.S. Forest Service and who is first counselor to Brother Protzman, proposed the project to his stake's youth council. Brother Harris also approached Utah State University county extension agent James Barnhull with the idea, to which the agent responded gratefully. Brother Protzman related that the agent explained the weeds create significant problems with agriculture and erosion.

After the youth spent the day weeding the side of the hill, they gathered for an ice cream social, but Brother Protzman said there wasn't much horseplay among the youth by that time. "They were pretty tired."

MACON, GA.

Christmas came a little early - or you might say late - for many citizens of Macon, Ga. And this time Santa's helpers came with hammers, paint and paint brushes, and other tools. On April 25, about 400 volunteers spent the day repairing substandard homes as part of "Christmas in April," a nationwide project for such volunteer work.

About 20 homes were repaired that day, and two of them were worked on by members of the Macon 1st and Macon 2nd wards, Macon Georgia Stake. The work crew from the Macon 1st Ward consisted of 23 people, including five volunteers who are not members of the Church.

Headed by Joseph Patton, assistant high priests group leader, the crew met at the home of an elderly woman, Minnie Hill. They spent the day doing such labor as tearing away and rebuilding the front and back porches of her home, replacing the living room ceiling, installing door frames and doors, repairing windows frames, installing a foundation skirt around the house, and replacing electrical fixtures.

Directing the work for the Macon 2nd Ward was Roger Pierce, elders quorum president, who is a construction contractor. But Brother Pierce emphasized that beyond his experience in construction, "I wanted to be involved in helping other people. This project gave me and 14 other brethren in the quorum the opportunity to give of ourselves and our time to help someone."

And help someone they did at the home of the Rev. Robert W. Williams, a Baptist minister. They replaced the ceiling on the front porch of the minister's home, installed storm windows and repaired window frames, rebuilt a handrail on the back porch and installed a smoke alarm.

The day's activities engendered an increased understanding of Mormons' belief in Christ, explained Brother Pierce.

He related that during the day the 86-year-old minister said: " `I thought I knew something about the Mormons, but you've shown me something I've never known. You are truly brothers in the Christian world.' "

This project was not easy for Brother Pierce, who is suffering from a form of leukemia. But in a conversation with Sister Val C. Wilcox, public affairs missionary, he commented: "My memory of good works is all I'll be able to take with me when I leave this earth life."

FLORENCE, NEB.

About 100 Aaronic Priesthood holders and their fathers of the Council Bluffs and Papillion wards, Papillion Nebraska Stake, spent May 2 cleaning and beautifying a city park, a main city street and a bridge in Florence, Neb., the site where Mormon pioneers established Winter Quarters in 1846.

The park, called Florence Park, was the area where the pioneers once fenced in their livestock. Near the park, which is sometimes referred to as Mormon Park, is the Mormon Pioneer Cemetery where a monument honors the 600 Latter-day Saints buried at Winter Quarters.

Elder Monte C. Nelson, director of the Winter Quarters Visitors Center in Florence, which is part of North Omaha, Neb., said the young men and their fathers cleaned and removed rocks and dirt at the park, from the street for several blocks and from the bridge. The young men then concluded the project by planting a tree at the cemetery near the monument "in commemoration of the Aaronic Priesthood."

Citizens of the community were impressed with the efforts of the young men, said Elder Nelson, who added, "Members of the North Omaha Commercial Club, which is like a chamber of commerce, passed a resolution to give a special letter of commendation to the Mormons in the community for their civic mindfulness in cleaning up the city of Florence."

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