MESA, Ariz. Recently, youth from the Mesa Arizona Central Stake learned this lasting lesson about service you receive more than you give.
Nearly 300 youth, ages 14-18, spent Saturday morning, April 8, at Cooley Park in Mesa putting on a carnival for homeless children. More important, they shared their time and friendship with children who possessed so little.
Those who helped with the service project left with a love for the children and with increased gratitude for their own blessings.
"It really got to me," said Neils Wright, 15, of the Elmwood Ward. Neils served as a mentor to 10-year-old Darrell, spending the morning by his side in a one-on-one experience. "He didn't have anything, but he was so happy," said Neils, adding that his own dad had recently been out of work for nearly seven months. "It just made me realize that I can be happy, too."
One of seven children in his family, Niels said he better understands now that happiness is found in attitude and appreciation of blessings rather than in possessions and the size of a home. "I loved this experience," he said.
Tasha Wood, 15, of the Lazona Ward also learned from her new friend, 10-year-old Angelica. "She was so shy and quiet at first," said Tasha, "but then I got her to go play some games and play with some other kids. Then she opened up."
Tasha explained that what really touched her was when Angelica won some toys in the carnival games and gave them to Tasha as a reminder of the day they spent together.
"I don't want you to forget me," she told Tasha.
"I knew she didn't have a lot of toys and these would have been something new for her to play with, but instead she wanted me to have them. That really touched me," Tasha said.
Cecelia Flint of the Elmwood Ward, who helped organize the event, said that many of the children do not have parents and all live in shelters or on the streets. She said one girl was going to have a balloon-maker twist a balloon for her into the shape of her choice. When asked, "What do you want me to make?" Her reply was, "A house."
Stake President Dale Andersen said many special things happened during the event.
"Our youth had an opportunity to love some kids who need to be loved."
Even at the beginning of the activity, he added, it was evident those giving the service would get a lot more out of it than those getting the service.
The event was coordinated through the PAPPAS School in Phoenix, which helps to give an education to and feeds more than 800 homeless children. The Wednesday before the service project, school officials met with the youth from the stake to explain the school and the situations from which the children come.
The youth helped to plan the carnival, which included games, booths, face-painting, and an area where they put on plays. The children could also have their picture taken with their mentors and they were given their own T-shirt to paint on. Everyone ate breakfast and lunch. Most of the food and items were donated by local businesses.
The day after the carnival, there was a special fireside in which the youth were able to express their feelings about the experience and share their testimonies.