Women are following the invitation of the Relief Society general presidency to serve during the month ahead of the 180th anniversary of the organization’s founding. And as they do so, their lives are changing.
“Doing service strengthens your love for your fellow man, and gives you the opportunity to show that,” said Shelly Olivier of the Longmont Colorado Stake. “It builds you up and strengthens you and you can bring that extra spirit and that extra strength back home.”
The invitation, which was extended on social media, was to create an account on JustServe.org, find a project in the community and complete it with someone you love. JustServe is a website and app that connects community organizations with volunteers.
In areas where JustServe is not active yet, women were invited to do a local service project and post about it using the hashtag #JustServe.
Relief Society was founded March 17, 1842, in Nauvoo, Illinois.
Many acts of service
Some wards and stakes will do service activities together in March. Others have already done so. The JustServe UK social media accounts posted about women gathering supplies for refugees in Eastern Europe. The Winston-Salem North Carolina Stake posted on Facebook about collecting school supplies to give to Catholic Charities to benefit refugee families. The Gastonia North Carolina Stake also posted on Facebook about its stake women’s conference on Feb. 19, where members collected and assembled items for refugees as well.
“It was awesome to see so many women pulling together — organizing collections … and working side by side,” wrote Jennifer Lawrence, Gastonia Stake Relief Society president, “Each one did her part.”
A group in Pocatello, Idaho, posted about volunteering at the Idaho Food Bank on Feb. 23, filling emergency food bags and sorting 1,200 pounds of food. Another post, from Wills Point, Texas, showed how the Relief Society “filled an entire gym with sewing machines” as they worked to make clothing for a charity that supports families who lost their babies. “We are thankful for all the time, talents and hard work to bless the community,” said the post.
Other women are posting individually this month about their local service. For example, Olivier went with her cousin Sara Strong to sort and stock donations for victims of December’s massive fire in Boulder County, Colorado.
“I was a little nervous, because I didn’t know exactly what to expect,” Olivier told the Church News. “They had plenty of work for us to do. We wiped down racks that we hung clothes on. They would bring out a box of donation items like shampoos and canned food and other items for beauty and health care, and we set them out like we were stocking a store. Then we went to the bedding area and folded sheets and arranged and labeled them.”
She had been thinking young women in her ward could tie blankets for the fire victims as a service activity. But she noticed the donation center already had lots of blankets, while most people really needed things like sheets and bathmats, or hypoallergenic products. It reminded her to observe needs first, then look at how to serve people best.
Olivier is planning to sign up for another shift to volunteer again at the donation center, and she hopes to take a sister-in-law or friend with her.
In Hawaii, Valerie-Mae Mānoa has been volunteering in her community every Saturday. She is also the area JustServe specialist for the islands. She is trying to spread the word to others about service projects they can do nearby or remotely.
“You can only encourage people to participate in JustServe if you are doing it yourself,” said Mānoa. “You get that spirit that the Lord wants you to get, or that the Lord wants to share with you of how it feels to serve.”
Relief Society and JustServe together
Janette Knight, the Boise Idaho Amity Stake Relief Society president, said service is a big focus for her stake.
“Anytime we can get together, it’s great,” she said. Knight explained how her stake has a yearly JustServe open house, gathering local projects and inviting the community. It held one last month, and 200 people came.
“We held it in February to help people beat their winter blues,” she said, “but then with seeing the new challenge, I’ve encouraged sisters in the stake with their activities to include a service project. If they can’t come up with something, we send them to JustServe.”
Knight said they completed 9 projects in two hours at the JustServe open house, with something for every age. Since then, she has had other stake Relief Society presidents ask her about it. She said having a working group or JustServe specialist is a key first step.
Some areas don’t know what to put on JustServe, she said, or don’t know what projects to do. But it begins with connections in the community. “You have to reach out and look at your community. We have a spreadsheet in our working group, listing our connections and who we interact with, and it spreads.”
Within a month of making the spreadsheet, Knight said 15 projects were listed on JustServe in the Boise area.
Even before the invitation from the Relief Society general presidency, but especially since then, Mānoa has been holding more training meetings for stakes in Hawaii about how to use JustServe. She and her husband, Brian Mānoa, also meet with community organizations and tell them about the website.
“There are people out there that think that we as Latter-day Saints only minister to our own people,” she said. “That kind of has given me the drive to go out and talk to community members so that they know who we are, that our scope of service is larger than just the walls of our home and the chapel.”
‘Charity Never Faileth’
Knight said as she prepares for the 180th anniversary of Relief Society, she has been reflecting on the purpose of the organization and what it means for her.
“It means relief and support for others — a way to connect and know that there are others out there on your side,” she said. “It’s not just the sisters on Sunday, it’s sisters in your area, it’s all the women. They need to know this support group and this relief is here for them.”
The Relief Society is the largest and one of the oldest women’s organizations in the world. Its motto is “Charity Never Faileth.” Moroni 7:47 reads, “Charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.”
Sister Reyna I. Aburto, second counselor in the Relief Society general presidency, wrote in February: “Relief Society sisters have enormous potential to do good in the world. Join us this month as we celebrate 180 years of Relief Society by serving in our local communities.”
And Sister Sharon Eubank, first counselor in the Relief Society general presidency, said she would serve as well: “What better way to honor its mission of extending the pure love of Jesus Christ into the world than by joining a service project in your community?”
A previous version of this article included incorrect numbers for the Boise Idaho Amity Stake. Those numbers have now been updated.