Latter-day Saints in Hemet, California, honored for service to the community

Members work to ‘make Hemet heaven again’ with JustServe projects and then #LightTheWorld in town Christmas parade

A substantial day of service in September around Hemet, California, has created a farther-reaching impact than organizers first imagined.

Use of is increasing. The relationship between The Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints and city leaders has strengthened. And friendships with other faiths are growing.

And it led to a wonderful community response to the Hemet California Stake’s Christmas parade and live Nativity last Saturday, where 1,000 people attended.

The Hemet day of service

Many years ago, the town of Hemet used to have the slogan, “Hemet is heaven.” One of the Hemet stake’s goals for the year was to “make Hemet heaven again,” explained Jon Ranes, the stake communication director and member of the stake high council.

As stake leaders talked about service projects and cleanup efforts for the area, they felt strongly they should involve the community and other faiths. Earlier this year, Ranes was named the president of the Hemet San Jacinto Interfaith Council and the stake JustServe specialist was named the secretary. 

Through the interfaith council and JustServe — a website and app where volunteers can find service opportunities — a day of service was planned and successfully carried out on Sept. 24.

A volunteer operates a tractor while cleaning up a property in Anza, in the San Jacinto Valley, California, during a day of service on Sept. 24, 2022. | President John Evans, Hemet California Stake

Around 350 volunteers took part, including members of about a dozen churches, youth from local high schools and other community members. They did yard work for older residents, filled sandbags for areas affected by the Fairview fire, cleaned up landscaping for local churches and assembled furniture in a home for a refugee family. 

Volunteers removed more than eight tons of trash from about 20 sites recommended by the interfaith council, Ranes said. They also worked on the hillsides to prevent mudslides in the heavy rains. 

“It was a tremendous effort. A lot of good positive experiences came from it,” he said.

Recognition from the city and county

Ranes drove the mayor of Hemet around with him to view the work and the progress that day. While the mayor saw the interfaith effort, he also recognized that the majority of the volunteers were members of the Church and mentioned that he thought the Church was the most active service organization in the valley.

Later, the interfaith council and the Church were recognized at a city council meeting and at a state of the city meeting and honored for their work. 

Volunteers hold a welcome sign for a refugee family after helping furnish their new home in San Jacinto Valley, California, as part of a day of service on Sept. 24, 2022. | President John Evans, Hemet California Stake

“A lot of good things have come from it, we built a lot of rapport in the community,” Ranes said. “People have good feelings about the Church right now.”

The city and county plan to do more service next year, and the interfaith council would like to have a cleanup day twice a year if possible. 

The growth of JustServe in Hemet

Ranes said since the day of service, the JustServe website has become a bigger tool for Hemet. 

“The city has started posting activities that we have going on there. They asked us to plug it when we went to the city council meeting a couple weeks ago,” he said. “We talked about that for a moment and let people know it was there. We have a lot of organizations reaching out to us now about it.”

Hundreds of volunteers gather for lunch hosted by the Morning Kiwanis Club and the Exchange Club of Hemet, California, during a day of service on Sept. 24, 2022. | Jon Ranes

Ranes said the stake president had a great vision and goal to “make Hemet heaven again.” When people serve something, they learn to love it — and service makes things become sacred. Ranes said city leaders are thankful for that goal and recognize how it has improved their community.

“The service aspect has become instrumental in us achieving our stake objectives, and as a result, we’ve been really blessed,” Ranes said.

The Hemet stake Christmas activity

The strong relationship between the Church and city leaders led to a Christmastime invitation for the Hemet stake.

Last Saturday, Dec. 3, the stake presented a Christmas parade with two floats and a live Nativity in the park which included six vignettes from the scriptures. They also handed out cookies and hot chocolate. Hundreds of members of the stake volunteered and 1,000 people from the community attended.

JustServe volunteers and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints clean up a site in Hemet, California, as part of a large-scale day of service on Sept. 24, 2022. | Jon Ranes

The event became a way for the Church members in Hemet to participate in the #LightTheWorld campaign in December as well.

“All that has come because of the service aspect that the city leadership has seen our members out there with our sleeves rolled up and wanting nothing in return other than simply to ‘make Hemet heaven,’” Ranes said.

“Good things are happening all from service.”

Members of the Hemet California Stake ride on a float in a Christmas parade in Hemet, California, on Dec. 3, 2022. | Tyler Minor
Members of the Hemet California Stake participate in a scene from a live Nativity in Hemet, California, Dec. 3, 2022. | Jon Ranes
Missionaries from the California Riverside Mission take a picture before the Christmas activities hosted by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Hemet, California, on Dec. 3, 2022. | Elder Parker Oborn
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