A JustServe project last September not only helped cleanup a cemetery in central Texas, it has led to new opportunities for interfaith service and relationships.
More than 55 people from Manor, Texas, gathered on Sept. 10, 2022, for a 9/11 National Day of Service and Remembrance event at Parks Springs Cemetery.
The volunteers included members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and members of other faiths, pastors, reverends, missionaries and Girl Scouts.
The historical Black cemetery has been around since 1893, but it had been long forgotten. In 2020, a small group of local residents committed to clean up the overgrown grounds of the cemetery. Recently they discovered more grave markers and names that they are now trying to identify and record.
As people learned about these efforts, they wanted to also help and signed up on JustServe for the cleanup project last September. JustServe is a website and app where organizations can list their volunteer needs and where people can find service opportunities near them.
Linda White, the manager of the cemetery and a member of Gildon Creek 3rd Missionary Baptist Church, said about the day of service, “It was very lovely, and we had a lot of people. We just enjoyed eating and cleaning and cutting trees and raking. We just thank everybody for coming out. Thank God for this day too.”
Tiffany Thorman has been volunteering regularly at the cemetery.
“It was beautiful to see so many people come together and dedicate themselves to a united cause, and it was beautiful to be surprised by the folks that we saw,” she said. “Quite a few new faces. Very dedicated folks .. and long hours put into [the day].”
Lance King, a member of Elgin Ward in the Austin Texas Stake, said, “[Former U.S.] President John F. Kennedy said, ‘Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.‘ The Parks Spring Cemetery provides the perfect opportunity for our community to show our gratitude to those who have come before us.”
New JustServe efforts for the cemetery
Since that day, more projects have been listed on JustServe to help the cemetery, and volunteers have been meeting monthly. On March 11, King joined several members of the community and full-time missionaries of the Church to help again with cemetery cleanup.
“I have really enjoyed meeting other members of the community and doing the work. Seeing the progress each visit is very satisfying,” King said.
Elder Ethan Densley, a full-time missionary in the Texas Austin Mission, was there with other missionaries.
“I love serving, and I think it’s one of the most selfless things I can do,” he said. “Because it makes me feel so good knowing I helped someone out, and being able to help out at the cemetery was incredible to help out our friends who are no longer here.”
Meanwhile, a Boy Scout troop in the Round Rock area found a way on JustServe to help the cemetery as well. They worked with a monuments company to make a new sign with the name of the cemetery on it. In April, they drove about 30-45 minutes to the cemetery to donate and install the sign.
JustServe as a tool for helping others
Elder Dakota Olson and Elder Nathan Palmer, full-time missionaries in the Texas Austin Mission, have volunteered at the cemetery and in other places throughout the community.
“We love working with JustServe because it’s really expanded the number of people we can reach out to and help,” Elder Palmer said. “And we met so many amazing people.”
Added Elder Olson: “It has allowed us to have a new variety of ways to help serve the community that we work in.”
Jeff Lee is a leader at the cemetery and grateful for all the volunteers who showed up in September and continue to look for ways to help.
“JustServe has been an incredible and valuable asset to our work out here in Parks Springs Cemetery,” Lee said. “We value their contribution, and the people have come out to help us. We look forward to working with them in the future because they’ve been very, very big help and we couldn’t have done it without them.”