Just as the Arkell family arrived at the Orem City Cemetery in Orem, Utah, gray clouds rolled in and the rain started falling.
Undaunted, the children leaned into the adventure — cutting holes into orange trash bags to put over their clothes to keep dry.
Ben Arkell pointed to his son Miles, 14. “This is our point man,” he said to the cemetery staff, and Miles stepped forward to learn what needed to be done.
Every other month, the Arkell children take turns picking a service project from JustServe.org, which is a website and app now available in 14 countries where volunteers can find local service opportunities.
In the month of May, it was Miles’ turn to pick and lead a project. The Orem cemetery needed help beautifying the veterans memorial section ahead of its annual Memorial Day program. The Arkell family — from the Lehi 3rd Ward in the Lehi Utah West Stake — has served at different cemeteries before, and Miles thought this was a good opportunity to serve again.
“It’s fun and helpful at the same time,” Miles said. “It’s the best of both worlds.”
As the family spread new mulch around flower beds, 2-year-old Callie wanted to hold her own rake. Her older sister Kamri, 16, helped Callie while she spoke about why she loves to do service.
“It’s like the gift that keeps on giving. You do it once, and you are excited to do it the next time,” Kamri said.
The cemetery cleanup also included mom, Gina Arkell, and daughters Asia, 11, and Jessa, 9. The oldest, Sara, who recently returned from a mission, was attending a young single adult activity the night of the cemetery project. The other sibling, Evan, is currently serving a mission in Argentina.
Gina Arkell said having her children serve regularly teaches them valuable life lessons. And being in charge builds confidence and teaches leadership.
“Ben and I like to have them do this so they are thinking outside themselves,” she said. “Sometimes it is something hard — like tonight, out in the rain. Other times you are talking to people you don’t know and feeling in an uncomfortable position.”
At the same time, Ben Arkell said service helps teach their family to become more like Jesus Christ.
He pointed out that one of the three pillars of The Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints’ Children and Youth Program is service and activities — and the purpose of the program is to “Strengthen the rising generation’s faith in Jesus Christ, and help children, youth, and their families progress along the covenant path as they meet life’s challenges.”
He said sometimes his older children would come back from a weekly Church activity where they were playing basketball again, but he wished they were doing more service projects.
“Then I thought, ‘Ben, you are the dad. As a family, you need to serve more together. It is not just the Church’s responsibility,’” he said. “So this is more intentional. We are more intentional about it.”
The day before the cemetery service project, Jessa spoke in Primary about the Children and Youth program and service. One of the Primary teachers told Gina Arkell afterward that Jessa had inspired her to get on the JustServe app and look for service projects to do, too.
A tradition of service for Hawaii family
For Christmas three years ago, James and Lluvia Martineau of the Aliamanu Ward, Honolulu Hawaii West Stake, decided to forgo large gifts and give to others instead of receiving.
“We wanted to find somewhere we could serve as a gift to Christ on Christmas Day,” said James Martineau.
The military family had been involved in service with their children in all the places they have lived in the past. They looked on JustServe for projects near them in Honolulu and found Christ United Methodist Church needed help with serving meals on Christmas.
They were put to work preparing snack bags and assembling meals to serve to those who were homeless. But James Martineau also noticed that the kitchen floor was rather sticky — especially under the appliances. So he grabbed a scrubber.
“We started cleaning the floors, and they were so excited because they hadn’t had that floor really deep cleaned for a while,” he said. “It took a lot longer than we expected, but we ended up cleaning the whole kitchen.”
The church’s staff was thrilled and invited the family back. Now the Martineaus return every year at Christmas to serve meals and deep clean the kitchen floor.
They have also invited another family to come with them. “It’s just becoming a tradition between our two families,” James Martineau said.
The Martineaus have three children — a son, 20, who just returned from a mission, and daughters who are 18 and 16. Lluvia Martineau said they took pride in the work they did at the church that first Christmas three years ago and in returning since then.
“I don’t think they were really excited about getting up early on a vacation day, but after seeing the happiness that the service produced for other people, they felt accomplished and happy, like ‘I did this, I helped,’” she said.
James Martineau said it can be hard to get everyone together as their children grow and become busy with school, work and friends.
“When we go serve, it’s one of the days I look forward to, because it’s a day when everyone is happy and everyone is all together in a common cause,” he said. “It’s a gem we get to experience together as a family, and it’s hard to come by.”
The family takes part in other service projects with the youth and elders quorum in their ward. They remember with fondness a JustServe project they did building beds in Texas, before moving to Hawaii. And their son used JustServe to find an Eagle Scout project, for which he ran a food drive in his community.
Lluvia Martineau said their family believes service — even if it takes hard work — can be joyful.
“My husband and I find more happiness in life when we serve others,” she said. “If I want blessings, I need to serve.”
Looking for someone to serve daily
Josh Tibbitts, 16, said when he was little and his father dropped him off for school, his dad told him, “Look for someone to serve today,” or, “Look for someone who needs a friend.”
This advice — said every single day for years — truly impacted Joshua. Now his dad texts him the same advice daily: “Look for a friend to serve today.”
“It’s just really changed my mindset,” Josh said. “As I’m walking through the halls and I see someone who’s just alone or kind of looking down, then [I] ... get the confidence to say hi to them, or maybe at lunch, sit with someone who I’m not really friends with.”
The Tibbitts from the Eagleridge Ward in the North Salt Lake Utah Parkway Stake not only look to serve those around them every day, they also serve regularly together as a family, speaking about it on a recent Church News podcast episode.
Wendy Tibbitts said a neighbor introduced JustServe to them. “I went on [the app] and have always been looking for projects for our family. And even when we travel, I’ll look in that location to see if there’s something our family could do,” she said.
The family looks for different opportunities for the children where their interests or talents lie.
For example, Josh volunteers with TOP Soccer because he loves soccer. The program pairs volunteers with children with special needs to help them find a love and passion for soccer.
“The first time I went, like, they’re all looking at me, like, ‘Who is he?’” Josh said. “I made an effort to learn all their names. They have their names on the back of their [jerseys] and it’s just really cute. And by the end, like, they were some of my best friends.”
Tibbittses said their older daughter would play the piano and sing at a care center every week and loved it. Their family called the same care center last Christmas season to see if they could sing carols to the residents.
“We went a few days before Christmas and walked from room to room and sang to them, and we have children that play musical instruments that played as well. It was a wonderful experience,” she said.
She said her son-in-law told her that the experience was his favorite Christmas activity of the whole season. They felt love for each other as a family and for those they were serving.
“God has given us wonderful blessings in our lives, and we can show Him our gratitude when we serve,” she said.
Another meaningful service project came a few years ago when the family volunteered at Casa de Dios, which is a church in Bountiful, Utah. The church had listed its needs on JustServe for volunteers to come and help pass out blankets, food, clothing, and shoes to families in need.
“All my kids were out there to welcome these families and would find out the children’s sizes and run to the bins and choose coats or clothes and hold them up for the kids and help them choose, and we really love doing that,” Tibbitts said.
Josh said serving with his siblings allows him to spend more time with them.
“I’ve had some of the best conversations with my older siblings as I’m standing in line with them, doing some sort of activity. It really has been meaningful for me,” he said.
Wendy Tibbitts noticed that her children are happier and more adjusted when they are involved in service. They have more motivation in their lives and want to develop their talents to bless others. And they make valuable and meaningful relationships with people as they serve.
“I really want my children to love people of all backgrounds, of all nationalities, of all ages. And when they are serving, they see the value in every individual child of God,” she said. “And that is my wish as a mother, that they go throughout their lives loving everyone and bringing joy wherever they go.”
Josh said the best example of service is Jesus Christ.
“We’re all trying to become more like Christ. I can see how much it means to someone as an individual. [It] just means so much more,” he said.