California high school JustServe club strives to draw community closer

Teenage siblings show others how service connects people

Teenage siblings Michael and Elizabeth Christensen of the San Dieguito Ward, Del Mar California Stake, had been feeling for some time that their community didn’t seem as close as it was before the COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns. 

“We know that service heals and brings people together and we know that by working together as a community on shared projects, we can become a tighter close-knit community through service,” Michael said.

“We want our community to come together in a shared cause, working together in service.”

Michael is the president of the JustServe club at La Costa Canyon High School, which draws students from the cities of Encinitas and Carlsbad, California. JustServe is a website and app where volunteers can find service projects around them. 

Michael, 18, and Elizabeth, 14, also started a nonprofit organization called Striving to Serve to help teach youth how to identify needs, organize service projects and help projects be successful. They are mentoring younger students at a middle school in their city in how to serve and use JustServe.

“We are kids who are organizing other kids to do service in our community and trying to make a positive change in the world one service project at a time,” Michael said.

In early October 2023, the siblings planned a service project to collect stuffed animals to benefit children in crisis situations. Police officers, sheriff’s deputies and firefighters carry such toys in their vehicles to comfort children in emergencies. Ronald McDonald House and Toys for Tots also have a need for new toys.

Elizabeth and Michael Christensen sit among hundreds of donated stuffed animals.
Elizabeth and Michael Christensen show some of the hundreds of stuffed animals collected for a JustServe project around Encinitas and Carlsbad, California, in October 2023. | Provided by Michael Christensen

The Christensens invited local schools, law enforcement, first responders and businesses to take part. Over several weeks, they organized donation drives at five locations.

“When we first started reaching out to organizations, people said ‘no’ until we started showing up in person,” Michael said. “We spend most days running around, meeting with people after school, creating partnerships with local schools and businesses throughout Carlsbad and Encinitas.” 

School administrators and students jumped on board, while first responders were eager to help as well. Michael said this allowed the community to see the schools and police and sheriff’s departments working together and setting an example that others could follow.

By the end of the month, the project gathered more than 500 stuffed animals.

The club has done several other projects from JustServe including food drives, beach clean ups, visiting with veterans, and writing letters and thank you cards to active duty military, veterans and healthcare workers — which Michael’s mother, Wendy Christensen, said were well received and was poignant to see.

“I never saw service as its own language, but it honestly is. It is Christ speaking to people’s hearts, it is Heavenly Father speaking to us,” Christensen said. “I feel like whenever you do an act of kindness to someone who wasn’t expecting it … it changes them. You can see it in their face, you can see it in their tears and hear it in their voice. It has been incredible to see those experiences, especially with the veterans.”

The high school JustServe volunteers also have shown kindness and gratitude to their fellow students and their teachers by writing notes in chalk along the school’s sidewalk and pavement.

In December 2023, Michael was honored by the Encinitas Chamber of Commerce as a Rising Star award recipient. This program is a monthly breakfast that honors seniors from area high schools who show a passion for community leadership and other traits.

Michael is now working with teachers and his school district superintendent on introducing school service-based curriculum at an upcoming school board meeting, which he feels will help youth find new purpose and look outward to serve in their communities.

He and Elizabeth hope more youth use JustServe, start or join a high school JustServe club and become aware of the power they have in the community.

“It has made me very happy being able to take the skills I’ve developed over my life and to now help others bring about positive changes in the world,” Michael said.

Michael and Elizabeth Christensen wear JustServe t-shirts as they show encouraging chalk messages written at La Costa Canyon High School.
Michael and Elizabeth Christensen show some of the encouraging chalk messages written at La Costa Canyon High School in Carlsbad, California, Oct. 12, 2023. | Provided by Michael Christensen
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