Latter-day Saint teen Kai Miner was eager to help others in his Anchorage, Alaska, community — he just wasn’t certain where to begin.
Then he discovered JustServe.org.
“It was the perfect tool to find local service projects,” said Kai, a 17-year-old senior at South Anchorage High School.
JustServe is the global Church-sponsored online initiative that connects service-driven people such as Kai with service opportunities in their own neighborhoods, schools and communities.
Such service opportunities improve the lives of people in need —- while uplifting all who offer their time and energy to care for others. They also connect people and organizations of diverse religious and social backgrounds.
New friendships and understanding is one of the priceless JustServe byproducts.
“When members engage in service outside of the Church and reach out to their own communities, the blessings will follow,” said President M. Russell Ballard, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve and a vocal JustServe supporter.
JustServe is especially well-equipped to connect volunteer service projects with local young people who have the energy and commitment to care for others.
JustServe “success stories” are rich in both variety and geography. But each project — large or small — is a vehicle of blessings for both the beneficiaries and the benefactors of volunteer service.
In Australia, for example, youth recently participated in a holiday season JustServe project dubbed the “Basket Brigade,” wrapping and delivering food baskets and supplies to those in need.
Meanwhile, several Latter-day Saint youth in Indiana helped organize and execute — and, yes, a few even offered up their own veins — for a Red Cross/JustServe blood drive that provided lifesaving blood to fellow Hoosiers.
‘Increased my faith in humanity’
For Kai Miner, the traditional service efforts at his school just weren’t offering the types of hands-on, face-to-face opportunities he had hoped for. He was anxious to get out into his community, meet people he might not otherwise connect with — and then help make Anchorage a better place.
The ongoing pandemic only sharpened his desire to serve.
“I had always enjoyed the service projects during my past Scouting and youth night activities. … So I figured I’d start my own club at the school and make it official,” he told the Church News.
Working with school officials, Kai organized the South Anchorage Service Club and began recruiting his friends and classmates. Then they began inviting their own friends.
“We got a lot more student participation after we announced one of the service projects over the school intercom,” he said.
JustServe.org immediately proved to be the ideal platform for Kai and others in the club to identify and select service projects in Anchorage.
“I liked how it focused on local projects,” he said.
The first initiative the club adopted was the “Loving Care Backpacks” drive organized by the Anchorage Bahá’í Center.
Kai and the others in the service club collected 200 pairs of gloves and other winter gear for people in the community who were homeless. The club placed clothing collection boxes at the local Church meetinghouse, the school and at local businesses. Club members also posted posters and utilized the daily school announcements before class to get to the word out.
“We got way more winter clothes than anyone anticipated,” he said with a laugh.
Kai said he also enjoyed making new friends at both his school and with folks from the Bahá’í Center, which is on the same street as Kai’s Latter-day Saint meetinghouse.
The project “definitely increased my faith in humanity, just seeing the amount of donations that we received at the school,” he added. “Some might think high school kids are self-centered, but so many people participated. … It was really fulfilling.”
More recently, the club utilized JustServe to participate in a holiday season food drive packing dozens of food boxes in his Latter-day Saint meetinghouse to be delivered to folks in need across the community.
While navigating ongoing pandemic challenges, Kai is helping the club prepare for its next JustServe project. He has his eye on a food drive for children and another project involving the St. Francis House Food Pantry.
“I don’t think I would have been able to find out about any of these projects without JustServe,” said Kai, who plans to continue his service-driven life following high school graduation. He was recently accepted into the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
Baskets of holiday cheer
Brisbane, Australia’s “Basket Brigade” is an annual campaign organized to provide food and gifts for people who need a hand — particularly children, the elderly and those who might be hungry or homeless.
It’s also a popular JustServe project suitable for people of all ages and groups of any size. In the days leading up to Christmas 2020, volunteers gather in locales across the Queensland capital, packing and distributing essential items to those in need.
Callum Winkworth, a 17-year-old priest, relishes being enlisted into the brigade each year and serving people from his community.
“My family and I have done it twice now and have enjoyed it both times,” he wrote. “I enjoy unloading and loading vehicles — however the rest of my family enjoys wrapping presents. So in the end, there is something to do for everyone.
“It’s a morning or afternoon of meeting new people while brightening Christmas for people and families in need.”
Offering a life-sustaining resource
As the JustServe specialist in the Indianapolis Indiana North Stake, Charlotte Jessop has witnessed the “do good” enthusiasm and capacity of Latter-day Saint youth.
When the stake opted to partner with the American Red Cross for a two-day blood drive last December, invitations were extended to the young women and young men from several wards to join the effort.
That call to serve was accepted, embraced and magnified.
“We were originally planning the blood drive to last one day,” said Jessop, “but when that first day filled up so quickly, we pushed for a second day.”
Important duties such as social media promotion, monitoring donor registrations, operating the volunteer group chat and transforming the stake center into a temporary blood drive center were largely delegated to the youth. One young woman even helped design JustServe ID stickers while another helped set up a nativity display to bring the Christmas spirit to the event.
During the blood drive, each youth volunteer was teamed with an adult volunteer. Masks and safety protocols were also observed throughout the event.
Jessop said the youth were initially nervous about doing something they had never done before. But they soon gained confidence and “really put their best foot forward.”
No pressure was placed on the youth to donate blood. “But some decided they wanted to give,” she added.
Jessop said she and other adults soon developed a closeness with their young partners. All were edified.
“It was nice to be involved in something bigger than ourselves,” she said. “Our youth are so capable, and they want to do something of significance. When we talked to them about the importance of the blood drive and how people would be helped, they felt like this was something they could do at a time when people sometimes feel like there’s not a lot they can do.”
One young Latter-day Saints JustServe volunteer said she cherished being a part of a collective effort to bless others at a moment of desperate need.
“We changed lives for the good,” she said, “in our own backyard.”