Episode 129: General conference special hosted by Mary Richards — How JustServe is blessing the world, one project at a time
After writing about JustServe as a Church News reporter, Mary Richards interviews those who connect with service opportunities on the online platform
Episode 129: General conference special hosted by Mary Richards — How JustServe is blessing the world, one project at a time
After writing about JustServe as a Church News reporter, Mary Richards interviews those who connect with service opportunities on the online platform
For more than a year, Church News staff writer Mary Richards has written about JustServe.org, a free online platform that connects volunteers with service opportunities in their communities.
In this general conference special edition of the Church News podcast, produced in connection with KSLNews Radio, Mary Richards talks with numerous guests about JustServe: Isabelle Harris, a high school senior from Heber, Utah, who started a JustServe Club at her school; Doraleen Taulanga, who uses JustServe in her calling with young adults in her Samoan-speaking ward in Woods Cross, Utah; Wendy Tibbitts and her son, Joshua Tibbitts, who use JustServe to find service opportunities as a family; and Amy Dott Harmer, executive director at the Utah Refugee Connection, who uses JustServe to connect businesses and individuals looking to serve the refugee community.
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Amy Dott Harmer: There are so many beautiful opportunities out there, so I don’t think you should ever discount the skills, time, resources you have, and figure out a way to make a difference with what you have, whether it’s time, whether it’s resources, whether it’s [being] a magician. Whatever it is, find a way to get engaged, and JustServe is a beautiful resource for people that want to get engaged in the community.
Sarah Jane Weaver: I’m Sarah Jane Weaver, editor of the Church News. Welcome to the Church News podcast. We are taking you on a journey of connection as we discuss news and events of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints connects people across the globe to service opportunities with an inspired initiative called JustServe. JustServe is a platform or a tool — an exchange — that helps community organizations connect with volunteers and helps anyone who wants to serve connect with opportunities. In this general conference special edition of the Church News podcast, produced in connection with KSL News Radio, guest host Church News reporter Mary Richards, along with JustServe administrators and volunteers, share their experience and the influence of JustServe.
Mary Richards: By 2022, JustServe facilitated almost 131,000 volunteer projects around the world — writing letters, making blankets, collecting clothing, assembling hygiene kits, delivering food, planting gardens, cleaning up neighborhoods. These service efforts began one by one and snowballed into great blessings. Heath Bradley, the global manager of JustServe, spoke on the Church News podcast about what JustServe is and how it works.
Heath Bradley: So JustServe is a platform, a tool and exchange, that essentially takes, on one hand, organizations in the community that need help. So we have organizations that run the spectrum from food pantries, soup kitchens, to organizations that need letters written to veterans and have a service need, and then we connect volunteers. And so if you want to volunteer, [if] you want to find something that would bring purpose and meaning, something extra that you can do this holiday season or during the year, something to teach your family how to build this habit of service, you go onto JustServe, onto the website or an app, you register, and then you can actually search out what is important to you. I think that’s really important to know, that you can customize. We have filters built in. Everyone kind of serves for a different reason, and that’s okay. What we’re planning is, you know, some people say, you know, “If I’m going to serve, I want to have a personal touch on an organization.” It’s maybe not about the end user, but [about] helping the organization. While others maybe want to serve for inclusion, to make new friends, or some have other motives to serve. [They say], “Hey, I’ll serve, but I want it to be a good experience.” You know, all the organizations are at different levels, different sizes. You have some larger organizations like The Salvation Army, the Red Cross, who are really succinct in their experiences, and then there [are] some smaller organizations. And so there’s something there for everyone. It’s sorted by zip code, you can search it by, “I’m looking for a project within one mile of me, within five miles, within 20 miles. I don’t care if I [have] to drive 25 miles, I want the right experience.” And so it’s been something that’s just been improved time and time again, and so we’re just really excited about providing those opportunities to serve.
Mary Richards: More than 69,000 new users registered to use JustServe in 2022. And as we’re talking about JustServe, it’s so crucial to talk about the volunteers. That really is what makes JustServe possible, those volunteers who go to JustServe.org or they use the JustServe app to find these connections, to find these projects, to find these opportunities to serve. And with me here right now I have two people who have been doing just that. I’m so glad to be joined right now by Isabelle Harris. Now Isabelle is a high school senior from Heber, Utah, and she knows all about using JustServe, as she’s tried to be an example in her own community. And also with me is Doraleen Taulanga from Woods Cross, and she and her husband serve with the young adults in their church and the Samoan-speaking ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also using JustServe in their unique ways there as well. Thank you for being here and sharing these experiences with our listeners. [I’ll] first say welcome.
Isabelle Harris: Thank you.
Doraleen Taulanga: Thank you so much.
Mary Richards: Isabelle, tell me about what it’s like to serve. You’re 17. As a teenager, what’s it like to serve? Is it popular to go say, “I’m going to do a service project,” or what does it mean for you to then say, “I’m going to go do a service project. I’m serving today, I found something on JustServe”?
Isabelle Harris: Yeah, as a teenager, I don’t think it’s common or popular to spend your time serving. But that’s exactly why I started the JustServe club at my high school. I found it so easy to use the JustServe website and the JustServe app, and I wanted to bring that opportunity to other students at my high school. And I know how busy everyone is, and JustServe just makes it so easy to find something that fits into your schedule, fits your talents, and I just really wanted my peers to be able to have that opportunity also.
Mary Richards: How do you feel when you are serving?
Isabelle Harris: I love to serve because, as a dancer and a student, it’s very self- centered. You’re always looking to improve yourself, and I’m sure other students feel that way in school and their respective sports or musical instruments or anything they are involved in. And it’s so refreshing to turn outside of yourself and really look to see the needs in your community and be able to affect people in a positive way.
Mary Richards: That is so interesting, because we just had this research published in [a Church News] article on how service helps teenagers. There’s this protective factor it gives. When you’re serving others, you’re feeling maybe a little bit outside of yourself, maybe? Or is it maybe like a boost of good feelings? Those kinds of things?
Isabelle Harris: Yes, you can feel that energy. When all of us are together, serving everyone is so joyful. Everyone just loves it. And it’s an incredible experience every time.
Mary Richards: Yeah. Because I feel like it’s emphasized in many schools, that service is a crucial part of your education, of college applications, job applications. And so maybe there’s some service requirements anyway, how easy it is, is it to find those service opportunities through just serve.
Isabelle Harris: JustServe makes it incredibly easy. In your area, there are millions of projects that can be done, and it lines it up for you, tells you who to contact, and it’s just been so easy to be able to organize these service projects for all of us at my high school.
Mary Richards: Yeah, you’re not having to come up with these ideas out of thin air.
Isabelle Harris: Exactly.
Mary Richards: Yeah. And has it been difficult getting other kids involved in that?
Isabelle Harris: It has not. We have an event at my high school called Club Rush where each club can promote their own club and students can sign up for the ones they’re interested in. And in that first day, we had 175 students sign up, which was just incredible. And since then, we’ve had other students joining. We have a total of 225 students currently in my club.
Mary Richards: That’s fantastic. What kind of projects have you been doing?
Isabelle Harris: We’ve been doing several projects. Recently, we were able to work with a couple other organizations at my high school and we put on a formal for the local senior living center, and we were able to dance with the elderly there and talk and get to know them, and that was an incredible experience. Most recently, we were able to cut and tie fleece blankets for local children in foster care, and we had many people come out to that one, and I’m so excited to be able to deliver those blankets.
Mary Richards: When you were doing those things with your peers, with other teenagers, what kind of impact do you feel that made?
Isabelle Harris: The impact has been incredible. Being able to see the connection between students that don’t normally know each other just come together and be able to help the community, local families that really need it — it’s just been incredible to see that.
Mary Richards: Yeah. And we should bring Doraleen into this as well, because these are kind of the ages you’ve been working with, too, in your church groups, with the youth first and now with young adults. As you hear Isabelle talk about the impact and the connections she’s made and [about] serving, what are those kinds of things that you see happening as a leader?
Doraleen Taulanga: Yeah, Isabelle is amazing. I think there [are] a lot of similarities that... we’ve seen, as leaders just trying to create some spaces where younger folks, younger adults, can kind of step outside of their comfort zone or just find a way to like get some of that joy which comes from serving other people and not really thinking about the things that you might lack or whatever it might be. So, you know, I think that is one of our responsibilities, is to kind of guide them to see that these talents or gifts you may not see, not as well Isabelle — she very clearly sees this in herself with leadership, but there are some individuals who... can’t see that so easily. And so we try to help them in some way to shine that in the service that they provide.
Mary Richards: You see some changes in them, too, as you serve together?
Doraleen Taulanga: For sure. Yeah, absolutely. I think and, you know, I can only speak, you know, being somebody who’s Samoan, but in the Polynesian culture, it’s very, very... important to like, create community, build community, and so service is kind of foundational to some of the things that we do in trying to gather people around and get them excited about serving somebody else. And so finding that this is kind of something that’s innate or what we’ve seen within our own families, we just think that it just makes sense for us to bring them along and help them in these ways.
Mary Richards: Yeah, I love how you brought up that culture and connection within community. JustServe has grown to include so many more countries around the world. And we’re talking here about its impact in Utah, but I’ve been writing stories in the Church News about some of the service projects in New Zealand and some of these places in Europe, and how it really is bridging gaps between different community members as well, and forging friendships. And you see friendships probably grow as well, too, in your group as you serve together?
Doraleen Taulanga: Yeah, definitely. So one of the experiences that we’ve had with the JustServe project... was during the Christmas time, probably last year. There was another denomination of Christians, but [they] spoke Spanish. And since I do speak Spanish as well, we were able to go in assist. And it was so cool, because in being able to go there, [into] a community of people just trying to serve each other, we were able to communicate and share with them where we live, and [tell them] that we don’t live very far away. And I thought that was really great for bridging, like, “Hey, if I see you at the store, you know, let’s say ‘hello.’” I mean, I think hopefully it integrates into the communities that we really are people and we just help each other the way that we can.
Mary Richards: Yeah. And I bet you two, both, have seen this experience, that JustServe projects don’t have to be something where they’re having to spend a lot of their own money if they don’t have that, or donate a lot. That might be hard. So much more can be done with just donating their time and their talents, right? Do you see that happening, where you come up and say, “Let’s serve together, we found a project where they might need our labor for a few hours,” and that’s something anybody can give?
Doraleen Taulanga: Absolutely. One of the focuses that we’ve had is really trying to help the young adults to really find that confidence in themselves. And I think if they can do some really small things, and time is such an important way, right? Like, they may have like an hour or two hours, to be able to say, “Hey, let’s go out. Let’s do this thing.” And really, once they’ve completed it, and they were able to rub shoulders with others, there is a confidence that comes from service.
Mary Richards: [Do] you see that too, Isabelle? Confidence?
Isabelle Harris: Yes, definitely, especially in teenagers. Everyone’s trying to build up their self-esteem, and I find that service really helps build their confidence. I don’t want it to seem intimidating at all. It’s been super easy and super fun, so enjoyable, and I really want others to be able to have those experiences also.
Mary Richards: Yeah, you’re catching that joy and that vision, and you say, “Hey everybody, come on in, this is great.”
Isabelle Harris: Exactly.
Mary Richards: Same with the vision for young adults, that it really does — the studies [show], I guess, Doraleen, that there really is a protective factor against depression and anxiety and worry when you’re able to give of yourself in this way of serving.
Doraleen Taulanga: Yeah, I mean, sometimes everything with mental health, it can make you feel very vulnerable. You don’t know what to do, how to assist family members. But I do believe that being able to gather together people with different thoughts and from different backgrounds, to be able to meet each other and know that they’re not alone in the things that they’re going through, and creating friendships and relationships, I think that does allow them to think outside and maybe hopefully receive some type of healing of sorts. You know, a lot of the young adults that we work with, what I’ve found is that some of those young adults are a little bit more shy. They’re not as outgoing in, like, social settings. I have seen that, you know, if I send something out and say, ‘“Hey,” for example, “this Saturday, we’re helping with the Feed Utah [food drive], and trying to get food into a diesel for the Utah Food Bank. They’re the very first to say, “Hey, we’ll come help.” So I think that in itself is kind of a great opportunity for them to, like, kind of step out of their comfort zone.
Mary Richards: Yeah. And you’re nodding, Isabelle. You see, sometimes, teenagers being like, “I can do that. I can help. I can serve in that way.”
Isabelle Harris: Yeah, exactly. And that was kind of my goal in starting this club at my high school. I know everyone’s so busy and service is intimidating, but just being able to present the opportunity with activities that they are comfortable participating in... that builds their confidence right away so that they’re trying other activities that they might feel a little bit intimidated by at first, but it ends up being just a good experience for everyone.
Mary Richards: As we’ve been talking about JustServe this hour, we’ve been talking about some of the blessings in serving for teenagers and for young adults and serving in schools and JustServe clubs and all those amazing things. Let’s talk about serving together in families. With me now are some members of a family that serve together. We have the Tibbitts from North Salt Lake. Wendy is here. Thanks for coming, Wendy.
Wendy Tibbitts: You’re welcome. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Mary Richards: And her son, Josh. He’s 16 and we’re so thankful you’re here, Josh.
Josh Tibbitts: Thank you.
Mary Richards: So tell me a little bit about service in your family and how you use JustServe.
Wendy Tibbitts: Well, we had a neighbor introduce the JustServe app to us. She worked for the Bountiful Food Pantry. And so 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. So a few years ago, at Christmas time, we volunteered at Casa de Dios, which is “house of God,” so [it’s] another church. So we found it on the JustServe app, and they needed volunteers to come and help pass out blankets, food, clothing, shoes to families in need. And it was during the pandemic, so it was in a drive-through line. And so 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. So then, every Christmas, we look again, and this year, I was kind of late in looking and every project was full. So it inspired me to think of somewhere in the community that we could just help as a family. So I called the Life Care Center and asked if our family could come carol to the residents. And so we went a few days before Christmas and walked room to room and sang to them, and we have children that play musical instruments that played as well. It was a wonderful experience. What could you add to that, Josh?
Mary Richards: Yeah, the Tippetts family band? Is this what we were hearing here?
Josh Tibbitts: Yes, it was pretty fun. I just say [that] serving with my family is definitely very bonding, because I’ve been lucky enough to have parents who have been great examples to me. And ever since I was little, whenever my dad would drop me off for school, he’d say, “Look for someone to serve today” or “Look for the kid who needs a friend.” And I didn’t realize how much that impacted me, because he said it every single day for years. And even now, when I’ll leave [for] school before he’s awake, or I have like an early morning thing, I’ll get a text saying, “Look for a friend to serve today.” And it’s just really changed my mindset. 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. And just [having] good examples in your life are super important, and I think the best example of service is Christ. And 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.
Mary Richards: Yeah, those two great commandments, right? Love God and love thy neighbor. And that’s what you’re doing, and I love that text from your dad every day because that’s giving me an idea for my own children, my own teens. If I can’t say it to them, I can text them that, ‘Hey, don’t forget to serve somebody today.” That’s beautiful.
Josh Tibbitts: Yeah.
Mary Richards: Talk about some of these projects you’ve done with your family. You were talking about how it really has impacted you personally. You feel closer as a family as you serve with your siblings and your parents?
Josh Tibbitts: Yeah, definitely. Especially like — it just means more time to spend with them. Because at home, we try to hang out as much as we can, but in [an] environment where we’re serving together, we are involved, we are helping each other, and 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.
Mary Richards: Probably warms your heart, Wendy.
Wendy Tibbitts: Yes, well when you’re there together, you look at each other and you feel so much love for each other because you see the love and joy you’re bringing to those you’re serving. Just, your heart just grows in love. And this Christmas, after we had finished at this care center, my son-in-law said, “This was my favorite Christmas activity of the whole season.” And I think we get lost sometimes in all of the hubbub of the season and the concerts and the plays and the parties...
Mary Richards: Busy.
Wendy Tibbitts: ...and we forget that truly the most important time is drawing closer to our Savior. And the reason for the season and the reason for our lives is because of our Savior. He’s given us — God has given us wonderful blessings in our lives, and we can show him our gratitude when we serve.
Mary Richards: Yeah. Because I have been given much, I too must give to others, is kind of what you’re feeling
Wendy Tibbitts: Yes, yes. And I’ve tried to help my children find opportunities to serve where they’re interested or where their talents lie. And so my older daughter would play the piano and sing at a care center every week and loved it. And so that’s where we went at Christmas, was to that same care center where we had relationships with the people. And Joshua volunteers with TOPSoccer because he loves soccer.
Mary Richard: You are a good soccer player I hear, too.
Josh Tibbitts: It’s really fun.
Mary Richards: Well, that’s an option then to use the talents that you have and your interests and find a way to serve with that.
Josh Tibbitts: And I’d say it means so much more to me because, well, TOPSoccer is once a week through the fall, and in the spring, they have a few volunteers, and we just join teams and it’s to help special needs kids find a love and passion for soccer. The first time I went, like, they’re all looking at me, like, “Who is he?” And I made an effort to learn all their names. They have their names on the back of their [jersies] and it’s just really cute. And by the end, like, they were some of my best friends. They’d come up, they’d hold my hand, they’d just, like, play soccer. And it was —
Wendy Tibbitts: Climb on you.
Josh Tibbitts: Yeah, it was so much fun, and I’ve kept in contact with a few of them and one of them’s one of my best friends. He’s just so sweet and innocent, and just really a true example of... joy, and you can tell he feels a very strong connection to Christ.
Mary Richards: Yeah.
Josh Tibbitts: Whenever I’m involved in any type of service, it definitely brings peace. And in life right now, everything can be so busy and feel so overwhelming that taking a break to serve others and look outside yourself has brought me peace. And I know it has blessed me, especially, like, in school if I have a big test coming up, or I have [an] important game. And to me, it’s important... and because it’s important to me, I know God knows it’s important. And just by serving and helping others, then God and Christ will help bless you and your activities.
Mary Richards: I love that. How beautiful is that, that you’re finding these ways to continue connections through service, through that interest. I like, too, how you said, Wendy, that when you’re with your family, you’re looking for different things to do based off their interests or based off your time, even your location, even. And those are all the parameters that people can set up in the app and the website. You can filter through to find those things, even remote opportunities to serve. also. I actually sat my children down on Sunday and I said, “I think we’ve been squabbling too much. We’re going to write some letters to people.” And there was a project on JustServe that said, “We need some letters for service members, for senior citizens.” So I just had them all writing letters, putting on stickers and colors, and next thing you know, we were having a great time. Sometimes it doesn’t work so beautifully. But sometimes it does, I guess, and you find that, too, with your projects, with your family.
Wendy Tibbitts: Yes, sometimes we know we want to do service, but I can’t think outside the box, like, “Oh, what do we want to do?” So when you go to the JustServe app, there’s such a variety, and you’re like, “Oh, I’ve driven past this location. I didn’t know I could volunteer there.” And it gives you great ideas and it makes it so simple.
Mary Richards: Yeah. Mother to mother here, Wendy: as we try to help our children serve and show them the benefits of it, as you watch your children serve, what are your hopes for them as they grow up?
Wendy Tibbitts: I see the joy it brings into their life, which Joshua expressed, and I see that they’re happier and they’re more adjusted. They have more motivation in their lives to achieve, to succeed, because they want to develop their talents to bless others. And they love serving, and they make valuable and meaningful relationships with people as they serve. The people that they’re serving, they develop such a love for. And 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. And that is my wish as a mother, that they go throughout their lives loving everyone and bringing joy wherever they go.
Mary Richards: And JustServe is really for anybody, right? Anybody can get the app and use it, or go to the website and use it?
Wendy Tibbitts: Correct. I’ve shared it with friends and anyone can download it, and it has locations all over that you can find places to serve. We once saw, while we were in Florida, that you could go out to a cemetery and help with Find a Grave and... take pictures of the headstones. So there [are] a variety of projects all over.
Mary Richards: I need to do that with my own children. You’ve inspired me today, with the text your dad sends, with you all going together, with — I’ve already dubbed you the Tibbetts Family Band, if you don’t mind, as you played your instruments and sang and shared your talents for that service. ... I think this is something that anybody can see that, hopefully, maybe that’s something they want in their own lives, too.
Wendy Tibbitts: Well, and I think the more we serve, and the more our children serve, they see needs around them. They become able to see that, “Oh, my neighbor, she’s elderly, I want to shovel her sidewalk, because it brings me joy to do it, and I see the joy and the gratitude she feels towards me,” and so I love that aspect, too.
Mary Richards: Yeah, to start noticing needs more and more around you. Exactly. That is the way that our families become stronger, that our neighborhoods become stronger, our communities, and then it ripples out from there, [to] our state, our country, our world.
Wendy Tibbitts: Right.
Mary Richards: As part of this conversation surrounding JustServe, I have with me two people who use this platform a lot in their lives and for their businesses and organizations, and we want to talk about how that’s done. So I’m so thrilled to have with me, Amy Dott Harmer, the executive director at the Utah Refugee Connection. Welcome, Amy.
Amy Dott Harmer: Thank you. Happy to be here.
Mary Richards: Amy, let’s talk about how your organization uses JustServe because, as we’ve seen, there are so many different refugees coming to Utah, having to leave their homes, and so there is a real need to help refugees. And we see people wanting to help but maybe not knowing how to do that, right?
Amy Dott Harmer: Well, that’s why I love JustServe, [because], you know, there are a lot of people that see things in the news that are disturbing or frustrating, and they feel like they don’t have the opportunity or they can’t make a difference. And I love that what [JustServe] does is it connects people with opportunities to make a difference and do the things that they want. [If] they want to step up to the plate but don’t know what to do, it gives them that opportunity. And so I think that’s one of the major benefits, whether it’s, you know, you want to do something for refugees or for the homeless or for veterans, you can, you know, go to the site, you can search, you know, you want to do something with education, and you can pull up the opportunities that are in close proximity to you. So I love that.
Mary Richards: Yeah, you’ll see, I imagine, church groups, youth groups, business groups, saying, “I want to help. I want to do something. I know that the refugee situation is so dire.” And maybe they start to think of things by themselves that may not be as helpful as finding a specific need, correct? Your organization is going to put on [JustServe], “Look, this is what we need. And this is what would be most helpful.”
Amy Dott Harmer: Sure. I think a lot of times people make assumptions about what certain nonprofits need, and it’s heartbreaking when someone brings us items and it’s not really something we take. And we try and gracefully say, you know, “That’s not something we take,” or refer them to someplace [else]. But it is really nice when you can find out exactly what’s needed and really make a difference. So like right now, during the pandemic, we were serving a lot of refugees with face masks, things to sanitize their house, a lot of cleaning supplies, COVID kits. Now what has happened is that need has changed... We fundamentally believe in helping refugees help themselves, and so now that the pandemic’s over, we have tons of refugees attending classes that lead to self-sufficiency. So like English classes, parenting classes, computer skills classes, and a lot of what we give out at our share house are incentives for refugees going to classes. So now the cleaning kits, the hygiene kits, the diapers are now going to refugees that are going to classes. After eight hours of classes, they can come in and get some of those incentives. And we have seen an explosive need for those because refugees finally can go to classes. And so, you know, usually we use our social media feeds, we have served refugees on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. But now we’re not taking in as much as we need. So JustServe has been really awesome because we post those items on JustServe and people are like, “Hey, I know exactly what to do.” And people also love knowing that those incentives, those kits, are going to refugees that are trying to help themselves. So it’s a great way for us to educate people. So JustServe, I feel like, really enables nonprofits to put out needs that are very unique to their nonprofit, and then hit a different demographic than maybe they’re already hitting with their normal communications.
Mary Richards: Getting the word out in all different ways to reach different people.
Amy Dott Harmer: Yeah.
Mary Richards: And I love how you said that people can go to JustServe, either JustServe.org or download the app, and really see, “Okay, this is what this organization needs,” [or] “Oh, that’s how I can be most helpful and get that word out.” And then maybe they connect with you, and then they become a regular volunteer or contributor, maybe in that way?
Amy Dott Harmer: Yeah, it’s awesome. I think one of our values at our share houses, when either refugees or donors come in, [is] we really want to treat everyone with dignity and respect, and we also want them to know where items are going. So they’re not just dropping [items] off, they get to hear, and sometimes they get to interact with refugees that these kits are benefiting. And I think what happens is they go, “Oh, I kind of like going there.” And, you know, they decide [to ask], “What do you need next?” And then it gives us an opportunity to say, “Hey, did you know we’re coming up on our backpack season where we’re collecting backpacks for refugees?” And then it’s really beautiful to see this relationship develop over time.
Mary Richards: Yeah, I love that. I want to talk now, too, about how businesses can use JustServe, and these kinds of relationships, then, between businesses and nonprofit organizations, and more about how JustServe can facilitate that.
Amy Dott Harmer: I think initially, our relationship started as a nonprofit and with Ken Garff Automotive, because we’ve worked together on some pretty major projects. And I think we started maybe with Halloween kits and put those together. But I just was like, I love the idea of a business wanting to consistently give back not just, like, a one time project. This is something we’re committed to doing over time. And I think we started with just, like, a dealership project, and then it expanded to bigger projects. We just spent, actually, the weekend planning and orchestrating an International Women’s Day celebration, and we collaborated with a couple of other nonprofits. And, you know, Ken Garff Automotive, when you think about their employees, there [are] maybe not a lot of women. But there are women that work at Ken Garff automotive, and they were invited to come and have an International Women’s Day celebration with us. So we had a lunch, and we invited like four different refugee caterers to provide the food. And then we invited all the refugee women in the community that wanted to come to have a lunch and dance and celebrate, and they brought the women from their organizations, so it was really kind of cool. There were no men allowed, because a lot of the Muslim women won’t dance or participate if there are men, and so I think it was really awesome building experience for women in their organization to come and celebrate with these women around the world. And these women had such a great time, it was really awesome. So you have, you know, the women from Ken Garff coming together, and the women from the refugee community, and some of them were really dressed up. We had some really beautiful African women dancing with their big headdresses on. And then they each got a really nice Minky Couture blanket when they left, and both the women from Ken Garff and the women from the refugee community got them, and it was a really nice opportunity for these women to mesh together and build sisterhood. So that’s one of the projects that we’ve worked on together where I think the impact — you know, those women don’t necessarily feel a part of our community yet. And so to give them a totally social opportunity, where they can come and eat, have fun, have pictures taken — we had Instax digital cameras, or cameras where they could get a picture right away. We had a Lego table for kids, we had coloring pages. And I just think it was a really nice interaction together, and we couldn’t do an event like that very easily without the support. So that’s an amazing way that businesses can use this as a tool to engage in the community.
Mary Richards: That is beautiful. Speaking of those connections, and those ways that we connect through service, Amy, let’s talk a little bit more about the connections you see individual volunteers make.
Amy Dott Harmer: Well, one of the beautiful things is when people come in, sometimes they tell us a little bit about why they chose to serve. And last year, when things were really looking dire in Afghanistan, there was a lot of news coverage, and there were people holding on to airplanes as [they] took off, dropping from the sky. There were horrific things being shown about the desperation people were feeling, and there was a 10-year-old girl that was watching this at home and really struggling with those feelings of, “What can I do to make a difference?” And her mom said, “Well, let’s kind of explore some options of what we could do for refugees in our community.” And she discovered, you know, that we needed diapers and this little girl wrote out a little note saying, “Hey, I’ve never had the courage to do this, but I’ve been watching what’s happening in Afghanistan and I really want to do something to make a difference, and I want to collect diapers, and so if you want to donate diapers, here’s where you can drop them off.” And so this little girl had this little handwritten note that went out in her neighborhood. And people just stepped up to the plate and responded, because I think they, too, were feeling like, “What can I do? This is a horrible tragedy that’s happening across the world, but what can I do right here in my neck of the woods to make a difference?” So she started collecting these diapers, and they were showing up on her porch, and her mom called me and said, “Hey, we’re getting a lot of diapers.” I’m like, “That’s great. We are happy to take them.” She goes, “Well, we we’ve gotten so many that we’re renting a U-Haul to bring them to you.” And I just was like, “Oh, my word.” So this cute little girl and her mom and dad brought their U-Haul full of diapers, and she helped unload every package. She didn’t say, “Oh, here [are] the diapers.” She helped us carry every single package in. And as we were getting to the end, I said to her, “Why do you think you were so successful? You know, why do you think that so many people helped?” And she goes, “Because my neighborhood loves me.” And I thought, “Oh my gosh.” This girl, first of all, there was the benefit of her collecting hundreds of packages of diapers and wipes to benefit refugees. Number two, this was very empowering for this girl, to feel like her neighborhood loved her and the reason they wanted to help is because they loved her. And I thought, “Every 10-year-old needs to feel that, especially before they hit puberty, that they are loved and that people appreciate them.” And then the beautiful thing is, in the following months, we received almost 1,000 Afghan refugees in Utah, and many of them needed strollers, they needed diapers, they needed Pack ‘n Plays. And this little 10-year-old girl made a difference. You know, I’m like, think about what you could do. I mean, you can make a difference. You know, there are so many beautiful things. And I think it’s one of those experiences... she will never forget that, you know, she was able to make a difference, and then how grateful those Afghan refugees were, when they arrived, to have the diapers and supplies that they needed. Really pretty remarkable.
Mary Richards: Yeah. It blessed the receivers. It blessed the givers. It empowered that girl. Yeah, everybody on all these levels was blessed by that service, so...
Amy Dott Harmer: Yeah, I think there’s a reciprocity in service, and I think sometimes when we’re the giver, we just feel like the receiver gets something. But really, there’s something really reciprocal in nature. There’s an empowerment of, you know, “What can I do?” We frequently have a lot of women [who] all their kids have left the house and they don’t know what to do. They’re like, “Oh, I’ve [spent] years doing all this.” And all of a sudden, they discover some kind of service within their community where they’re like, “Oh, I am still important, and I still can offer and give something.” And so I think anyone that maybe is lacking [in] feeling like they’re making a difference, I think looking on JustServe or finding a place where you can offer some services, whether it’s time, resources, you know, volunteering — we try and meet people where they’re at. Some people don’t have a lot of time, but they love to order something off Amazon, something easy. Some people have, you know, lots of time, but not a lot of financial resources, [so they think], “Oh, I think I’d like to volunteer.” So meeting people where they’re at and [learning] what their goals are [helps everyone]. And I also think with businesses, the philanthropy side of meeting your philanthropic goals in an easy way is really awesome.
Mary Richards: And you were telling me about a great project around back-to-school time. Talk a little bit more, Amy about the backpacks project.
Amy Dott Harmer: So every year, we work really hard to help refugee students be prepared for school. You can imagine what it’s like to come to a new country [where] you’re expected to go to school. [In] some countries, you aren’t expected to go to school, and then feeling like you’ve got to go to school, but you don’t have any of the supplies that you need. So we do a really large collection of backpacks with specific school supplies every June, July, August. It’s a mammoth undertaking. And what we do is we post the items in the backpack on our social media feed and our website, so we post... on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. And then also, if you go to serverefugees.org, the specifics of the backpack are on there. And during this time, it is so critical to get the community engaged because we’ve typically given out anywhere from 4,000 to 6,000 backpacks full of supplies to refugees. That’s pretty huge. So it’s really awesome when we can have companies, when we can have individuals, church groups, school service groups, come together to make these backpacks and bring them to our share house. And then what we try and do is, in August, before school starts, we have a large event where kids all over the Wasatch Front that... have refugee backgrounds can come and get the backpacks. They come and get a backpack, [and] we have a provider room where they can learn about different services: where to get glasses, where to get immunizations, my kid wants to play soccer, [so] how can you play soccer, after school tutoring. And then after, we have a giant carnival, and it’s a little bit of organized chaos, but a lot of these kids have never had the opportunity to go to carnival. So I had one community leader from the refugee community reach out to me after with a long text, explaining that he had received a call earlier in the week about a single mom [who] was really concerned about her kids going back to school and how much they wanted to go back-to-school shopping, because that’s all they see on TV and all they hear people talking about, and she really did not have the resources to take her child back-to-school shopping for clothing, let alone school supplies. So he told me that this woman found out about this event through him and came, and that her son was able to pick out his own special backpack. And he actually loved it so much [that] he went home and slept with his backpack. And I just think there [are] a lot of beautiful things that happened at that event. Number one, they received resources for school. They’ve heard about different opportunities, that they can participate in soccer [and] after-school programming, and they’re experiencing a carnival or festival for the first time. And then you also see kids walking through the parking lot with their backpacks, and they’re feeling confident and excited to start school. And you don’t realize how much that means to a kid that maybe doesn’t feel like they fit [in] or is working to understand this new American culture, to have a backpack with their superhero or their backpack with their favorite item on it, that has items in it that will help them be able to be successful in school. A lot of these kids don’t have a pencil sharpener at home, they don’t have paper, they don’t have those resources. So even if they’re not utilizing at school they’re utilizing at home, and this collaborative effort of the whole community embracing and creating belonging for refugees is pretty powerful. And JustServe is making a difference helping make those connections.
Mary Richards: Wonderful, that army of volunteers coming. And that makes such a difference, JustServe volunteers being like, “What can I help sort, pack, lift, carry?”or “[How can I] be a friend, be a mentor?” [There are] many different things that can be done.
Amy Dott Harmer: Yeah, sometimes when people bring in their items, you know, that’s the first introduction, and that’s an awesome introduction and usually is helped by JustServe connecting them. But then, when they come in, we get an opportunity to personally connect and let them know what other opportunities... are available. Or they find that there are ways that they can make a difference. We had a guy come in once that [said], “I am a magician.” And I said, “Well, I can’t think of anything right now that we can utilize your help with.” But, like, within a couple of days, I had an organization reach out and [say], “Hey, we’re doing a family gathering night with refugees, and we’re looking for some kind of entertainment or something.” I said, “Oh, I have just the thing.” I know someone that came in and brought some items but that is a magician. And we’ve used him so many times, so you shouldn’t discount any of your skills and how they might be utilized in the community. And you know, this particular organization wanted to get parents involved, but they didn’t have a way to get them engaged, and they also had a lot of barriers with language. Magic is magic. You know, you don’t always need to communicate because you see the magic. So, like, there are so many beautiful opportunities out there, so I don’t think you should ever discount the skills, time, resources you have, and figure out a way to make a difference with what you have, whether it’s time, whether it’s resources, whether it’s [being] a magician, whatever it is, find a way to get engaged, and JustServe is a beautiful resource for people that want to get engaged in the community.
Mary Richards: In closing, a reminder of what service is really all about. Charity is not just an action; it’s Christ-like love, and JustServe can help build habits of service that feed back to that vision of the first and second great commandments to love God and love our neighbor. President M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles put it this way:
President M. Russell Ballard: Great things are wrought through simple and small things. Like the small flecks of gold that accumulate over time into a large treasure, our small and simple acts of kindness and service will accumulate into a life filled with love for Heavenly Father, devotion to the work of the Lord Jesus Christ, and a sense of peace and joy each time we reach out to one another.
Sarah Jane Weaver: You have been listening to the Church News podcast. I’m your host, Church News Editor Sarah Jane Weaver. I hope you have learned something today about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by peering with me through the Church News window. Please remember to subscribe to this podcast, and if you enjoyed the messages we shared today, please make sure you share the podcast with others. Thanks to our guests, to my producer KellieAnn Halvorsen and others who make this podcast possible. Join us every week for a new episode. Find us on your favorite podcasting channel or with other news and updates about the Church on TheChurchNews.com.