SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — On any given day, Carol Pia can be seen with a special loom making dozens of hats for the homeless. Jean Bentley organized medical relief for a Senegalese village thousands of miles away, and Carmen Pingree created vital resources to help those with autism in her community.
Why do these three Mormon women and thousands of others of their faith reach beyond the boundaries of their own homes, even their own communities, to provide relief to people in need?
The answer is simple, according to Julie Beck, general president of Relief Society. “We have covenanted to follow the pattern of service defined by Jesus Christ. We try to do what He would do.”
A short time ago, Pia was vacationing with her sisters, both of whom carried humanitarian projects along on the family trip. “As we turned their completed projects in, I thought I should be doing something to help myself,” Pia remembers. Acting on their example, Pia committed to knit 50 hats for a homeless shelter by 1 June.
When the reality of her commitment hit, Pia invited her daughters, grandchildren and friends to assist her in meeting the goal. “I realized I couldn’t do it alone,” she admitted, “but now I’ve shared the project with others. My 9-year-old granddaughter, Berkley, recruited three of her friends. Everyone was willing to help. We may have 100 hats by June 1!”
The desire to help others in need seems contagious among Mormon women.
Jean Bentley learned of the dire circumstances in a Senegalese village from a teacher at her son’s school. Armed with a greater understanding of the needs, Bentley implemented a way of assisting. The mother of nine invited her children, their friends, and the professional colleagues of her pediatrician husband to gather needed supplies. The group collected and packaged medical and school supplies, mosquito nets and abatement materials, hygiene products and even prayer rugs for the Muslim villagers in Senegal.
Beyond the work of collecting, Bentley organized a relief trip with 30 participants to deliver the supplies, help set up a medical clinic and build a protective rock wall around the village cemetery.
In addition, Bentley’s husband, Frank, instructed local midwives on neonatal resuscitation techniques and provided other types of medical assessments, and Bentley provided vision screening and glasses for residents. “Finding a pair of glasses for someone who couldn’t see was a small miracle,” Bentley suggested. “These were all donated, used eyeglasses, but they made a huge difference to the African villagers. Many of them looked at me with tears in those eyes as they recognized they were able to see.”
Seeing a need in her own home, Carmen Pingree knew there must be other families with a similar concern. As a young mother in the 1970s, Pingree noticed developmental differences in her fifth child, Brian. After considerable research and medical dead ends, she finally found a book that “described my son on every page.”
Pingree organized services for children with autism when the range of symptoms was little known in the general medical community. “When trying to find help for our own child, we discovered there was a long waiting list of children for a very limited number of appropriate services,” she explained.
Pingree and other parents lobbied legislators, informed medical personnel and taught community leaders about autism. As a result, services increased, public recognition of autism grew and a school was even constructed to address the growing need.
Pingree described the efforts: “We recognized we had a problem in our family, and we all agreed to work together on this problem. We also knew that many others faced similar problems, and that if we could combine our efforts and understandings, we could deal with the manifestations of autistic behaviors.”
Beyond the efforts of individual Mormon women, groups of Church members often gather together to work on larger, even monumental projects. Such is the case with the service rendered in conjunction with the Brigham Young University Women’s Conference, where more than 6,000 participate in a variety of service efforts as a part of the two-day educational meeting.
The annual Women’s Conference, located on the Provo, Utah, campus, provides opportunities for women to take part in assembling hygiene, newborn and school kits and other useful supplies for underprivileged individuals. In 2007, for example, over 7,000 newborn kits and 24,000 hygiene kits were assembled and distributed to various community and Church agencies.
The purpose behind the Women’s Conference service projects is to instill in participants the desire to serve when they return to their various homes. Ideas, materials and guidelines are distributed, and women are encouraged to implement the service ideas in their own homes, neighborhoods and communities.
Church President Thomas S. Monson acknowledged the acts of service given by women in the Church. At the Women’s Conference he said: “Last evening you had opportunities to serve by putting together hygiene kits, school kits and newborn kits …You are sensitive and selfless. You are nurturers; you are compassionate. You genuinely care about others, and you form strong relationships. You love and forgive. With good hearts and willing hands, you make a real difference in the lives of others. Thank you for the selfless service you give so willingly.”
This article was prepared by the LDS Newsroom at lds.org.