CENTRAL FLORIDA — During disasters, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints come out in force wearing their yellow “Mormon Helping Hands” T-shirts ready to clean up, cook food and provide shelter to anyone in need, regardless of their faith.
Service is not an activity Mormons reserve for natural disasters or catastrophes, but is intrinsic to the faith. Along with adherents of many other Christian faiths, members of the Church see service to others as a core value.
Increasingly, Latter-day Saints are joining together in large numbers to address special needs. For example, more than 600 Central Florida Mormon youth, ages 14 to 18, recently gathered in eight locations to work on much-needed community conservation projects. From weed pulling and tree planting to building demolition, the volunteers pooled their efforts to tidy several parks and assist in the razing of an obsolete facility at Brevard County Zoo as a part of their two-day youth conference.
Gathering teenage members of the Church in a youth conference is a regular practice throughout the world. Young people plan, with the assistance of youth leaders, activities and workshops that provide opportunities to expand learning, encourage leadership skills and enjoy social experiences.
A community service component is usually included in the prescribed youth conference agenda. Young Mormon volunteers in Alpine, Utah, for example, recently provided household repairs, roofing and painting for needy families in their area. Young people from Colton, Oregon, made learning games and collected toys for children in Third World countries, while teenagers of Porterville, California, presented musical programs for senior citizens in assisted living centers, all as a part of their youth conference schedules.
The Florida projects were coordinated by Michelle Thatcher, executive director of the Association of Florida Conservation Districts. Thatcher described the eight service projects as “an extraordinary example of the sort of selflessness and caring that makes a community a better place to live.”
Thatcher further recognized the volunteers for the type of “stewardship for our earth that begins and ends with this sort of individual responsibility.”
Projects included planting trees at the Austin Tindale Regional Park, removing debris from the shoreline of Lake Louisa and pulling weeds and other invasive plants from the alligator swamp at the Central Florida Zoo.
Leader Lynn Whitcomb admitted that cleaning out the alligator habitat was the most coveted service project. “The kids loved getting wet and muddy. Some were afraid of snakes, but they all worked together and did a great job.”
This article was prepared by the LDS Newsroom at lds.org.