SALT LAKE CITY — Armed with extensive resources from the Church’s welfare program and a strong desire to help, “Mormon Helping Hands” volunteers have been major contributors in relief efforts to help people whose lives have been devastated by natural disasters. Dressed in their trademark yellow T-shirts, the volunteers can be found giving needed service in countries throughout the world. The key to the success of the program is that Mormon Helping Hands gives those with strong desire to serve others an organized opportunity to do so.
Most recently, more than 1,400 Mormon Helping Hands volunteers joined with other volunteer groups to help residents in Houma , Louisiana , who were hit hard by Hurricane Ike. At their disposal were two semi-trucks from Church Welfare Services containing cleaning kits, hygiene kits and chain saws, among other necessities.
Pastor Rene Monette of the Living World church in Houma said of the volunteer effort: “It was a real blessing. Our people … feel like they have been hit time, after time, after time. And I feel like what you all are doing here is just reaching into their hearts and saying, ‘God cares about you.’”
The Mormon Helping Hands program was officially established in 1998, and since then hundreds of thousands of volunteers have donated millions of hours of service to their communities. Although the program is most often associated with emergency response, disaster relief is only half of the story of Mormon Helping Hands.
It started 10 years ago when the Church asked local Church leaders in Argentina , Paraguay , Uruguay and Chile to reach out in their communities through service. South American Church leaders set out to establish an annual day of service.
They coordinated a multinational effort involving tens of thousands of Church members from all over southern South America . Nearly every Latter-day Saint congregation in the region participated. Church members both old and young went out into their communities cleaning streets, parks and other public spaces and painting and repairing schools and hospitals.
Soon afterward, the initiative spread to Brazil , where it has become a cornerstone for national service. The Mormon Helping Hands program in Brazil first garnered national attention for its humanitarian efforts and community projects in 2001 when Marco Maciel, then vice president of Brazil , thanked the Church for its service. By 2002, the Mormon Helping Hands program was named one of the most important volunteer organizations in Brazil.
In 2007, the Brazilian Senate held a special session to honor the 80-year presence of the Church in Brazil . Senator Ãlvaro Dias acknowledged the humanitarian efforts of the Church. “The meritorious social work carried out by this body, under a voluntary work program known as ‘Helping Hands,’ includes a September 2007 project where 284 public schools throughout the country were refurbished by more than 60,000 volunteers,” he said. “In May, additional volunteers in 190 Brazilian cities made clothing items for 290 public hospitals. The Mormon church in Brazil carries out social responsibility in its true fullness.”
In just a decade, Mormon Helping Hands has spread to every corner of the world. Large-scale service projects have been completed from South America to North America, Europe, Australia , Asia and most recently Africa , where, in 2007, 100,000 volunteers worked together in a continent-wide “Mormon Helping Hands” project to clean up their communities. Storm drains on busy streets were cleaned out, hospitals received a fresh coat of paint and public areas were spruced with flowers and grass.
Charles Adebayo, a Church member in Nigeria , said: “We find real happiness when we think outside of ourselves. That is true joy.”
Perhaps one of the keys to the growth of Mormon Helping Hands is that it is not a program that was pushed. It was allowed to grow at its own pace. As it did, more and more Church members were naturally attracted to the opportunity to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with their fellow Church members and neighbors in activities that benefit everyone.