SPRING TEXAS – It’s not all that unusual for a youth conference to include some kind of service activity. But completing three different major projects in two days?
That is exactly what about 170 Houston North Stake young men and women did Easter weekend. During the conference, built around the theme “We Are His Hands,” they collected over 3,000 shoes for Haitians in need, planted nearly 150 trees in a historic neighborhood, and assembled some 7,000 meals at a food bank.
While the conference did include a few other activities, the youth spent the majority of the time serving others. They worked hard, but most agreed they enjoyed the work.
“The service was my favorite part of Youth Conference,” said Sophia Velasco, 18, of the Cypress Creek ward. “It felt great to be going out and actually doing good instead of just talking about doing good.”
This service had a positive impact not only on the youth themselves and the recipients of their service, but also made a positive impact on some community members who watched how the Mormon teenagers served.
“The next generation is going to make a big difference. Especially if they’re like these kids,” Natasha Allsbrooks said of the North Stake youth. Allsbrooks, who has helped coordinate volunteers at the Houston Food Bank for about four years, has worked with many groups of teenagers. She said this was “a good group. Not only did they listen, they were all motivated. They really actually seemed like they had passion behind what they were doing. And from this age group, that’s a great thing to see.”
The youth spent one afternoon of the conference at the Houston Food Bank, where they performed jobs ranging from sorting cans of food to stacking boxes and driving palette lifters. They were able to assemble approximately 7,300 meals for local families in need.
In their tree planting project, the youth also partnered with nonprofit organization Keep Houston Beautiful. They planted 141 trees in the historic Oaks of Allen Parkway area in downtown Houston. According to stake youth leaders, the organization originally planned to give the youth 50 trees to plant, but stake leaders told the organization the youth could do more.
“”We are helping the trees, and in turn we’re helping ourselves, and others,” said Kayla Flores, 14.
Growth in Service
Youth and adult leaders who planned the conference felt that service as a theme would help the youth grow and draw closer to the Savior. The committee first brainstormed a long list of possible projects and chose their favorites.
“We have learned that through service, they grow more than through any other type of activity,” said David Bertoch, president of the Houston North Stake. “And they’re having a good time. They can have fun while they’re serving, but I know too that they feel this is something unique and special.”
One of the first ideas was to find a way to help Haitian hurricane victims. Working with LDS Welfare Services through the Bishop’s Storehouse in Haiti, they were able to identify shoes as a specific need. But as the committee planned the conference, they realized they really only had time for two projects.
“But we really wanted to do the shoe drive,” said Sterling Boyd, a youth committee member who helped plan the activities. “So we made time for it!”
The youth then planned and carried out a shoe drive several weeks prior to the conference, collecting shoes at each chapel in the Stake and organizing a fun run, with the price of admission being a pair of new or used shoes. At the conference, they sorted, counted, organized, and packed the shoes.
The People of Israel
The end result—boxes and boxes filled with nearly 1800 pairs of shoes ready to be sent to Haiti—seemed to be well worth the advance planning required.
“It’s really special that a whole bunch of kids [in Haiti] are going to be able to walk around safely, without cutting their feet, or getting infections from just walking around barefoot,” said Adam Peabody, 16, of the Klein Oak ward. “It’s going to make their life easier when they’re trying to travel around, and get food, and all sorts of different stuff.”
Berthony Theodor, who manages the Bishop’s Storehouse in Haiti, said the shoes will do a great deal to help Haitians in need, especially those in remote areas.
“This is a great example of how members of the church are relieving the suffering of others wherever they live,” Theodor said. “The contribution members make to support recovery efforts in Haiti after the earthquake teaches me the lesson that no matter where we live on the planet, we are just one, the people of Israel.”
Contributors - Anne Billings and Ciera Kizerian