Byron Powell could have been at the park, the lake or even home, watching college football, on a sun-soaked Saturday in September.
Instead, Powell reported to work with approximately 550 of his fellow LDS volunteers to brighten the lives of his Spokane neighbors.
The Spokane Stake was one of several contingents from the Spokane Temple District to plunge into the theme of community wellness as part of the National Day of Service on Sept. 13. The program was established in 2009 to honor victims, survivors and responders of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 by “establishing an inspiring tradition of engaging in charitable service.”
Powell, a member of the Spokane Sixth Ward, joined a team of volunteers at Resident Court on Fifth Avenue in Spokane to address a variety of tasks, including painting, landscaping a massive hillside, replacing a deck and cleaning up a fence line. Despite the rigorous agenda, those who turned out for the project wore a cheerful countenance as the work forged on.
“It’s important to support this cause,” Powell said. “It’s a worthy cause. It takes a lot of hands to do this. The residents here are very appreciative of the work and happy that we’re here to make things look better.”
Under the leadership of Ryan and Michele Holbrook, the Spokane Stake took on a list that included cleaning and refurbishing seven residential sites owned by SNAP, Spokane County’s community action agency which provides support and resources to low-income residents. Wards were also assigned work at several other nonprofit locations including the House of Charity, Mid-City Concerns/Meals on Wheels, Crosswalk, Hope House and Women’s Hearth.
“In a general sense, what we hoped to accomplish is to give those who live in these properties the message that they are not forgotten, that they have immense value and that there are those in the community who care about them,” said Sister Holbrook. “We believe that the surroundings people live in give a powerful message to those who live there about their worth as individuals.”
Jennifer Guhl was one of many in the Lincoln Heights Ward who helped paint decks at The Patrician building on Second Avenue. Others cut and cleared tangled webs of brush and branches on the property.
“I love volunteering in the community,” said Jennifer who donates time to Community Health Association of Spokane (CHAS) as she studies to be a dental hygienist. “Our ward was really excited. We know that Spokane has a lot of need and a lot of it tends to sort of get lost. Projects like this are perfect for meeting those needs. These people take pride in where they live and how it looks.”
A number of residents at the various properties pitched in with volunteers to help with raking, painting and other responsibilities. SNAP CEO Julie Honekamp said the service project “would have a far-reaching impact at each of the locations.”
“This was a monumental contribution of time and energy,” Honekamp said. “We want to thank the volunteers from the LDS Church for taking time out of their weekend to transform these sites in an extraordinary manner. As a private nonprofit, we have finite resources, so when a project like this comes along, it truly has an awe-inspiring effect.”
Spokane Stake President James Lee showed up with his family at The Bellamy building on First Avenue where volunteers built a small retaining wall, planted sod, replaced a picnic table, painted a fence and replanted strawberry plants.
“We want to be part of the community,” President Lee said. “We want to flood the earth with good. This is not only about serving and doing good, it’s about getting to know the people while we’re serving.”
Since 2009, the Spokane Stake has incorporated the Day of Service to help with improvements in the Logan neighborhood near Gonzaga University, clearing trees and brush at Riverside State Park, refurbishing homes for military veterans and cleaning up debris along the banks of the Spokane River.
This year, Brother Holbrook said the goal was to impact both those being served and the volunteers who served them.
“We hoped to change the attitudes of those who came to serve so that they would see those whom they served as brothers and sisters and make a personal change in their commitment to serving the underserved,” he said. “All in all, it seemed that a monumental undertaking was achieved and that many lives were changed by the experience. It was everything that we had hoped and prayed for. Amazing to think that we pulled this all together but the Lord has a way of making it happen.”
Chris Feist, a resident at The Patrician, came out to thank volunteers while her cats gazed out of a living room window.
“It’s really wonderful,” said Feist. “To have someone come by and spruce up the place makes me feel like someone really cares.”
Some of the more detailed work benefited from the skills of volunteers with backgrounds in areas like carpentry, landscaping, concrete paving and gardening. At The Avondale on Second Avenue, Dana Smith of the Manito Ward thinned out and replanted various flowers and plants.
“We’ve been digging up old plants that were all grown together and just making them look better,” Smith said. “Some of these gardens were very sweet already. You can tell someone who lives here and takes care of it. It’s nice to be out in the community and be a part of it. It’s nice to meet the people who live here. They’ve all come out to say thank you. It’s been very rewarding.”
Jean Gene of the Shiloh Hills Ward, who served a project site leader, said the time spent on Sept. 13 made her “feel good to be able to help out in some small way.”
“We’ve been blessed with a lot and we want to make sure people can experience similar blessings in their lives,” Jean said. “Most people I know want to get involved in their community but don’t always know how. We want to be good neighbors so we found a cause that we thought was good and could help people in the long term.”
At The Alexandria on South Howard, volunteers painted a hallway, constructed a pair of patio areas and planted foliage in a courtyard. Residents at the site signed a letter to the work crew that included words of gratitude.
“There has been nothing but praise and admiration for your wonderful contributions to our well-being and happiness,” the letter stated. “We have only had a couple of days to enjoy the new facilities but are all quite certain your efforts will be appreciated for years to come.”
Andrew Borders of the Shiloh Hills Ward said the day was all about following the example set by the Church’s cornerstone and namesake.
“The people in our ward are here because they want to serve as the Savior serves,” Borders said. “He went about doing good and we believe that He has called us as members of the Church to serve with the goodness of our hearts. The Savior changes our hearts to make us do good and I think that’s what motivates us to help each other. I’ve been very impressed with the cheerful hearts that were out here today.”