It has often struck me (Kathleen from Dialogue) how willing the people in my ward are to participate in service projects. The best attended Enrichment Meetings are the ones to assemble whatever hygiene kit ,back-to-school kit for needy kids project, or food bank drive, that comes down the pike. Through an Interfaith Council our stake participates in a program that provides meals and a place to sleep for homeless men. Our church never hosts the sleeping arrangements, but whenever it is our ward’s turn to provide dinner, lunch, and breakfast for these men, it’s an easy sell for the sister in charge. Considering service more broadly, it seems as though all my Salt Lake nieces and nephews have gone to Africa or South America to help out in a orphanage for a month, or gone with somebody to Tibet or Mongolia or some other far away place to deliver medical equipment that some church member has managed to collect. I know Young Men and Young Women leaders are always looking for ways to involve the kids in meaningful service.
One the one hand, there is the willingness to help. On the other hand, it is difficult to come up with the right kind of service project. I know because I have been in a position to try. What is usually required is a situation where a group can spend 2 hours, make a difference and move on. It can’t be too depressing, and it can’t be the kind of problem that is best served by professionals. The church group is usually looking to tie into some organization that already has a project in place rather than developing its own. Most of these organizations would probably prefer consistent long-term volunteer involvement rather than a burst of involvement.
While we are encouraged to be involved in our communities and to serve one another, I don’t think our church is known for social activism. We don’t set up soup kitchens nor sponsor low income housing, for example. Would it be feasible for a ward to participate in a long-term project, like tutoring at a school or providing health education? Would it be possible for a ward to instigate and organize such a project as opposed to participating in someone else’s? It would have to be politically neutral, not connected with government, involve no church money, and not require professionals to be effective. How would the continuity of commitment work in a church where leadership rotates every couple of years? What would happen when the enthusiastic bishop, Relief Society president, or specialist was released? Would the generosity that is so available once in a while be equal to weekly commitment, in a situation where the results are not immediately visible? It’s hard to know because it isn’t tried very often (that I know of). It isn’t that the needs in society aren’t great, and it isn’t that Mormons aren’t capable and willing. It seems like the two could be more efficiently combined. Any ideas?