20 Years

The Relief Society lesson was on service opportunities in the community. They brought in a guest speaker, from a local nonprofit called the Kenneth Young Center, who talked to the sisters about various ways to make a difference. When the lesson was over, they thanked their guest, and the sisters went about their merry ways. Surely they were too burdened with keeping the home fires burning, with their church responsibilities, and for many their jobs, to give the lesson a second thought.

With one exception. My wife Sandy, on her own, after that lesson volunteered with the Kenneth Young Center. She began driving a meals-on-wheels type route every Friday, delivering meals to seniors.

That lesson was given in 1992. Not a soul even remembers the lesson. It was given in a ward that no longer even exists. And yet Sandy has been delivering meals to seniors as a result of that lesson for 20 freakin’ years! Today they gave her a nice crystal paperweight marking her anniversary. Her supervisor told her if all of her volunteers were as dependable as her, her job would be easy.

As a people we like to give a lot of lip service to working in the community, but we tend to suck at actually following through on the rhetoric. And trust me, I understand, most of us really are very busy and burdened with other responsibilities. But I don’t mind bursting a button or two for my wife’s committed service, inspired by a church lesson from long ago and now all but forgotten.


  1. You are a lucky man to have a wife and best friend who is that open to the promptings of the Spirit. If you ever come to Oregon, consider yourselves officially invited to dinner. :-)

  2. Wonderful! This is reminding me to get back to some of my pro bono work… Ripple effect!

  3. Congratulations, Sandy! I just hit one year of delivering for Meals on Wheels every other Monday and I’m grateful for a small way to serve others in a very real way, as well as the opportunity for my kids to participate when they’re not in school – the “grandmas and grandpas” love it when they come along. :)

  4. Thanks for this lovely tribute and reminder, Kevin.

  5. Kevin, You are blessed to be married to a Matthew 25 Christian, an important quality to have at the Day of Judgment (not that that is her motivation).

  6. Simple and inspiring. Thank you!

  7. Awesome! I was going to start volunteering for meals on wheels this year, but ended up homeschooling my kids instead. A time and season for everything, but hopefully someday I can do it.

  8. Mark Brown says:

    Thanks for writing this up, Kevin. What Sandy has done is truly terrific.

    On a side note, I’ve heard it said by some of the people we often partner with in charitable work that the Mormons are wonderful and very reliable when it comes to one-time big efforts. We can put our organizational structure and skill to use and turn out a thousand people on short notice. However, when it comes to the small, day to day tasks that need to be done over a long period of time, such as delivering for Meal on Wheels, we often drop the ball.

  9. Kevin Barney says:

    Yeah, Mark, I think that’s accurate. When local Public Affairs used to be more involved in community service efforts, we simply wouldn’t make long-term commitments, because there was no way we could feel certain that people would support them over the long haul. So we concentrated on one-off projects.

  10. Sharee Hughes says:

    Kevin, you have long been on my list of people I would like to meet. I now add your wife to that list. Here in Salt Lake, we have welfare assignments regularly. And it is like pulling hen’s teeth for the Relief Society president to get enough people signed up. If the assignment calls for the brethren as well as the sisters, it is even harder.

    Mark Brown, I agree with you.

  11. I think one reason Mormons do so little volunteer work outside the Church is that Church activity–some of it unnecessary–keeps members too busy to consider taking on anything else.

  12. Meldrum the Less says:

    I agree with #11.

    One other problem is conceptual. The world of community service is no longer a bunch of disorganized but well meaning volunteers just blundering through some project. What has emerged are sort of middle men organizations who couple volunteers with those who have needs. Sandy could snoop around on her own and figure out some people who need meals. But the Kennedy Youth Center makes her efforts more efficient. I think when we like to keep it all within the Mormon tribe it is a barrier to getting involved..

    Recently I convinced 4 young rugged guys in my ward to go with me to work with a group of volunteers who help the forest service work on hiking trails. It was a blast.The Bishop gave the project a thumbs down for a ward service project, too rugged and too hard, but he didn’t have a problem with me doing it on my own.

    I am thinking of giving myself a new calling , ward community service project goffer or something.

  13. I’m underutilized in my ward – I don’t work outside the home and only have two children, both of whom are in school now. I’ve had an impossibly vague calling all year for which I was given no training and no venue by which to fulfill it, so other than making a few informative fliers I’ve been sitting around twiddling my thumbs. I decided to look for a volunteer opportunity that i can do while the kids are in school and have found one with a local outreach/food pantry. I’ve only been at it for two months and I am an exceedingly tiny cog, but I have to say it feels great. I *love* service. I wish I could do more, but this is what I can do now and I’m pretty happy with it. I am so grateful that I have the time and the freedom to do this.

  14. Consider volunteering at your local Jr High or high school. Elementary schools generally get the majority of volunteers, but I really like working with the older kids. Call or email the principal and I’m sure they’d be happy to put you to work. I spend 2 mornings a week – just 35 minutes each time – helping 7th graders one-on-one with their reading. Sometimes they read to me, sometimes I help them fill out a simple book report form. I also spend a couple weeks each trimester helping during one period of home ec during their sewing unit – I float around the room and help the kids with their machines and any other questions. I also spend one period each day at the high school in a required study hall for kids who need extra help; I try to convince them to pull out their homework and work on it, and help answer any questions they might have. This is my “give back” year since my youngest started kindergarten and in future years I’ll probably work part-time to start putting money away for all the college, missions, and weddings in our future, so I’m doing more than most would have time for, but I don’t think it would be too hard for many people to schedule in 35 minutes once or twice a week.

  15. Kevin Barney says:

    Melissa and jes, that’s fantastic! Thanks for the great examples. I know a lot of people feel underutilized at church, and in that case the best remedy is probably self medication: give yourself a service calling!

  16. Love this. Thanks Kevin.

  17. This is great. I love to hear about Mormons giving service in the community beyond the ward. I also agree with #11 and #15. Isn’t that part of giving service, doing the work to find out who needs it?

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