Photo by Bradley H. Slade
Bryce W. Willis (BS ’84)
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Meet 50 alumni from 50 states, going forth to serve in ways large and small.
Enter to learn, go forth to serve. BYU Magazine explored the many ways alumni carry out this charge, identifying one inspiring alum from each state. Instead of looking for the biggest names or the grandest projects, we wanted to see how typical alumni, grads just like you, go forth. Everywhere we looked we found alumni pitching in. These 50 represent a host of BYU graduates—304,536 strong—who have gone forth to serve.
CLICK a state to read a story of service
“Is this some kind of a cruel joke?” asked the woman on the other end of the line. Bryce Willis sighed and explained again.
Willis had called the inner-city high school records office to obtain a transcript for Jerrod, a young man from his stake then on a mission in England. Jerrod, he explained, hoped to attend BYU in Utah. The school counselor insisted that a school like BYU wasn’t likely to be interested in a kid from her school, which serves students in the Birmingham housing projects. But Willis persisted, and he drove the 20 miles to hand her $35 for the transcript.
It’s the sort of thing Willis and his wife, Stephanie Hatch Willis (BGS ’04), have done many times to help youth like Jerrod navigate the BYU application process.
“I consider it a tremendous privilege for a student to attend [BYU],” Willis says, knowing how a BYU education can transform a life. But he says that without encouragement and guidance many of his young friends would never consider it.
Willis’s assistance, combined with that of Jerrod’s church leaders, lasted months, culminating in Jerrod’s announcement that he had been accepted. After taking a minute to bask in the accomplishment, Willis simply asked, “Who’s next on the list to help?”
The subzero chill of a Fairbanks, Alaska, winter morning is pierced by families cheering on their 4-year-olds, thickly bundled and standing fearlessly behind dog sleds for their 200-yard race. These mini-mushers love the dogs, the speed, the crowd in smiles. They are part of Junior Dog Mushers of Interior Alaska, a club that Fairbanks native and local dentist Andy Wappett helped found after an older club lapsed.
“Dog mushing is a family pursuit,” says Wappett, “and also a rich cultural tradition and state sport here in Alaska.” His club includes about 45 kids, ages 4 to 17, and each family has its own dogs. Wappett alone has 17.
The goal is to build character in the kids, who learn to love and care for dogs, even at 30 below. “The kids and dogs must listen to and trust each other, because the dogs can sense danger in the darkness or a moose on the trail,” says Wappett, who prepares older racers to participate in the Junior Iditarod and other 150-mile events. The kids are “on their own, feeding and taking care of 10 powerful dogs who could drag them away and are their only lifeline to get back,” says Wappett. “Doing things like that is a huge confidence-builder.”
It was a full-scale meltdown—the child wailing, flailing, and assailing her frazzled mother in the Gilbert, Arizona, park.
Watching on quietly, Fatima Dedrickson didn’t know the woman, but she knew enough. As a mother of three, she’d tasted this particular blend of embarrassment, weariness, and desperation before. And so Dedrickson walked up to the stranger mid-squall and declared, “I admire you. You’re a great mom. All of us struggle sometimes. Don’t beat yourself up.” And with that, the mother joined her child in tears—of a happier sort.
When Dedrickson left her homeland of Sweden to run track for BYU, she didn’t know anyone or speak much English. But the track team embraced her and soon became her family. “There was just so much love,” Dedrickson recalls. “This is how I want to treat other people too.”
Be it in a park or on her fitness, fashion, and parenting blog, Dedrickson finds friends and creates family everywhere. With Dedrickson’s open-armed disposition, many of her blog followers have become close friends, confidants, and training partners.
“Anyone can be your family,” she says. “Anyone can be your friend.”
“What should you do in the event of a fire?” When Bangladeshi garment workers were asked this question, many said they’d open a window and take cover under their work station.
Due to poor safety standards and training, during a two-year period 1,247 Bangladeshi workers died in factory fires and a building collapse while creating apparel for companies. Jay Jorgensen, Walmart’s chief global ethics and compliance officer, knew he was in a position to help change this.
Working with his counterparts at 28 other major retailers, Jorgensen helped develop the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, which created safety standards for apparel factories. The alliance hired safety inspectors to assist in imposing the standards and helped train 1.2 million workers on how to react in emergencies. Following the training, the majority of workers responded that in the event of a fire, they should calmly leave the building.
“The year before we started doing this,” Jorgensen says, “several thousand people died in various factory accidents.” But since the safety plan was implemented, he says the deaths “have been reduced by more than 99 percent.”
It was true when Sue Allen graduated in 1971 as one of just two women in BYU’s first computer-science class, and it’s true today: women are a distinct minority in the field of technology.
Over the years Allen has served with her tech skills while working at struggling, low-income schools in East Palo Alto, California. All the while she’s watched for opportunities to encourage and mentor girls exploring the subject.
An opportunity came in 2014, when Allen coached six sixth-grade Latina girls in the Technovation Challenge. Using MIT’s Scratch programming tool, the girls built an app to make driving with cell phones safer. If the phone user is moving at more than 5 miles an hour and a text comes in, the app sends an automatic reply that says, “I can’t answer. I’m driving.” But writing the app was just part of the competition, says Allen. The girls also had to study the market, craft a business plan, and present it all in a PowerPoint. Allen even helped them find business-style clothes for their presentation. “It was really fun to watch those girls blossom and learn and to watch their world open up,” she says.
“Your hardest [kids], . . . they’re the ones who stay with you,” says Maralee Powell, a K–5 special-ed teacher who works with troubled children. She tells of one particular student who, “to a degree, . . . felt like a really bad kid.” But where some see only volatile behavior, Powell listens to the stories, tales of crushing home lives, struggle, and trauma. “People are keenly aware of things they don’t measure up in,” says Powell. “I always point out strengths, always build on what’s working. . . . I try to have empathy. I reassure them that I love them.”
Powell says empathy created moments where this student could express appreciation and love. “It made the . . . difficult moments—and they were really difficult—it made it so you could keep going back all those times, because you knew that student needed you. . . . Knowing they are amazing spirits, children of God, it helps you to see through all the difficulties,” says Powell.
Scott Strobel is drawn to his unlikely scholars—the ones with passion but no pedigree.
The deputy provost of Yale University’s Center for Teaching and Learning and vice president of Yale’s West Campus research center, Strobel remembers one student from New Jersey. He came from a humble background, but the young man dreamed of being a scientist. Strobel’s class Rainforest Expedition and Laboratory—which included a trip to South America to collect biological samples—ignited the student’s passion.
With Strobel’s mentoring, the young man published several papers on the topic before pursuing a PhD at Stanford. “A few months ago he emailed me saying he received a National Science Foundation predoctoral fellowship,” says Strobel.
Seeing students’ prospects rise and expand is what it’s all about for Strobel: “If you want to help somebody move through the social strata, the best way to do it is with education.”
It is clear that Ruth Yeboah is from out of town when she hands a teenage waitress 50 Ghanaian cedis (about $12). In Ghana people generally don’t tip. But Yeboah, who grew up in the United States as the daughter of a Ghanaian and an Ivorian, understands that the girl is waiting tables rather than reading textbooks because of the prohibitive cost of an education—anywhere from $100 to $200 per year.
With the money comes another tip from Yeboah: “Education is freedom.”
Yeboah, who has worked as a victim advocate for U.S. Air Force families, funds her orphaned cousin’s education in Ghana and serves as guardian of a niece who needed assistance with school. Even in her newest venture, a clothing line called Le Regard Apparel for nursing mothers, Yeboah has education on her mind: a portion of the proceeds will go to fund scholarships for children in Ghana. Her ultimate goal is to build a school there.
“You’re given what you have to bless the lives of others,” she says simply. “There’s no greater blessing than being of help when you can be of help.”
It’s 1:30 a.m., and the phone on the nightstand starts to buzz. Someone needs to talk with Justin—again. Did a player break up with his girlfriend? Or is someone just having trouble sleeping? It’s not in Justin Su’a’s contract to take these early-morning phone calls, but he does it anyway.
A former BYU baseball pitcher, Su’a now works as a mental-performance coach for the Boston Red Sox and the Cleveland Browns. Instead of requiring players to meet with him during his regular office hours, Su’a makes himself available whenever they need him. He arrives early and lingers late at facilities, stays on the fields with players no matter the weather, and takes the players’ midnight calls. Su’a says he cares about how each player performs on the field, but he cares more about how each player performs in life.
“To serve the players is to love them, to care about them, and to listen,” says Su’a. “[Serving] doesn’t have to be some grandiose thing. It could be a simple thing like remembering someone’s name, a guy’s birthday, or being excited about things he’s excited about—simple things that truly indicate to the player that ‘wow, this person does care for me.’”
If a baby with Down syndrome comes to your family, you might just receive a book from Stephanie Meredith, who provides materials and support for new and expectant parents nationwide.
“It’s fun for me to support moms through books,” says Meredith, “but it’s also fun for them to learn about my son Andy as we become friends online.” Overwhelmed and uncertain, these parents have questions: What health concerns will she have? Will he make friends? Can she live a meaningful life?
Meredith provides whatever answers she can, but many of their concerns are resolved just by observing outgoing 17-year-old Andy on social media.
“He’s on a mountain biking team. He goes to dances. He’s way cooler than I was in high school,” says Meredith. “He’s a great photographer. He got his own job at our local grocery store. He is very independent.”
Meredith has always had a passion for service, and opening her heart to these parents has been a perfect outlet. Her experience raising Andy, she says, has given her energy a meaningful focus.
The iPad sits precariously atop a tower composed of a cake stand, a tub of candy canes, and a cookbook on a kitchen counter. At the other end of the room Marcus Martins stands in a suit, bleary eyed, behind a lectern set on his table. It’s 2 a.m. and, via Skype, Martins is delivering a lecture on being a modern-day pioneer to a crowd packed into a Mongolian church building more than 5,500 miles away.
Martins regularly delivers long-distance lectures and firesides on religion and leadership, the same topics he teaches as a BYU–Hawaii professor. This year he’s done video lectures for audiences in Mongolia and his native Brazil. Martins also posts lecture videos in English and Portuguese on YouTube.
Martins wasn’t able to begin his college education at BYU until he was 31. He believes technology can open educational opportunities to youth like him. “People are hungry for knowledge and insight,” he says. “They want insights they can apply to their lives. . . . We ought to take advantage of this virtual classroom and reach out to them, many of whom will never set foot on one of our campuses.”
To hear Verleen Toland tell the story, you’d think she had nothing to do with it.
Each lunch hour at the Idaho school where she taught, Toland noticed the same thing: her friend, an aide, had the same meager meal each day—a glass of milk, half a sandwich from home, maybe one item from the cafeteria.
A few questions later, Toland learned that the woman was saving every dime, nickel, and penny to support a family member through a struggle. So Toland decided to begin splitting a full cafeteria lunch with her friend.
“I don’t know how the cooks found out,” says Toland, but she soon noticed larger potato portions plopped onto her plate and two cookies instead of one. “That’s too much for me,” Toland protested. But the cooks just smiled knowingly.
Toland’s daughter, Lisa Kinney, isn’t surprised that her mother’s recounting emphasizes the lunch ladies’ generosity for the meals, which lasted five years until Toland retired. “That’s just my mom,” she says. “She sees what needs to be done, then gives credit to everybody else for it.”
These weren’t your ordinary bedtime stories. As a child Brian Hill would fall asleep to stories and essays written by his father’s students—students who were serving time in California’s Folsom State Prison. “That’s where [my] concern with criminal justice and helping those in prison have a better shot all started,” says Hill.
Years later, while in a graduate program at Northwestern, Hill worked on a project with Cook County Jail in Chicago to reduce the inmate population. He was dismayed to see “10,000 guys watching daytime television.” He says, “You realize that’s what’s happening all around the United States—2.25 million people watching daytime television while incarcerated. I knew that we could do a lot better than that in this country.”
So Hill started his company, Edovo, which uses modified tablet computers to fill inmates’ time with more purposeful options—vocational training, treatment programs, college courses, cognitive behavioral therapy, coding classes, even the LDS Gospel Library. The hope, says Hill, is that inmates will be better prepared to reenter society—and less likely to return to prison.
For his part, Hill “is in and out of jail a lot,” as his daughters like to say. After just three years, Edovo programs are now in nearly 20 states, enriching tens of thousands of unique users each month. But Hill has his eye on all 2.25 million inmates. “We won’t stop till we get there.”
Her daughters are the cats.
“There are a lot of intelligent animals in the book,” explains Jean Pace of Grey Stone, her first published novel. When she and fellow BYU alum and ward member Jacob H. Kennedy (BS ’95) cowrote the book, her girls loved “playing cats,” and they served as inspiration—and motivation. Pace says it didn’t matter if the book was ever published, calling it an act of love, a family memento. “We could have our kids worked in as characters,” she says. “We could make them into heroes in the story and give them heroic actions to be inspired by.”
It might sound cliché, says Pace, but motherhood has been her most meaningful service—when “I feel I am doing the Lord’s work most strongly.” Writing to young adults, with her own children in mind, has been an extension of that service. “I feel like I have a chance to influence them in certain ways,” says Pace, weaving in themes like the strong helping the weak. Or the reverse: in Grey Stone, the smallest, youngest cat—modeled after Pace’s youngest daughter—is the first to stand up to the adversary at the end.
“Small but mighty,” says Pace.
Debbie Valenzuela understood. Not the Swahili words her Congolese friend formed around her worries. Nor the details of this single mother’s background—all Valenzuela knew was that the woman, a widow, had fled the Democratic Republic of Congo with her seven children, eventually landing in Des Moines, Iowa. But the fear etched into the woman’s face spoke clearly enough. A mother of four young children herself, Valenzuela understood.
Google Translate spat out approximations of the refugee’s plight—need work; don’t know anyone; who will watch the baby? “I felt very responsible to help,” says Valenzuela. But how?
Debbie and her husband, Elio J. Valenzuela (BA ’09) had volunteered with their children to befriend a refugee family. From Chile, Elio had arrived at BYU as a nonmember with little English, so he understood the disorienting uncertainty. The Valenzuelas had visited the family several times, their children riding bikes and playing together on the lawn. But now the woman needed to find childcare, and Debbie didn’t know where to turn.
So she looked her friend in the eye, placed her hands together, and said, “We will pray. I will pray, and you will pray, and we’ll find help.” The mother nodded.
The next day a name came to Valenzuela—a woman from their LDS stake, someone Valenzuela hardly knew, someone who had also helped refugees. A phone call became a list of available services, which became many more calls, which became childcare, which became a mother who could provide for her family without fear.
Says Valenzuela, “That was, to me, a little miracle.”
It was a mac ’n’ cheese miracle.
In 2014, when a friend teaching at an inner-city elementary school told Melanie Shashindranath that many of the students go hungry during vacations without the school’s free-meal program, Shashindranath wanted to help. So she joined with the teacher and fellow alum Sherianne Stone Schow (BA ’95, MA ’98), who had created the nonprofit L3 | Love Literacy Life to provide food, clothing, and school supplies for the children at the Kansas City, Kansas, elementary, along with volunteers for the school’s summer reading camp. L3 sends the kids home before vacations with bulging bags of food—oatmeal packets, granola bars, pasta, and peanut butter. When Schow moved away, Shashindranath became the president.
On the brink of last year’s Christmas break, L3 was 987 boxes of macaroni and cheese short of its goal, and Shashindranath had no idea where they would come from. So she petitioned heaven for mac ’n’ cheese. And the noodles came—including a heaping pile of boxes that miraculously appeared on her porch during the night of Dec. 14.
“I see the Lord’s hand manifested so directly,” Shashindranath says of her work with L3. “The Lord is mindful of these families and the people associated with one little school.”
The chicken is crucial. Any one of the dozen-some-odd kids who attend Erin Bylund’s free drama camp can tell you that. For most of the last decade, Bylund has worked with neighborhood kids (including her four children) to write, act in, and film plays. What started as a standby chicken costume for the golden-egg-laying goose in their retelling of Jack and the Beanstalk has become a staple in their (mostly zany) productions. Take Monstermon, a play on Pokémon, starring Chikachu (Pikachu’s cockerel cousin) and his special power move, the Egg Roll. Or Studio Chicken, a collection of poultry-centered skits a la Studio C.
“I love the idea of just gladdening the spot where you are,” Bylund says of the small ways in which she has served. “I can help my kids and my kids’ friends feel loved. . . . I can help build them up, and those things that I do, even though they are small, God can make more of them.”
Jason Bodily calls it “pay a penny for a buck” service—minimal efforts that can make a big difference, like visiting someone in prison.
Bodily does this monthly, visiting a homeless man who lived in his ward boundaries before being incarcerated. Another ward member had started making the visits, but when that member moved, Bodily, on his second stint as bishop in 10 years, didn’t want to delegate. “I enjoy it,” he says. “You can give someone so much pleasure by doing so little.”
He finds opportunities to give back around the dinner table too. “Meals are biological. Feasts are social,” says the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center microbiology professor. At least twice a month, the Bodily family invites someone new into their home for Sunday dinner, from a local pastor to his LSU PhD students to new ward members.
“Jason has a saying that the difference between a meal and a feast is the company you keep,” says his wife, Krista Jamison Bodily (BS ’00). “We try to feast.”
Six beds. Six conversations. Six cheeks kissed. Six daughters asleep for the night. The bedtime routine could take more than an hour at the end of a long day of mothering. But for Caron Beeckel, who in 1979 left BYU early to raise her family, the time was a priority. She wanted each of her girls to feel loved every night.
Beeckel sacrificed more than her education for her children. Like any mother, her days and nights were filled with giving: rocking a feverish child in the night, washing mountains of cloth diapers, and chauffeuring her girls to endless practices and school events.
“I’m grateful that I could be here [to] help them get through those years,” she says. “Was I perfect? Absolutely not. Are there things I wish I could have done better? Absolutely. But there are things I couldn’t do as well as I did if I had not been here,” she says.
In 2005 Beeckel got a second chance at BYU, resuming her studies online and graduating with her youngest daughter. “It was . . . motivation to keep me going,” she says.
“Sometimes it is your sadness and your sorrows,” says Gordon Smith, “that particularly equip you to serve others.”
The Smith family’s great sorrow came in 2003.
Smith remembers the knock on his Maryland front door. He’d had a feeling something was wrong. Their son Garrett, away at college, wasn’t answering his phone. Smith, then a U.S. senator from Oregon, and his wife, Sharon, were worried that Garrett’s bipolar disorder had taken a downturn. They found a police officer on their porch. Garrett had taken his own life.
Disbelief quickly turned to anguish, shaking Smith to the soul. But amid his heartbreak, a sense of purpose was born within Smith. In 2004 he sponsored the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act, which provided $82 million for suicide-prevention programs on college campuses.
Today, serving as an Area Seventy, Smith shares his story as he travels to stakes and meets families struggling with mental illness or a child’s suicide. He counsels them as one who understands.
“If they know someone . . . who has borne those [sorrows] successfully,” says Smith, “it gives them hope and courage and the capacity to carry on.”
Mormons join in Christian service? The question came from fellow volunteers at a Massachusetts Salvation Army, where Christanne Smith-Harrison had joined the board soon after moving to Framingham. “That’s who we are!” she told them.
Harrison had many opportunities to prove it when the Salvation Army assigned her to coordinate community service in her ward. And she marshalled the energy of young missionaries to serve regularly in the Salvation Army marketplace. “It’s a really good way to be involved in the community—and also to help other people be involved,” she says.
While volunteering at the Salvation Army, Harrison was called to be the stake Relief Society president. She was impressed by the sisters in the stake’s five language units, many of whom were refugees and immigrants. Last year, before the women’s session of general conference, the Relief Society made blankets for refugees. “There were so many professional sewers volunteering from our language units that they ran out of materials,” says Harrison. “They were so happy they got to contribute and help in a meaningful way. . . . [Service] binds us together and connects us not only within the Church but also outside the Church.”
Mr. Steve loves story time, and kids love Mr. Steve, also known as Steve Siebers, a children’s librarian at the Kalamazoo Public Library. They love his animated tales; they love his guitar playing and his ability to mix in Spanish; and they’re delighted by how he stacks beanbags high on guests’ heads while everybody counts. They don’t know it, but Mr. Steve took a pay cut to move to a library branch where he’d have more time with kids.
A stats grad, Siebers started out as an actuary, actually. As a young father, he’d take his baby son to the public library every Tuesday to pick out picture books. When he confided in the worker at the info desk that he wasn’t happy as a pension actuary, she suggested he join the library. “Right, I’m going to quit my full-time corporate job and come shelve books part-time,” Siebers remembers thinking. “Well, a year later that is exactly what I did.”
It was a way to be involved in his community. “I was inspired by the work they did to promote literacy,” he says. Besides, he adds, “[I] learned that I really enjoyed making kids laugh while sharing books and songs.”
“I did it! I’m a doer!” the young girl exclaimed to her dad upon finishing the 5K. When the father asked what she meant, she explained, “I always thought I was more of a watcher.”
For Kathleen Cannon, program director at Girls on the Run (GOTR) Twin Cities, helping girls see themselves as doers and not just cheering spectators is what makes her work meaningful.
After volunteering as a GOTR coach in Iowa, she worked as the executive director of the organization’s Iowa council before moving to Minnesota. Cannon has loved helping girls, including her own. They are among the 2,000 Twin City girls who experience a curriculum of friendship, character, leadership, and, of course, running.
“It’s pretty great to hear my 9-year-old daughter say, ‘Ya know, Mom, I’m feeling a little frazzled, but I’m going to run it out,’” says Cannon. Her daughter has made new friends and is learning to manage her emotions and stress level through physical activity.
Cannon calls this service one of her greatest joys: “Being involved in something so meaningful is a gift.”
Their son would be 32 years old today. Gene and R. Arcola Voyles (’67) lost their second youngest of nine children, David, to congenital heart failure. “We buried him up here in the hills of Mississippi,” says Gene, in a cemetery sorely in need of tending. “In short,” says Gene, “we bought the cemetery.”
He and Arcola are now the grounds crew. “I don’t know what business a 73-year-old man’s got driving 20 miles to go clean up a cemetery, but I try to do it because it needs to be done.”
It’s the can-do attitude of a man who’s been a bishop thrice; who served pro bono for 28 years as a city councilman and as mayor back in Texas (where a park was subsequently named after him); and who, after moving to population-900 Smithville in 2006, marshaled 150 Church members to clean up after a violent EF5 tornado tore through the town in 2011. With his city-administration know-how, he chaired the infrastructure efforts to bring Smithville—sewer, water, everything—back on line.
And now he tends the grounds of the Kennedy Chapel Cemetery. Says Gene in his Southern drawl, “I feel a responsibility to do what I can.”
Did God want him to be a lawyer?
Jeremiah Morgan says the question came as he sat in a BYU law class two decades ago: “I started to wonder, ‘Did I do the right thing? Am I supposed to be a lawyer, or would Heavenly Father want me to do something else?’”
After ruminating on this question for some time, a thought came: “It doesn’t matter so much what profession we pursue, but it does matter the kind of professional we are. Heavenly Father wants us to be leaders no matter our profession.”
For Morgan, formerly Missouri’s deputy solicitor general and now general counsel to the state’s supreme court, being a leader among lawyers means mentoring newcomers to the field of law. His approach is simple: he spends time with interns, takes young lawyers to lunch, and counsels BYU students as chair of the J. Reuben Clark Law Society. Morgan spends time listening and giving advice on managing personal finances to pay off loans, balancing work and family, and maintaining core values.
And he shares his wrestle with his own early-career decisions. Looking back on the arc of his career, he can say with confidence, “I think [God is] perfectly happy that I am a lawyer, and I enjoy it.”
Karen Yose schedules swim lessons, scrutinizes medical records, strategizes with elementary-school teachers and counselors, and generally advocates with maternal intensity for her kids. But Yose’s own three children are all grown. Her “kids” are four siblings under 8 whose mother is a drug addict and whose father was recently released from prison.
Yose, a court-appointed special advocate volunteer, is tasked with speaking up for vulnerable little ones who have experienced abuse or neglect at home. She represents their interests before the judge, coordinates with social workers and foster parents, keeps in touch with biological parents, and visits the kids often. She is gratified to have helped place them in a safe foster home, where they now have running water, heat, and no holes in the roof.
“I see the foster family the four kids are with and how much the kids have grown since they were removed from their home,” says Yose. “It’s extremely rewarding when you see them doing so much better.”
The ballerina winces as the nurse inserts an IV into the pale crook of her arm, releasing a cocktail of drugs into her body.
The middle-aged patient leans back in her chair and closes her eyes. But before she falls asleep, a chorus of “oohs” and “aahs” erupts from the 30 other patients in the cancer-treatment center. She opens her eyes to see a maple-wood harp entering through the door, wheeled in by a smiling Karen Larsen. Larsen moves her harp to an empty space in the room, next to the woman’s chair.
Larsen’s fingers begin to strum, pluck, and dance across the strings, and conversations quiet as “Somewhere over the Rainbow” fills the room.
Larsen says she is amazed at music’s power to lift the spirit. In her own experiences coping with death and illness, music gave her strength to carry on. Helping others receive the same comfort “is a great privilege,” says Larsen.
An hour and a half later, Larsen stands to leave. “Thank you,” the dancer tells her. “I stayed awake the whole time, dancing in my mind.”
Service brings a smile to most people’s faces, and Blair Hale’s efforts are no exception. But the smiles he creates are literal and permanent. After working for decades as a dentist in Las Vegas, Hale, along with his wife, Norma, have found their service niche in humanitarian dental trips to South and Central America. They especially focus on prospective missionaries who have significant dental concerns, some of which might interfere with missionary service.
Hale recalls one memorable trip: “Our team discovered a lesion in the jaw of one young man that would have been very disfiguring. Because our team could provide the treatment, it probably saved his face. That single issue alone made the whole trip worthwhile.”
“I love you. I love you. I love you.”
Sitting in his wheelchair on the sidewalk near Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the disabled homeless man said it over and over through a broad smile, distributing high-fives all around. His gratitude and warmth, given in return for a Christmas bag of food, made an impression on the Hogan children, who still talk of their friend years later.
The Hogan family’s holiday tradition of delivering cheer to Boston’s homeless through food and treats was born of a national tragedy. The 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting shook Michelle Hogan and her husband, P. Cory Hogan (BS ’06), who had children in elementary school. But they found motivation in the catastrophe: “We just wanted to share love with other people and help them feel that there are still good people in the world,” says Michelle.
She says her family has been immeasurably blessed by their interactions with those they’ve served, like the man in the wheelchair. “He gave us so much more than we gave him,” she says. “It’s these kinds of experiences that I want my children to have to help them see what’s truly important. . . . Seeing the love of Christ in others, and sharing that love with others, is worth any effort we make to serve.”
Having studied Arabic at BYU, Becky Schulthies could understand the language of the couple she had been assigned to as a community mentor—an Iraqi man and his Lebanese wife. But as she met with them weekly, helping them fill out job applications, explore educational opportunities, and navigate their interactions with other Americans, she realized that certain aspects of their life would be difficult for her to fully understand: the lingering psychological scars from their displacement, the loneliness of being far from family and friends, their frustration at not understanding or being understood in a foreign environment, the strain of their plight on their marriage, or their occasional outbursts as stresses mounted. And for Schulthies, not fully understanding was okay.
“It would have been easy to just walk away from this difficult situation,” says Schulthies, a Rutgers professor of anthropology. “But the Lord helped me see that their need for sincere care outweighed my judgment of their behavior, responses, and choices.”
Schulthies says it’s how we all hope to be treated. “Most of us face challenges that are outside of our control,” she says. “Being helped via suspended judgment allows us the support and courage to make it just a little further along.”
A military convoy winds along a dirt road into the foothills of the Hindu Kush mountains. Leading the group is an armored vehicle filled with U.S. soldiers on the lookout for insurgents. The road turns sharply, and before the vehicle can stop, its tires trip a wire, detonating a roadside land mine. A cloud of dust and flames envelops the vehicle.
The soldiers might survive the blast in this hypothetical scenario, but they are stuck in a burning vehicle filled with ammo. It’s a ticking time bomb, and these soldiers can’t do anything about it.
But Thomas Mason can.
As a mechanical engineer at Los Alamos National Laboratory, Mason explores ways to protect the lives of U.S. soldiers, from developing less-sensitive explosives that won’t detonate from a roadside bomb to improving armor for military vehicles.
For Mason, who lost two uncles in WWII, this work is personal. “The technology we are working on now,” he says, “could have possibly saved both of them.”
Far from the war zone, Mason hopes his labors will add a layer of protection for soldiers—and help bring more of them home.
“I just try to help people as best I can. The Savior was the master healer—physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I’m not anywhere close to that, but it is a great blessing to work in a field where I can try to emulate Him in some small way.” —Josh Yamada, a radiation oncologist at New York City’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Named in 2015 as one of Newsweek magazine’s top cancer doctors, Yamada specializes in image-guided radiation therapy.
When disaster strikes, the people of Fayetteville, North Carolina, know whom to call: their dentist. After an EF3 tornado ripped through the town six years ago, the community saw Joseph Catlett swap his scrubs and dentist’s drill for work jeans and a shovel. “Patients of mine knew I was shutting down my office to go help,” he says, “and they would call me up to come out as well.” Soon, Catlett was getting calls from more than just patients—the local football coach put his team of 65 players at Catlett’s disposal. “That built bridges with everyone and the LDS community,” he says. “We really were able to bring people together.”
It doesn’t take a disaster to get Catlett and his patients together outside the office. “I’m so grateful for my family of patients,” he says. “And when I say ‘family,’ I mean they are just like family. We attend sporting events, go out to eat, and even go on trips with some of our patients. We just have experiences together where we feel like the family environment is cultivated.” And it’s an environment that Catlett says “makes dentistry not a job but an outreach of love.”
Sean Brotherson opens his worn notebook to a fresh page. Shirley, his friend and neighbor, moves her wheelchair closer, folding her wrinkled hands in her lap. “So,” she asks, “what should we talk about today?”
“Could you tell me more about living with polio?” asks Brotherson as he turns on a voice recorder.
“Well, I first contracted the disease when I was 3 years old,” she says. “I just turned 70, so that means I’ve lived the last 67 years of my life with limited use of my legs.”
An avid family historian, Brotherson has helped many older friends to create their own personal history. Following extensive interviews, he spends hours transcribing, eventually providing them with a printed story of their life.
Shirley goes on to tell Brotherson the joys and the sorrows of her seven decades—from learning to walk with braces to marrying her convert husband in the Jordan River Temple. For Brotherson, a visit with Shirley is like Christmas morning. “You never know what interesting or remarkable experience she is going to share with you,” he says. Creating personal histories for his elderly friends and others, he says, brings personal rewards: “I am changed and motivated by the examples of others.”
“There can be a lot of divisiveness, animosity, and negativity in our world. And yet, when we can come together in service, I think so many of those barriers melt away. When we’re working toward a common cause, for just a moment, we can put aside some of those differences and really build the world for good.” —Susan Hunter, who creates interfaith service opportunities in her calling as director of public affairs for the Church’s Columbus Coordinating Council in Ohio.
The hangar doors opened, and, to the exuberant cheers of spouses and children, parents and friends, a battalion of soldiers marched in. The command sergeant major extended a hearty thank-you to the soldiers for their service, then released them to their loved ones. The hangar erupted into joyous chaos as soldiers and their families ran to each other to embrace, kiss, laugh, and cry. April Hopkins, camera in hand, captured every second of it for one family.
When she served as a volunteer photographer with the organization Welcome Them Home, Hopkins was always touched by the love and tenderness of these reunions. “Sometimes [the soldier] is meeting their baby for the first time,” she says. A former army wife herself, Hopkins says this is her way “of saying thank you to those spouses who toughed it out during the long months” of deployment.
Hopkins has also volunteered her camera skills with Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, a nonprofit that provides remembrance photography for parents who have a stillborn child. Hopkins remembers taking pictures for a close friend who’d had a stillborn child—an experience that was wrenching for Hopkins. But she says the difficult emotions were all worth it when she would hand the parents a portrait of their baby. This service helps them to heal, says Hopkins, and “it’s something they can’t do for themselves.”
Zooming in on the aerial image, Teresa Pett scanned the faint line running through the Nepalese mountainside—definitely a road, she determined. With a line tool, she traced its shape, adding to the image yet another detail, a detail that just might save a life.
In April and May 2015, Nepal shook from a 7.8 magnitude earthquake and aftershocks that devastated villages, killed 8,500 people, and displaced as many as 3.5 million. Survivors fled their homes to await medical support, food, and other supplies. But with severed communication lines and impassable roadways, the government didn’t know where to send aid or how to get it there.
From her home in Oregon, Pett, a geology grad, joins with thousands of other volunteers online to help rescuers reach survivors in disasters like this. “[Hazard mapping] takes a lot of manpower and [time] to do,” says Pett. “By crowdsourcing it, . . . it can be done really quickly. If the local government was trying to do this on its own, it might take weeks or months.”
They say many hands make light work, but the proverb breaks down when you are Kip Alder and the hands happen to be those of your eight children, ranging in age from 4 to 25. “Whenever [the kids] ‘help,’ it takes longer, it’s not as convenient,” acknowledges Alder. “But it is very fulfilling.”
So in 2011, when Tropical Storm Lee flooded northeastern Pennsylvania and caused nearly $1 billion in damage, it wasn’t for the sake of convenience or efficiency that Alder brought along members of the Alder crew to assist in the neighborhood cleanup. The Alders met up with their Catholic friends and other community members at the local Catholic church to feed volunteers and clean flooded homes.
“It was a really touching moment,” says Alder. “It was a great experience for myself and for my children [to work] with people from other faiths.” And such moments are important, he says, “to help my kids see that [I’m] willing to serve.”
For Seth Dixon, a geography professor at Rhode Island College, to give homework is to give service: “One of the things I . . . do with my cartography class is get my students to make maps for organizations that maybe don’t have the oomph or the resources to hire a cartographer but could use some special analysis to run their organizations better.” From helping local mom-and-pop businesses to nonprofits focusing on agriculture design, Dixon says this homework-service combination “really helps the light click on. That’s when my students start to say, ‘This is valuable; this did something.’”
With a little creativity, Dixon believes you can find opportunities to add a service component to almost any day-to-day activity, and especially to a career: “There isn’t a defined division between service in your profession and service in the kingdom. Sometimes they really blend together.”
When a tropical storm devastated her seaside town in 2015, Beth Petty decided she wouldn’t be forced to stand by during any future disasters. She would be prepared, and for Petty that meant volunteering at her local fire and rescue department: “It was like entering a whole new world. It’s very humbling, going from being a resort manager to the bottom of the food chain in public service.”
When Petty began her training, however, she realized this new world wasn’t as foreign as it seemed: “I don’t remember if it was the syllabus or an orientation paper, . . . but I sat down during a training, looked at the paper, and read, ‘Horry County Training: Enter to Learn, Leave to Serve.’ . . . I knew I was right where I needed to be.”
Now a fully trained, full-time firefighter, Petty says service opportunities seem to find her: “When you’re prepared, it’s like being a Disney employee wearing a name tag or a missionary wearing a badge or even a BYU grad. People look at you differently. They have an expectation of you, and they will come to you.”
“What’s your favorite kind of pie?” It’s how Thomas Worsley’s home-teaching companion—his father—would often end visits. “That was his love language—his favorite thing was making pies,” Worsley says. “Even someone who was maybe a little cold or standoffish, who’s going to push away a pie?”
Worsley and his dad got a lot of “windshield time” as they traveled country roads on pie deliveries. Now that his father has passed away, Worsley treasures those conversations and his father’s example of service. “Thinking about my kids, my greatest desire is that they [serve] because they view other people as their brothers and sisters; that it’s not something that they do, it’s who they are; that they do it from a position of love and not from obligation,” he says.
Just like his father, Worsley is passionate about feeding people. Among other efforts, he serves on the board of Feeding South Dakota, a hunger-relief organization serving the poorest county in the nation, and he works with local food growers in a farm-to-table initiative. And as a healthcare administrator and a local bishop, he sees many who are suffering and coordinates efforts to help them.
Worsley’s strivings reflect the ethic his father instilled in him: “Your job is not just to live, work, go to church, and die. You really need to leave a mark, and the way you do that is by getting involved and being a positive voice and influence.”
“No one brings us a meal. We bring other people meals.” Or so Steven and Sharalee Nabrotzky thought until two years ago.
On Dec. 29, 2015, their sixth child, Koby, was born without a pulse. Twelve long minutes later, surrounded by doctors and nurses, Koby finally drew breath. However, the Nabrotzkys soon learned that it was just the start of Koby’s battle as the lack of oxygen to his brain led to a diagnosis of cerebral palsy. And so, as the Nabrotzkys first spent five weeks with their son in the NICU and later took him to constant hospital checkups and therapy appointments, these givers became those in need.
As soon as word of Koby’s condition spread over social media, the prayers began and the help started arriving—and not just from their ward. The local Baptist and Pentecostal congregations each engaged in prayer, with the Pentecostals organizing a special service for Koby when he was well enough to attend. Several Iranian neighbors of the Baha’i faith also prayed and brought by meals.
Friends and neighbors “basically raised our kids for months,” says Steve. They gave the other five kids rides to school and sports and church and piano lessons. Meals arrived from the compassionate service committee. The Activity Days girls weeded and planted flowers in their garden bed. “We didn’t even go to a grocery store . . . for months,” says Steve. “People, without us asking, would just bring us stuff.”
It was a difficult transition, says Steve. “The hardest lesson is to let others serve you.” Sharalee adds, “I had to really humble myself and realize that this is my family, and I’m the mom, but I’m going to need help.”
The Nabrotzkys have learned that joyfully receiving service can be its own kind of giving. “When we pray and ask Heavenly Father to help,” says Sharlee, “He turns and gives that idea to other people, and whoever acts on it gets to feel the blessings of it.”
For Perry Dobson, compassion is “an honest, immediate instinct,” says his wife, Celeste. “Names come to him, and the Lord knows he’ll act on those promptings.”
It might be the name of a sick missionary or a neighbor in need. Other times it’s the name of a homebound friend. Most often it’s the names of the older sisters in his ward that fill his thoughts.
For Maria and Karen and Pamela and Lorna and others, Dobson shows up again and again, offering rides to church or stopping by to visit. And once each month the Dobsons host an empty-nesters FHE at their home, where they provide a lesson, much-needed company, and rides to and from the gathering.
Dobson says he’s been inspired observing others serve his aging aunts and uncles over the years. “I’ve been trying to watch over some of our newer converts in our ward, the ones that are older and can’t get around very much,” he says. “I’ve really grown to love them.”
They come from every direction, on foot, bike, and skateboard. And they come to read. With a teacher (okay, retired teacher). On summer break.
Like a pied piper, Ann Searle entices some 30 neighborhood kids and grandkids to her home on Tuesdays for her summer reading program and, of course, treats. “I wanted to keep reading alive for kids,” says Searle, who honors two annual traditions: the readings of her favorite books, Edward the Emu and Edwina the Emu, and a culminating slip-and-slide and cotton-candy celebration. The whole thing has been going for 20-plus years. “It’s a little assignment I gave myself,” says Searle.
Self-assigning is what she does. After missing the news from home while serving a mission in South Africa, Searle assigned herself to write the ward missionaries monthly and send them the ward newsletter. She assigned herself to start up a weekly humanitarian quilting group, now 14 years old. And she assigned herself to celebrate everyone in the ward who shares her birthday—there are six of them—sending each a big candy bouquet each year.
“I do it because we’re told you don’t have to be commanded in all things,” says Searle. “And because it’s fun.”
On a summer day 1-year-old Gwen experienced the joy—and flavor—of gathering wild blueberries for the first time. “I put the bucket in front of her . . . to see what she would do,” says her mom, Katie Clover. Gwen was a fan, she says, “eating them faster than I could pick them.”
For Clover, a part-time mental-health therapist specializing in eating disorders, it confirmed her belief that children are great intuitive eaters: “I want Gwen to learn to trust and honor her body. Her body will let her know when she’s hungry, when she’s full, when she needs to be active, and when she needs to rest.”
Clover’s healthy hopes extend to the young women she counsels at church and in her social work. “Everyone has a relationship with their body and with food and with exercise,” she says. “If I can help make those better—not so fraught with fear and anxiety and anger and shame—then that is work I want to be involved in.”
Posing in cap and gown at the “Enter to Learn” sign the day she graduated with her master’s in school psychology, Temma Devereaux was dying to finally “Go Forth to Serve” somebody. “I felt like I had been focusing on myself a lot” as a student, she recalls.
So while her husband, James C. Devereaux (BS ’09), prepared to take the LSAT, Temma relished the two years she spent evaluating and analyzing and coaching struggling grade-schoolers.
But as their children began to arrive, Devereaux gladly set aside career and income to diaper and feed and analyze (“overanalyze,” laughs the psychologist) and console and cheer and worry. James says Temma applies her whole self—and her education—to mothering. She has managed to weave in volunteer psychology work for a local school, log hours online for an organization that fights child sex-trafficking, and fulfill her church callings.
Devereaux calls this time with her three young children “a great blessing—a privilege.” And it has opened her eyes to what it means to be selfless.
And now, that selflessness is pulled in a different direction, as James transitions between employment opportunities. “Where we’re at in life, perhaps the greatest service to my family now is to go work part-time,” she says.
Going forth, says Devereaux, means “serving to the best of your capacity, wherever you find yourself in life.”
The shaking began in high school, Sarah Hartsfield’s leg muscles tightening and wobbling unpredictably, leaving her prone to spills. When she left home for BYU, she had a wheelchair and a diagnosis: Friedreich’s ataxia, a neurodegenerative condition that can lead to muscle spasms, vision and hearing impairment, and a host of other symptoms.
Undaunted, Hartsfield earned degrees in print journalism and public administration and served for a time as a Relief Society president. But after graduating Hartsfield eventually had to move into a home for disabled adults. With an active mind but hobbled body, she soon found herself sinking into depression.
Her rescue came via an email: volunteers were needed for her local alumni chapter. Hartsfield replied and was soon enlisted to serve as the secretary—“one of the greatest things I’ve done,” she says. This fall she’s helping coordinate the visit of BYU’s Ballroom Dance Company. Though she is losing her ability to speak (“so annoying that I can’t spit it out”), an iPad keeps her connected.
Opportunities to serve—with the chapter, in her ward calling, as a grant writer for nonprofits—are a lifeline, a reminder of all that she yet has to offer.
The assigned topic was economics. But Theresa Goodell, a third-grade teacher at a private elementary school, had grander designs. She wanted to teach these well-off kids a lesson in selflessness.
The answer, she decided, was to go into business with her class. Twice a week students would stay after class to make cookie and cinnamon-roll dough, which Goodell would bake or package at home for the class to sell the next day to parents dropping off or picking up kids. After earning $1,000, they had to figure out what to do with the proceeds. Some kids raised their hands—maybe they could give it to the homeless.
With Goodell’s guidance, they concocted a plan to cook a breakfast that included scones, bacon and eggs, biscuits and gravy, and, of course, cinnamon rolls to be distributed at a civic center. They’d give any extra money to the center to provide needed medications.
The event was a hit. The mayor even showed, though the kids hardly noticed. “They didn’t really care about the publicity,” says Goodell. “The big excitement came from just helping those people.”
Teaching, says Goodell, is about helping students become: “Teachers can . . . help them know that they have something to give. In so doing, the students feel better and are lifted to be better.”
Corn. George Huber can’t miss it on his commute to the University of Wisconsin–Madison each day. But as he passes field after field of the ubiquitous Midwestern crop, the professor of chemical and biological engineering sees beyond the ears, the stalks, and the bordering trees. Instead, he envisions bluer skies, a cooler planet, and revitalized rural communities.
One of the world’s most cited researchers, Huber, with the help of his research team, is wrestling with the science of converting biomass—such as agricultural leftovers, wood pulp, and animal fats—into jet fuel, diesel fuel, gasoline, and plastics. “Anything you make from petroleum,” he asserts, “we can make from biomass and renewable resources.” His 2006 paper on the topic has been dubbed the “bible of biofuels.”
Huber contends that such renewable energy resources, once fully harnessed, may someday help halt climate change. In the meantime, he hopes biofuels will provide a shot in the arm for small towns everywhere. “In Wisconsin we have a big pulp and paper industry that has really been struggling. A lot of paper mills have been shutting down,” he says. Turning pulp and other waste into fuel can save those mills and the towns they sustain. “Renewable energy can really impact rural economies,” Huber says.
“Wouldn’t it be neat if every business in America closed its doors for one day and took its employees out and did service somewhere? What a different world it would be.” —Steve Higginson, CEO of Reliant Federal Credit Union, which shuts down once a year for a day of service. A recent project building a Habitat for Humanity home had about 35 credit-union employees working all day hanging drywall, nailing siding, and building a deck.