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Members practice what they preach

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WEST JORDAN, Utah — Their intent was to simply gather much needed supplies for three local elementary schools. But in the process of helping others, leaders of the West Jordan Utah Westbrook Stake found that the burdens of the stake were made lighter as the capacity of the members to serve increased.

"We are led by a stake president who is always looking for opportunities for his people to serve," said Ross Olsen, a high councilor in the stake. "He practices what he preaches by taking his family to feed the homeless."

This desire to bless others prompted the stake to organize a humanitarian effort last year in which supplies were prepared and delivered to the Church's Humanitarian Center for distribution around the world.

"We wanted to do something closer to home this year," Brother Olsen said. "We knew our efforts last year blessed others, but this year we wanted to see the joy on the faces of the recipients."

On July 15, members and others in the community delivered the goods they had gathered to the parking lot of the stake center. "It was a day of celebration," Brother Olsen said. "It was a chance for the community to celebrate together."

For their efforts, more than 10,000 pencils were collected. More than 1,100 boxes of crayons, ranging in size from the jumbo eight-pack to the volume 100-crayon packs. In addition, 842 reams of paper, 361 spiral notebooks, 364 glue sticks, 196 pairs of scissors, 32 rolls of butcher paper, 562 erasers, $3,500 worth of bulk paper, 1,600 books, $1,500 worth of fine paper and 214 rolls of paper towels were donated.

"An estimated $32,000 to $35,000 worth of goods were donated," Brother Olsen said.

The school service project was approximately six months in the creation. Last fall, while considering different projects the stake could undertake, Brother Olsen noticed how his granddaughter's elementary school class had to share one box of crayons containing only a few broken pieces.

After some discussion, the stake adopted a project to supply high quality materials to three local elementary schools. The plan was to provide materials that aren't typically funded by tax money. A stake committee was organized composed of a member of the stake presidency, two high councilors and the ward activities chairmen. A brochure was created that detailed the vision of the project and outlined how all age groups of the stake could contribute.

It was suggested, for instance, that Primary-age children donate pencils, the high priests could donate reams of paper, the Relief Society could donate books. "Every age group could donate," said Brother Olsen, "even Primary-age children could donate 5 cents for a pencil."

A date was set to gather all the materials. Stake leaders felt that this was also an opportunity to celebrate as a community. They hoped that a day of festivities would help unite an area of relatively new homeowners.

With flags posted around the stake grounds, members and others were treated to a lively day of entertainment and food.

"We noticed people who did not live in the area stop to see what was happening. They asked at the information booth how they could help. Many left, then returned a few minutes later with a bag of school supplies they had purchased," said Brother Olsen.

Residents who are not LDS became involved in the project as stake and ward leaders distributed booklets explaining the project, and by 1,200 door hangers that were distributed throughout the area in April announcing the beginning of the project.

"The project had a profound effect," he continued. "Lives were changed. Being a brother's keeper is the essence of the gospel. We found that the more you serve, the more you hunger to serve. Our people have greater capacity to give because they have more to give."

"We weren't sure how people would respond to this request," said President William L. Ertel of the Westbrook stake, referring to the concern by some people that schools were publicly funded. "But the support was phenomenal."

"It was overwhelming," said Bill Anderson, principal of Westbrook Elementary who participated in the festivities as a celebrity reader. "In education we sometimes feel alone. It was reassuring — so nice — to see such overwhelming support for education. Because of these supplies we'll be able to devote more of our resources toward our new reading program."

E-mail: shaun@desnews.com