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Shining moments: Turning tears into smiles

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At age 80, Theresa Wersal would rather risk walking the icy sidewalks in Russia while helping others rather than sit in her warm Massachusetts home.

"She's always been like this," said her son, Joe. "She's always considering how to help others."

"Years ago, when the family was young," Joe continued, "she was returning home late one night after working in the Worchester County Hospital. She saw a man staggering in a major intersection who appeared to be on drugs.

"She didn't consider the danger the man posed to her, or the danger of the traffic. She helped him to the side of the road and waited for assistance.

"She believes God puts her in the right place, and protects her while serving," Joe said.

Sister Wersal is a member of the Gardner Ward, Springfield Massachusetts Stake. After her husband died in the mid-1970s, she was introduced to the Church by her sister. Her questions were answered and she soon joined the Church.

More recently, her efforts to bless have come while assisting her son, Joe, who in the past decade has organized numerous relief shipments to war-torn and desperate areas of eastern Europe. In 1997, he co-founded a philanthropic foundation that gathers medical supplies and educational material that he distributes while traveling to Russia, Africa, South America, Bosnia, Serbia and India.

"He handles the money, I gather the toys," she said.

After having collected toys, books and clothing, Sister Wersal has visited orphanages in Russia, near St. Petersburg, where she has helped teach English and has played on the floor with the children.

"Right now, she's working with her ward to make quilts for teens in Russia," Joe said. "She has huge amounts of energy. She has her own challenges with health, but she overcomes the obstacles with her great drive."

"I feel it's my duty from God to help others," she said. "I like to turn tears into smiles.

"Our biggest challenge is finding a way to ship all the donations to Russia," she continued, noting how $30,000 worth of toys were donated during Christmas.

Not bowing to age, Sister Wersal plans another trip to Russia in May.

"I've learned to schedule her trips to avoid the ice," her son said.