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'Pure religion'

Mountain-area ward organizes service blitz in neighborhood

ALPINE, Utah — As its name reflects, Alpine is a place of geographic beauty. It is nestled in a canyon area on the south side of the mountain that forms the boundary of Salt Lake and Utah valleys. It has long been a rural community, but in recent years has attracted an influx of new households, many of them up-scale.

For the past three months or so, one neighborhood in this pristine and diverse community has been a laboratory for members of Mountainville 3rd Ward to apply James' instruction about pure religion being "to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction" (James 1:27).

What started as a typical effort to assist some members with needs in the ward has mushroomed into a project in which nine homes belonging to widows and widowers are being fixed up, with three undergoing extensive renovation.

The scope of what has come to be known as "the project" is not the only unusual element that characterizes it, according to Bishop Rob Wellman.

"We have individuals from multiple religions who have donated labor, appliances, lumber," he said. "So it really is a neighborhood that has come together."

Joy and unity — for givers as well as receivers — has pervaded the project, the bishop said. Even Primary children have been involved in bringing refreshments to workers.

"Most nights this week, there were people here until well after midnight," he said while participating in the work on Saturday, Aug. 27. "Children are asking their parents, 'Do we get to go to the project tonight or tomorrow?' My daughter called me, a little frustrated that we had left home without her to go work on it."

Bishop Wellman said the project will have occupied well over 2,000 man-hours before it is finished with between 400 and 500 people involved, representing more than 100 families, almost all of the households in the ward. Reflecting the growth in the community, the ward has been together about three years and takes in one of the newest parts of the town as well as one of the oldest streets — which happens to be the one on which the three houses are located that are undergoing the extensive remodeling.

"I think it's allowed us to see we really are brothers and sisters," he said.

Spearheading the work, ward member T. D. Biegel estimated that 200 people have provided on-site work. Then, laughing, he added: "Skilled labor? There were probably five."

A construction company owner by profession, he could be seen at the project site, serving as a one-man mission control, giving instructions via cell phone to other workers obtaining supplies or doing other jobs. He credited fellow ward members Kevin Davis, Wes Lewis and Brett Miller, who also have extensive construction backgrounds, with helping manage the effort.

"The work started out with things we could see that needed doing and grew from there," he said. "Once we tore off deck boards, for example, we realized we needed to replace all the joists. We put a hole in a ceiling and realized there were only 2 inches of insulation in the attic, so we took care of that, and so forth. The scope has continually grown."

A meager budget has been augmented through the generosity of ward members and others in the neighborhood, he said.

Recipients of the service have worked side by side with those rendering it, helping to landscape, paint, lay concrete and so forth.

Among them were Linda Warnick and her six children, who range in age from 24 to 13. Their husband and father died eight years ago, and family members have learned to rely on one another since then. The home they occupy was their Christmas present one year; the children awoke to find nothing under the Christmas tree, but an envelope containing a key. The address for the house was hidden in the branches. "They've been just tickled pink to be here ever since," said Sister Warnick.

"It's been overwhelming," she said of the service the ward has rendered. More than the work itself though, "the thing I've enjoyed most is the love that it has brought into our home," she added. "It teaches me what the gospel is all about. This is a true act of love, and the little kids in the ward can see what they've done. You can hand money into Humanitarian Services, you can make a quilt, but you don't get to see the joy on someone's face. But when you do it within your own neighborhood, it's an everyday thing that you can see and feel."

Pheobe Blackham, ward Relief Society president, added: "If these sweet sisters weren't willing to share and let us serve them, we wouldn't have the miracles we've been seeing, tons of miracles in people's lives."

Living next door to the Warnick home, Connie Turkington is another recipient of the service. She said it has helped influence the decision of her son, Bonn, to serve a mission. "I think he has struggled with it, especially since Scott (her husband) died," she said. "I don't know if 'protective' is the word, but he pretty much does everything around here for me. I go to work full time and to school full time, and he pretty much takes care of the house. He was afraid of leaving me." But seeing the ward turning out in force to help has "turned his heart quite a bit," she said. "Everybody's involvement, love, testimony has been tremendous for him."

Across the street lives Sandra Fyffe, another beneficiary of the project. Her husband died 12 years ago, but she has remained steadfast, finishing the rearing of their 10 children. She now has 20 grandchildren.

"People do care about the widows and widowers and single parents of the Church," she said, "but this is different, because it's a whole ward working together. We have had a magnificent change of heart and mind. We have grown to love each other more and to serve willingly, more than I expected. When the bishop called me into his office to tell me about his intention, I was overwhelmed. I didn't think I needed any assistance at all and, as we worked through this, I found out I was in denial all those years. I really need help, and I appreciate it so much."

E-mail to: rscott@desnews.com