Chainsaws will be buzzing, water blasters hissing, and weed eaters chomping through scrub across New Zealand this coming Saturday, 23 February, on New Zealand’s sixth annual Mormon Helping Hands Day.
Volunteers from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will be out in force across the country donating between 15,000 to 20,000 hours of their time to work in their communities.
Their bright yellow vests will dot parks, reserves, schools and churches as they paint classrooms, weed, plant and spruce up the nation — often in conjunction with Members of Parliament and local mayors.
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"'Mormon Helping Hands Day’ enables members and friends of the Church to give of their time and talents to make their communities better places in which to live,” according to John McLean, one of the organizers of a community project on Auckland’s North Shore. “It also helps us all, including our young people, to develop great pride in our community.”
Latter-day Saint leader on Auckland’s North Shore, Michael Higgins, announced recently that Mormon volunteers would be painting buildings belonging to another faith group this year.
Other projects across Auckland will include working on painting a large public wall in Mangere, painting and cleaning various schools, mending and painting at a West Auckland scout camp, and clearing vegetation for the Twin Streams Project in West Auckland. Further projects are planned for March in other parts of Auckland and Northland.
In Wellington, Mayor Celia Wade-Brown will welcome an expected 200 volunteers who will be blazing trails, weeding, mulching and working on restoring the environment around Owhiro Stream in Happy Valley — north of the site of a fire earlier this week.
Mayor Celia Wade-Brown said Helping Hands was a great initiative that brings the community together.
"I'm looking forward to joining a few hundred keen Wellingtonians to help restore Owhiro Stream,” she said.
“Helping Hands is about partnerships with the community and the environment, and people of all ages will learn about our local environment as they enhance the area around the stream. These partnerships are a key focus of Council's ‘Our Living City’ programme."
Martin Payne, leader of the community group, ‘Friends of Owhiro Stream,’ says he is pleased to welcome the Latter-day Saint volunteers. “I enjoy seeing young children working alongside their parents — it gives us a real sense of community.”
Hon. Annette King and City Councillor Paul Eagle will join the stream clean up later in the morning and have been keen supporters of Helping Hands initiatives in Wellington. “Yet another fabulous Helping Hands project in Wellington!" Ms. King said this week. "I’m delighted the Owhiro stream restoration project will benefit from the energy, enthusiasm and willing help from the Mormon Helping Hands team. The difference their projects have made in our community is significant. I’m looking forward to the next!”
Around 100 volunteers in Porirua will cut scrub, remove rubbish and garden at Ngatitoa and Windley schools, much to the joy of principals Louellen Bonallack and Judith Wootton.
At Ngatitoa school, an area that was formerly a Kohanga Reo will be cleared of gorse and blackberry and prepared for future use. Helping Hands volunteers at Windley school will weed school gardens and banks and clear the school of rubbish.
Upper Hutt and Wairarapa
Mormon Helping Hands volunteers from Upper Hutt will be working at Papawai Marae in Greytown, Wairarapa to spruce up the marae and grounds. The marae has historical significance to Latter-day Saints because the first permanent branch of the Church among Maori was established there in August 1883.
Flaxmere Family Festival has been a means of lifting families and showcasing local talent for the past three years. Mormon Helping Hands workers will lend their support to set up the 4th annual festival – erecting marquees, stalls, perimeter fencing, children’s rides, signage and gateways.
During the festival, Helping Hands volunteers will assist with face painting and rides, as well as rubbish collection management of the toilet facilities. They will help ensure the day goes smoothly before they then assist in packing up and cleaning the grounds.
Flaxmere ward councillor Henare O’Keefe of the Hastings District Council told Mormon Helping Hands coordinator Traci Tuimaseve that “Helping Hands are a group of passionate, God-abiding, Flaxmere people who live and breathe servant-hood.”
He added, “Their labour of love is provided without expectation, or indeed want of reward. They epitomise all that is good within our beloved suburb, and indeed families. In past years I have laboured alongside them, whereby they have made ‘Helping Hands’ a living, breathing, compassionate entity. As one of two Flaxmere ward councillors, I abide safe in the knowledge that these are our constituents.”
Palmerston North, Manawatu, Horowhenua, Dannevirke
After last year’s mammoth clean-up of Himatangi beach, local Latter-day Saint leader Wi Ormsby decided his volunteers could focus on their own communities doing smaller projects in Wanganui, Dannevirke, Levin, Otaki, Foxton, Waiouru and Palmerston North.
There are over 200 Mormon congregations throughout New Zealand. Most congregations will be involved, in some way, in over 20 different community improvement initiatives on 23 February. In addition, some congregations will organize other service projects at other times during the year based on local community needs.
Even though Latter-day Saints have placed strong emphasis on improving their neighbourhoods, towns and cities since the Church was organized in 1830, ‘Mormon Helping Hands’ has only been an organized, worldwide, community service approach since 2000.
Since that time more than 1.5 million hours of voluntary service have been given throughout the world.
Volunteers from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also assist, where possible, in major disasters across the world. In many cases, community and humanitarian service is provided by Latter-day Saints alongside representatives of other churches, charities and government agencies.
Last year New Zealand songwriter and performer Dionne Shaw wrote a song about Mormon Helping Hands volunteerism. Read more and watch a music video featuring the song here.
Did you attend a Mormon Helping Hands community service project on 23 February 2013? Send your photographs to firstname.lastname@example.org.