Within hours after Hurricane Sandy hit the Northeastern parts of the United States in October of 2012, Church members in the surrounding areas quickly organized teams to clean up after the devastating storm. Many of the volunteers who showed up to help were youth, armed with tools and cleaning supplies, eager and ready to serve.
Weeks after the storm, the clean up continued. So did the youth's service.
"We went out and visited the Rockaways in New York and Breezy Point and there were Mormon Helping Hands all over that little island," said Elder Paul V. Johnson of the Seventy who, while on a Church assignment to New York, visited some of the affected areas.
"I was struck by how many youth were there helping. … Every place we'd go, there would be a little group here, and a little group working there. There were a few older people, sometimes missionaries, and then there were a lot of youth. They had been spending their Saturdays and Sundays for the last month or so, digging the dirtiest stuff out of basements and hauling garbage, all while still smiling."
The youth are living examples of the scripture found in Mosiah 2:17 — "When ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God."
"They kept asking what more they could do and at the end of the day they were really dirty and really happy," said Elder Johnson. "It has made an impact and those people have a whole different view of the Church right now and a lot of it is because of these young people who are willing to go out there and work and smile and be happy. Their lights are shining right through those dirty faces and dirty clothes."
Large, organized service projects are important and a great way to serve communities, but service goes far beyond that definition. Service is something that is cultivated, becoming a crucial element to the life of a disciple of Jesus Christ.
In the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet it reads: "Service to others is an important characteristic of a disciple of Jesus Christ. A disciple is willing to bear other people's burdens and to comfort those who need comfort. Often Heavenly Father will meet the needs of others through you."
Whether it is a large organized project or a smaller act of kindness at school or at home, service is an integral part of life for Latter-day Saint youth.
"You'll see some press reports on big organized service, but most of the service that goes on are onesies and twosies — behind the scenes that nobody ever hears about," Elder Johnson said. "It's a young person at school who has kind of been rejected by a lot of people and a young member of the Church will put their arm around them and just try to be friendly with them. It'll never make the papers but it will change a life. There's more of that kind of service that goes on than the big organized service, and I love to see that."
Youth around the world are stepping up to the call to "arise and shine forth" as they serve their families, friends and communities.
One young woman, Kaela Gudgeon, from the Welcome Bay Ward, Tauranga New Zealand Stake, shows her friends and family what it means to be a disciple of Christ as she serves in everyday life.
"Kaela is a gorgeous, modest and faithful Laurel that is a light to the members of our stake," said Angela Fallentine, who serves as the stake Young Women president. "She is beautiful inside and out. There is a light about her that shines, and it shows as she lives the gospel. She consistently testifies of the doctrine of the proclamation on the family and has an understanding of the doctrine of marriage well beyond her years."
Although Kaela's choice to wear modest gowns for formal dances is noticed among her peers, it is her dedication to the gospel and service to others that really makes her stand out.
"People know who she is and what she stands for," Sister Fallentine said. "She stays strong and true, despite the world. She chooses to spend time with her family, helps in cooking the family meals on many nights and she is teaching other Young Women the piano for her Personal Progress goals. … She has been our ward pianist for years."
When doctors found a grapefruit-sized tumor in the spine of one of the priests in her stake, Kaela helped to make a blanket to make his hospital stay a bit more comfortable.
"Her example is known throughout our stake; to her four younger sisters, to the young men and women as well as to the adults," said Sister Fallentine. "Service is huge in her family and she's always serving."
A group of youth in the Salt Lake Valley are examples of taking time out of their busy schedules each week to serve others around them.
"I know some youth around where I live that every week they visit the local nursing home," Elder Johnson said. "A small group of them make a tradition of it. They don't publicize what they do. They don't advertise it. They just love to do it because it helps somebody and it helps the way they feel about things, too."
Service comes in all shapes and forms, and is a way for individuals to grow in their testimony of the gospel.
President Thomas S. Monson said in general conference in April 2010, "Spiritual strength frequently comes through selfless service."
Youth — as well as their parents and leaders — can serve in Church assignments, school and community. They can serve by doing temple and family history work. They can serve by sharing the gospel with others now and as full-time missionaries in the future. Often the most meaningful service is expressed through simple, everyday acts of kindness. Direction comes as individuals seek the guidance of the Holy Ghost each day to know whom to serve and how to help meet their needs.
By following the example of the Savior and serving others, individuals are able to find happiness as they draw closer to their Heavenly Father, filling their hearts with love.
"You will enjoy happiness that comes only from giving service to God and others. Your capacities will increase, and you will be an instrument in God's hands to bless the lives of His children" (For the Strength of Youth, "Service").