California communities received a helping hand Saturday, as tens of thousands of Latter-day Saints volunteered for a variety of service projects statewide.
For many, it was a family activity. Kami Oliver of La Mesa, Calif., volunteered with her sisters and painted tables.
"It's very important to us to be here doing this, especially because a lot of people think we live in this 'Mormon bubble,' but we're really like everyone else who wants to come out and do something nice in the community," Oliver told Sign On San Deigo.
In some communities, "Mormon Helping Hands" paired up with local service projects to get double the amount of work accomplished.
In Redlands Calif., more than 2,400 volunteers showed up to renovate two miles of Redlands Boulevard with the help of donations and a $40,000 grant from the Home Depot, according to the Press Enterprise.
"Without the grant, we wouldn't have had enough materials to keep this many volunteers busy," volunteer Tabetha Johnson told Press Enterprise. "But it's not just about the money. It brought our community together, and that's priceless."
Volunteers across California also took to the beaches to help cleanup debris and storm-damaged trails and roads.
Bill Ridgeway, a stake president in Santa Maria, told the Santa Maria Times that finding projects for hundreds of volunteers is a challenge. He added that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints asks members to help though volunteering and service.
"That's really our emphasis behind it," he said in the article.
Many forget how pivotal it is for a branch of the LDS Church to transition into a ward, but a 19-year-old Dover, N.J., branch is ecstatic to be designated to make the jump, the Neighborhood News (Dover Editon) reported.
"Growth in strength and numbers warrants this change in designation which allows for the full range of programs and services offered by the church," said Arthur C. Linderman, the bishop of the new ward, in the article. "But it is also an acknowledgment by the church itself of the dedication and faith of its members who lovingly serve each other, their neighbors and the church."
Church members are growing in other places as well. The National Council of Churches reported a 1.4 percent growth of LDS members in the U.S. in the past few years, while other Protestant denominations seem to be on the decline.
The increase in numbers has led to stronger relationships between the LDS Church and other denominations in Texas, even with Texas' Bible Belt evangelicals.
"They have more in common than you think," Francis Beckwith, a professor at Baylor University and editor of "The New Mormon Challenge," told the Houston Chronicle in an article about a new chapel opening in Missouri City, Texas.
With the increase of members comes new buildings, and many of the new buildings are taking a stab at saving the environment.
A new church facility in Mesa, Ariz., is being built to include 143 solar panels, which will help run the building during the year. The panels come with $178,000 price tag, but Jared Doxey, director of architecture, engineering and construction for the church, told the Arizona Republic the bills will pay for themselves within 8 to 10 years.
While many missionaries get doors slammed in their faces, two elders in Austin, Minn., found themselves explaining their two-year callings to curious Minnesotans.
In a profile on Scott Nelson and Kent Olsen, both serving in the Minneapolis Minnesota Mission, they elaborated on their missions from beginning to end, trickling in their testimonies and views on the church.
"Our main purpose is to invite others to come to Christ," Olsen told the Austin Daily Herald. "We're not here to force anyone to believe what we do. We want to share these things with people, ask them to pray and ask God whether or not these things are true."
Caitlin Orton is a feature writer at the Deseret News and a journalism student at Brigham Young University.
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