Editor’s note: This story is part of an occasional series catching up with the individuals featured in "Meet the Mormons." The previously published stories on Bishnu Adhikari, Gail Halvorsen and Jermaine Sullivan can be found on deseretnews.com.
Giovanna Raccosta Nezhati asks herself a question each morning.
“I wake up every morning thinking, ‘What good can I do today?’” she said in a phone interview with the Deseret News.
A nationally known portrait artist and mother of three, Nezhati also pioneered a monthly Dinner on Us gourmet meal event at the Las Vegas Rescue Mission and is involved in serving both in her community and through The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Nezhati’s story, titled “The Artist,” is a special feature on the “Meet the Mormons” Blu-ray and DVD, which was released in March 2015. The “Meet the Mormons” movie shares the stories of several members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“The Artist,” a 15-minute feature, also shares about Nezhati’s family and how their service at the rescue mission helped her find religious common ground with her husband, who decided to be baptized after the filming wrapped.
Looking back, she says she sees how experiences in her life have prepared her to help serve in the community.
“I was prepared from such a young age to develop my artistic talents, to serve, to cook, to feel comfortable around people and nourish an appreciation for diversity and cultures,” she said.
Journey in the LDS Church
Nezhati is from the small Italian town of Paceco, and when she was a teenager, she wanted to go to Palermo to go to an arts school.
“I made a decision, at that young age, to pursue my dream to be an artist,” she said. It was during that time in Palermo, she said, that she “learned to be independent, make my own choices, and I learned to accept anyone.”
Nezhati also learned to make gourmet meals on a budget.
She met the Mormon missionaries serving in the city, and while she wasn’t interested in learning about the church or being baptized, she would feed them dinner, she said.
After graduation, she returned home. She met the sister missionaries there, and she was baptized within a week, she said.
“I felt pure, clean, humbled, real, with in front of me a ‘white canvas’ to start filling with the life I've chosen to live,” she wrote in an email about her baptism. “What a gift it was to erase my sins and (to have been) given another chance.”
It’s “all because of a testimony I had the day I prayed with the sister missionaries, asking God to show me if he was for real and if what the sisters were saying about the plan of salvation was true!” she wrote.
Nezhati, who uses her maiden name professionally, created and sold paintings to save money to serve a mission, which she did in Italy.
“It was the best time of my life — serving without a break and making everlasting friendship with missionaries and locals,” she wrote of serving a mission.
After finishing her mission, she had plans to move to Rome, but with the help of one of the sister missionaries she knew, she instead moved to the United States.
When she met her husband, Iranian-born Bardia Nezhati, she found they had different perspectives and backgrounds regarding religion. At the time, he wasn’t religious. Their family grew to include a son and two daughters, and they had challenges figuring out how they were going to raise their children.
“He didn’t understand why it was so important to be active in a church,” she said, adding that he would want her to spend time with family on Sundays.
She was asked not to talk about her faith. She would go to church when she could, and she said she did her best to keep her covenants, especially the Word of Wisdom. After about 10 years, she reconnected with some of her Mormon friends from Italy on social media, which helped strengthen her faith.
Her husband didn’t oppose it when their children were baptized, she said.
“He saw the great things the church could do for young people,” she said.
Her daughters were 9 and 11 when they were baptized, and their baptism was on Oct. 3 — the same day of Giovanna Nezhati’s baptism years earlier.
Dinner on Us
A little more than four years ago, Nezhati woke in the middle of the night with an idea to serve a gourmet meal to the homeless. At the time, it wasn’t something she was particularly involved in, but that night, it was the focus of her thoughts, and the ideas kept coming.
“It was so clear in every detail,” she said. It would be a community event with healthy, gourmet food.
“It’s still hard to explain it and to put it into words,” she said of her feelings and thoughts that night.
She stayed up for hours typing, moving to the kitchen after waking up her husband.
“It was something to take seriously,” she said. “I took it like a mission.”
She visited with officials of the Las Vegas Rescue Mission the next morning. Nezhati posted plans on social media, and enough resources came together in the next two weeks for the first dinner at the local rescue mission.
“This was all made of miracles,” she said of the donations she received, the people she met and the way plans came together for the meals.
The first dinner was Italian-themed and had a musician, she said. They’ve since done a Chinese-themed dinner with dragon dancers, one with Japanese sushi, another with Indian-themed food, and a Mexican-themed dinner with mariachi music. For Thanksgiving, they served more than 2,000 meals, she said.
“Little by little, we’re doing fantastic masterpieces,” she said of the work she and the other volunteers, including her husband and children, do for the monthly Dinner on Us events. She estimates that since that first Italian dinner, they’ve served more than 22,000 meals in the rescue mission.
As she and her husband planned and carried out the meals, they said in "The Artist," they found they had a common denominator.
Giovanna Nezhati also helped renovate homes at Boys Town, which helps at-risk youths, and she serves on her local LDS Church committee for JustServe.org, which helps people find ways to serve in the community.
“I thrive in life by serving,” she said. “If I don’t serve or do anything good for someone, I feel like I’ve wasted my day.”
Being on ‘Meet the Mormons’
The question she had when her family was approached about being interviewed for “Meet the Mormons” was, “Are you sure you want to film us?”
“We’re just winging it the best we can,” she said, adding her concerns that they weren’t “the perfect Mormon picture.”
During the filming for “Meet the Mormons,” she said, producers would ask her family questions — and her family kept talking.
She was amazed at how her and her family's story was shared in "The Artist."
“I thought it was wonderful,” she said.
After the crew wrapped up the final shoot and left, her husband decided to be baptized, she said.
“I couldn’t believe it,” she said.
It’s now been a little more than a year and a half since his baptism.
“We all go to church and we sit together,” she said. “Before, just me or just me and the girls. Now, it’s the whole family. That has been life-changing.”
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