News Story

Community Leaders Thank 'Mormon Helping Hands' Volunteers

Government, faith and other community leaders have expressed thanks to ‘Mormon Helping Hands’ volunteers who participated in community beautification projects around New Zealand last Saturday, 23 February.

Volunteers from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were out in force across the country donating an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 hours of their time to work in their communities during New Zealand’s sixth annual ‘Mormon Helping Hands Day.’

Their bright yellow vests dotted parks, reserves, schools and churches as they painted classrooms, weeded, planted and spruced up the nation — in conjunction with Members of Parliament and local mayors.

Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown welcomed over 160 volunteers who blazed trails, weeded, mulched, eradicated blackberry and restored the environment around Owhiro Stream in Happy Valley — north of the site of a fire earlier this week.

Mayor Celia Wade-Brown said Mormon Helping Hands was a great initiative that brings the community together. "Helping Hands is about partnerships with the community and the environment, and people of all ages 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."

“It’s great to have a big blast like this,” Ms. Wade-Brown said. “All your muscles and effort today will make a huge difference. It’s wonderful to see all these young people contributing to their future.  Thank you volunteers for digging in and helping make the world a better place.”

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. My smile will continue for weeks and weeks — that’s how much you’ve helped this work move forward. You’re helping to connect community with the amazing environment we live in.”

Hon. Annette King and City Councillor Paul Eagle joined the stream clean up later in the morning, inspecting work and walking the loop and ridge trails enhanced that morning.

“Yet another fabulous Helping Hands project in Wellington," Ms. King said. "I’m delighted the Owhiro stream restoration project is benefitting from the energy, enthusiasm and willing help from the Mormon Helping Hands team.”

“The difference their projects have made in our community is significant. You really are a hidden treasure, with long hours, hard work and lousy pay! You’ve transformed this area, cutting down numerous blackberry with your bare hands, slashers and grubbers. It’s looking fantastic. Be proud of what you’ve done — encouraging others to enjoy this area. I’m looking forward to your next project,” she said.

Wellington City Councillor Paul Eagle, who has previously worked at the site, said “I thank the Church, Mormon Helping Hands workers, Martin Payne, Friends of Owhiro Stream and Charles Barry who is here from the local sculpture group. We have clean water in the stream, tracks and native trees thriving here. The mountain bike community and local residents appreciate what you’ve done. Thanks on behalf of the community and Wellington City Council.”

Over 120 volunteers in Porirua cut scrub, removed rubbish and gardened at Ngati Toa and Windley schools, much to the joy of principals Louellen Bonallack and Judith Wootton. 

At Ngati Toa school, an area that was formerly a Kohanga Reo was cleared of gorse and blackberry and prepared for future use.

“A big ‘thank you’ to all those who worked at Ngati Toa School, “said Louellen Bonallack. “What a hive of activity was happening when I popped out to school this morning. It was great to see so many faces who are linked to our school and it was great to see the difference being made to the very overgrown parts of our grounds which had been looking so untidy for so long.”

“It was too big a job for our caretaker — definitely not a one-man job! Now he will be able to manage it and it will certainly help the appearance of the play areas. It is much appreciated by us all at school,” she said.

Helping Hands volunteers at Windley school cleared the school’s steep banks of gorse, weeded school gardens and cleared the school of debris and rubbish.

Herani Ware who organized the project said, “We were unsure whether we could tackle the gorse which had overrun the bank behind the school hall. It was incredibly steep, thick and overgrown. But our volunteers got stuck in and managed to clear the worst of it. We’re sure Judith and Damon, the caretaker, will be pleased with our efforts.”

Mormon Helping Hands volunteers from Upper Hutt worked at Papawai Marae in Greytown, Wairarapa, sprucing 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 lent their support to set up the fourth annual festival — erecting marquees, stalls, perimeter fencing, children’s rides, signage and gateways.

During the festival, Helping Hands volunteers assisted with face painting and rides, as well as rubbish collection and management of the toilet facilities. They helped ensure the day went smoothly before assisting with 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 epitomize 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.”

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 throughout March.

Other Mormon Helping Hands activities on Saturday included graffiti removal in the Auckland suburb of Papatoetoe, native tree and flax planting in Tauranga, weeding at the site of the Twin Streams Restoration Project in Auckland’s west and a joint Latter-day Saint and Catholic effort in Beachhaven, Auckland to paint church buildings and spruce up a garden.

There are over 200 Mormon congregations throughout New Zealand.  Most congregations were involved in over 20 different community improvement initiatives on 23 February. In addition, congregations will organize other service projects during the year based on local 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.



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