Youth of the Chandler East Stake learned that while serving people in the community who feel isolated, the simple act of being good company can be invaluable . . . and so can playtime!
Nineteen refugee young men, mostly aged 15 to 17, from Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), make up the African United FC soccer team.
Their coach and sponsor, Dio Deogratias of the DRC, said his players have been in the United States for one or two years and are excelling in high school, but the language barrier causes isolation. Learning English and becoming integrated into their new home takes time and many good experiences with native speakers. They wanted to meet more Americans their age.
The African United FC team and 29 LDS young men and young women recently met on a soccer pitch (field) in Phoenix, Arizona. Stake JustServe Specialist Jane Andersen described the first few minutes of their interaction: “We thought it was only natural for the refugee youth to share a bit about themselves. But after they did, they whispered to their coach that they really wanted to hear the names of each of our youth. They had huge smiles as they listened to them. It was a simple but powerful moment.”
The LDS teens were not adept at the sport, but the team taught them ball-handling maneuvers. Afterwards, they mixed together and played soccer games for two hours.
Fifteen-year-old Trent Kelleher said, “Before we left, we were all hugging each other.” He was struck by how much joy he and the other volunteers felt.
Comments from the athletes included, “Come back again and be with us,” “We love you guys,” and “God bless you all.”
The experience was one of eight service opportunities during youth conference. Two hundred seventy-five teens had met briefly at their stake center and were encouraged to “fear not to do good.” Then they divided and dispersed into four different cities.
They found that people who have lived their whole lives in America can feel isolated. One group visited a medical rehabilitation center for seniors.
“You can tell they don’t get a lot of visitors because of how excited they were every time a kid would come to their door,” reported 16-year-old Spencer Keller. The teens of his group were inspired by the life stories they discovered and shared their own with eager listeners.
The teens participated in yet another service activity with a different population. Off the beaten path, where city street sweepers don’t go, were rather isolated families. After their street was hand-swept, brooms were set down and an impromptu basketball game picked up between some residents and volunteers.
The service opportunities were found through JustServe.org, which Chandler East Stake President Jared Welch calls a service “portal.” He said, “One of our hopes with youth conference is that the youth will be inspired to get on JustServe now that they’ve had their eyes opened to it.”
Whether members of the Church or not, youth can help fill the deep human need of social connection through the heaven-sent portal of JustServe.org.