On the Provo River Trail in Provo, Utah, Elder Evan A. Schmutz mingled among members of a local young single adult stake raking up weeds and branches along the pathway.
Most of them, including Elder Schmutz, wore matching T-shirts made for the members of the 16 YSA stakes gathered to clean the Provo River Trail in segments from Bridal Veil Falls to Utah Lake, as well as clean garden beds and plant flowers along Provo City Center Street. The sky was overcast and occasionally participants could feel a few drops of rain, but that didn’t slow their work down.
“This is the fulfillment of months and months of planning, where we’ve reached out across faiths and organizations and communities and brought people together in unity to do something good for one another,” said Elder Schmutz, General Authority Seventy and first counselor in the Utah Area Presidency.
Twenty years after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, communities around the state of Utah and the United States gathered to remember the day through acts of service.
Sept. 11 has been designated as Patriot Day since December 2001, and recognized as an annual National Day of Service and Remembrance since 2009. On Sept. 10, U.S. President Joseph Biden proclaimed Sept. 11, 2021, “as Patriot Day and National Day of Service and Remembrance.”
In addition to flying the flag at half-staff and observing the day with appropriate ceremonies, activities and a moment of silence beginning at 8:46 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time, he stated in the proclamation, “I call upon the people of the United States to participate in community service in honor of those our nation lost … .”
The National Day of Service and Remembrance is organized annually through the nonprofit organization 9/11 Day “as a permanent tribute to those killed and injured on 9/11, and to the many brave individuals who rose in service in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks,” according to its website. Its mission is to turn the remembrance of Sept. 11, 2001, each year into a global day of unity, doing good, and pay tribute through good deeds that help others.
In Utah, under the direction of the Area Presidency, Latter-day Saint groups participated in projects such as food drives and blood drives and organized 5K runs.
“JustServe is not the sponsor of this project, but has played enormously in helping make people aware of different projects that are available to them,” Elder Schmutz said. Additionally, JustServe “has become more and more an interfaith, inter-community, inter-organizational effort.”
Royce Bair, a member of the Church’s Salt Lake and Tooele communication council, explained that the Jordan River Parkway cleanup efforts would serve to get rid of trash and invasive plant species and beautify this inner city river.
“Fifty percent of the people in Utah live within 15 miles of this river. Fifty percent!” he said. “And many people think of it as a dirty little river. But it is so beautiful.”
There were many other kinds of service projects being done that day, Bair added, “but because of COVID-19, they’re trying to do as many of them outdoors.”
Other service projects were completed earlier in the month, while others will be done later in September.
“Of course, we don’t want to just think of only today. This is a continuing thing,” Bair said. “There are a lot of things that divide us in these days. But service is a thing that can unite us. And what a wonderful thing, we can come together and serve and be more united instead of so divisive.”
Elder Robert T. Smith, an Area Seventy, spoke of the unity that took place between the city of Provo and the stakes coordinating the Provo River Trail cleanup. “Provo participated with the stakes and with JustServe to try to put this together,” he said. “They’ve kind of prepared the way — we can see they’ve got big dumpsters and they did a lot of cutting beforehand. … We just can’t thank them enough for their efforts to make this happen.”
“It’s a united effort to bring people together,” Elder Schmutz said. “Here in this particular project, almost everyone is part of the YSA stakes. Many of the other projects around the state, we’ve got projects that are sponsored by other faiths. We’ve got community projects that are mingled with many faiths for many people from every walk. So I think if we look at the broad picture of what’s happening today, not only nationally, but especially here, I’m excited to find out how many people participate.”
Service projects in the greater Salt Lake area
West Valley City
One of many service projects put on by the city of Riverton, Utah, was writing thank you notes to healthcare workers, police officers, firefighters, veterans and senior citizens. Many people gathered on Saturday morning in Riverton City Park’s main pavilion — just west of the park’s display of 911 American flags in remembrance of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks — to write and decorate notes.
Tawnee McCay, who serves on the Riverton City Council and helped organize the National Day of Service events in Riverton, said her heart was touched to see so many participate in the project.
“It’s been a hard year and a half, especially for our police. Sometimes they don’t feel the most appreciated. And our firefighters are awesome … and we sure appreciate our healthcare workers and our veterans,” she said. “So we decided that this would be a cool way to try to thank all of those different groups. … I’m really grateful for the things that they’ve done for us.”
McCay’s 7-year-old daughter, Savanna, was one of many children who participated in the service project with their families. Her hand-written messages included “You’re amazing” and “Thank you for all your service.”
When asked how it made her feel to write the notes, her enthusiastic one-word response was “happy!”
Latter-day Saint youth from Stansbury Park, Utah, gathered to give the local cemetery a little TLC. Equipped with work gloves, youth and their leaders used shovels, wheelbarrows and rakes to help spread gravel along the perimeter.
Ellie Reader, 16, said it felt good to serve, despite the hard manual labor, and to feel like they were helping the community.
Sept. 11, 2001, happened long before she was born but is something she’s learned about in school.
“It’s a sad thing to be commemorating but it feels good to know we’re helping,” Ellie said.
Bella Hobson participated in the project as part of her 12th birthday festivities. She knows a little about what happened on Sept. 11, 2001, and the sadness involved and so was glad to be able to go do service. “It’s like a big hug to be able to serve,” she said.
When Bishop Brian Michaelis — whose youth in the Picket Lane Ward, Stansbury Utah South Stake, participated in the cemetery project — was a young man, his grandfather spoke of the events of Pearl Harbor. Today, Bishop Michaelis and other parents and leaders speak about that somber Tuesday 20 years ago.
“I’m grateful for the opportunity to recognize the day,” Bishop Michaelis said of giving service. “This is what our country is all about — that despite challenges we can come together and work together.”
— Rachel Sterzer Gibson
South Salt Lake
Members of the community in Layton, Utah, contributed personal hygiene products to help students who are homeless.
Youth also gathered school supplies for elementary school students who need everything from pencils to backpacks as they begin a new school year.
The donations will be delivered to the Davis Education Foundation for distribution to the students with the most-urgent needs. The foundation’s website indicates there are 1,200 children who are homeless in the area.
Marlene Kinikini coordinated this project and talked about the impact this type of service can have.
“So often, when we see so many big and hard things happening in the world,” she said, “sometimes we don’t know what we can do.”
But each of today’s donations will have an impact on the one who receives them.
“Sometimes we can’t do a lot on a bigger scale, but on a smaller scale we can make a difference in our own corner of the world,” Kinikini said.
Helping someone in need at any scale is a way to become more like the Savior, she said.
“It gives us the opportunity to lift people that are suffering,” she said. “That’s what Christ did. And it’s a meaningful opportunity for that reason.”
— Jon Ryan Jensen