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Student Leadership & Service coordinator says students participating in campus service projects can come and find belonging

Two women smile sitting at a tan table beading strings with beads.
Volunteers at a Stop and Serve event.

Noah England attended a service project on the temple grounds on May 15, 2021. He said his favorite part of the project was meeting new people from backgrounds different than his own. He said he has seen the friends he made around campus since the project and is grateful because, as a new student, he said he no longer feels like a stranger on campus.

Marisa Vaiaoga, a BYUH alumna from Hawaii and the Student Leadership & Service coordinator, said students can come to service projects alone and find a group to serve with as they are united by a common purpose, doing something meaningful and significant.

Vaiaoga said she values the community that is created when she serves because it offers a sense of belonging to everyone who participates. “I think an important part of service is the feeling of belonging. It doesn't matter who someone is or what they’ve come with.”

The service mindset

Jessica Gentry, the Service Center supervisor, said students should take advantage of the many opportunities to serve because it will help them understand the school’s motto, “Enter to learn, go forth to serve.” She continued, “Service will allow students to build Christlike qualities and become servant leaders. Part of that is being involved in creating a habit of service.”

Gentry, a senior from California studying exercise science, said service has been a part of her life from a very young age because her parents taught her to take every opportunity to serve.

“It didn't matter what it was. [They taught me to] just drop everything and help other people out. I’ve really carried that with me through my whole life, especially after serving a full-time mission and having this job at the Service Center.”

Vaiaoga emphasized the importance of having a mindset that recognizes the importance of service. “I think Jessica and I connect well because we had a very similar upbringing. Regardless of the age gap, there is a strong emphasis of serving, regardless of what you're doing. If the opportunity comes to serve, we serve.”

She said students were uneasy about serving at the beginning of the pandemic because the community was living in fear of COVID-19. One of their first activities, she explained, was a Stop and Serve event where they made headbands for healthcare workers. She said students felt hesitant to even touch the kits out of fear of the virus.

Although service can be difficult at times, Vaiaoga said the outcome is far more rewarding than the task at hand. She said uprooting bushes at the temple that were infested with small white moths was not an easy job, but the reward was large in comparison.

“We were doing something significant for the temple and for the people that come to the temple. … It was a really good feeling to be doing service.”

Giving back to the beauty of the temple

Gentry said the service opportunities available to BYUH students are approved to be safe to attend, even with the dangers of COVID-19. She encouraged all students to join and feel the service spirit in their upcoming events.

According to Gentry, they have planned online and local events and other service opportunities for Spring Semester. One such activity, the Zoom and Serve event, happened on May 5.

Gentry said this activity gave students the opportunity to participate in indexing and family history. “We had good participation and all learned and grew together in serving our ancestors and those who will follow us.”

The next event, which happened on May 15, was a walk and serve activity where students met at the school on Saturday morning and then walked to the service location to help. Gentry said students participated in landscaping the grounds.

Gentry said these Walk and Serve events are her favorite part of being involved in the Service Center. “I love seeing students come and watch new friendships form. It’s so peaceful working on the temple grounds because there’s a special spirit of service that brings us together.”

Noah England, a freshman studying conservation biology from California, said he attended the service activity because his roommate invited him, and he wanted to get to know him. He said the activity was “very well organized” because the students were placed in four or five groups of nine, received instructions and then got to work. Some groups swept leaves, some took care of trees and his group pulled weeds.

“It was super fun to get to know the people there, and it felt really good because we were at the temple serving. … Whenever you do service, you learn about why you’re doing it and the importance of it.”

England said this service activity was his way of giving back. “I’m here in this awesome place and I go visit the temple, so this was my way of giving back to the beauty of the temple.”

He said they gave the students who went to the activity yellow T-shirts saying, “Spirit of Aloha,” which reminds him of the importance of serving.

Gentry said a Stop and Serve event occurred on May 26 and another will take place in June to allow more students to participate.

For event updates, check out their Facebook at BYU–Hawaii Service Center or Instagram at byuhservice. Gentry said events will also be posted on Engage, BYUH's website for events and activities.

England said he found reading the Student Bulletin emails can also provide information on upcoming service activities.