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Service Can Be Contagious: JustServe Clubs Are Growing in Numbers in Southern California

More than 57 JustServe high school clubs are spreading from Ventura to San Diego to Riverside

Members of a high school JustServe club participate in the Fourth of July parade in Huntington Beach, California, July 4, 2023. JustServe clubs are growing throughout Southern California. Photo by Melissa Richardson, courtesy of Church News.All rights reserved.

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By Karen Kimball, for the Church News

The dance party was going, people were taking turns doing karaoke and Maci Whitesides, 18, was there to serve.

Maci had recruited dozens of other youth volunteers to help with a party for National Down Syndrome Awareness Day. While serving ice cream, Maci was greeted by a young girl with Down syndrome who walked up to her and asked her to bend down.

As Maci leaned down the young girl wrapped her arms around her and said, “I love you.”

“This is what it’s all about,” Maci said, “just loving people.”

Maci is club president of one of the more than 57 JustServe high school clubs that are spreading across Southern California from Ventura to San Diego and out to Riverside in the east. JustServe.org is a website and app where volunteers can find service opportunities in their local area. The platform was created by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and is free for anyone in the community to use.

Maci Whiteside and Ayden Smith encourage others to join their high school JustServe club in Orange County, California, in September 2022. Photo by Maci Whiteside, courtesy of Church News.All rights reserved.

Like many of the club leaders, Maci got the idea to start a high school club from a youth leader. Then she and a few friends from her high school got the club going.

At the beginning of the 2023-2024 school year, Brooke Cooperrider, 18, was walking across the high school campus in the middle of Club Rush — an event where students can find out more about different clubs available at school — and saw the crowd around one of the club tables.

Maci and friends were calling out, “Do service. It’s cool.” Brooke saw the opportunity to use her talents for service and was one of the more than 100 students who joined the club that day.

Since then, Maci and Brooke have served together along with other club members on crafts with kids, serving meals at a food bank, to ushering at events.

The JustServe high school clubs range in size from 25 members to larger groups like Maci’s with over 100 members. It is estimated that there are currently 1,500 youth in JustServe clubs in Southern California and the numbers are growing.

Clubs typically plan and engage in several projects each year during their lunch hour or on a Saturday. Projects can be as simple as writing letters to veterans, making bandanas for an animal shelter, cleaning up their neighborhoods or serving at assisted living homes.

“When the youth hear about the impact the JustServe high school clubs are having in other communities, they want to start their own club, so they can get out there and serve,” said Debbie Taylor, who serves as the JustServe director for the coordinating council of Latter-day Saint stakes in Southern California.

It is anticipated there will be at least 75 clubs in Southern California for the coming school year.

“We are seeing more and more clubs every year,” said Kristin Samuelian, the Church’s Newport Beach area communication director. “You can’t put a cap on where this could potentially go.”

Over 240 youth from high school JustServe clubs around Southern California converge for a Global Youth Service Day event in Huntington Beach on Saturday, April 20, 2024.2024 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.
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Clubs were started under the direction of Elder Mark A. Mortensen, an Area Seventy in the Church’s North America West Area, who saw the potential of service to transform youth.

“What they have done has created a movement,” said Elder Mortensen. “There has been a greater level of service and it has given the youth a sense of belonging and purpose.”

Samuelian, who took the initiative to start the Just Serve high school clubs said, “We were intentional with our plan. We made a list of local high schools and started sharing the opportunity of having clubs.”

Working together with JustServe specialists, a road map was created for the youth on how to get a club started and prepare for the initial club rush.

“We created a plan that kids could be successful with,” Samuelian said. Regular online meetings are held throughout the school year with the youth leadership from the clubs. Together the youth can feel the support and see they are part of a larger organization.

The annual Global Youth Service Day events provide the chance for the hundreds of youths who participate in the clubs to come together for a larger project.

“They get together and see they are part of something bigger,” Samuelian said. “It gives them the energy they need to move forward and do more.”

Maci and Brooke find it empowering as they plan and organize JustServe club activities and work together with friends.

“When you are volunteering, in the moment there is so much adrenaline,” Brooke said. “It is amazing to be in an environment where everyone wants to give back to the community.”

“Service makes me so happy,” Maci said. “Once you do it, you get it. I wanted so badly to tell everyone at high school that doing service will make you so happy.”

Being a part of JustServe clubs, “has a transforming effect on the youth and their environment,” Elder Mortensen said. “It’s been tremendous to have the youth lead out and get involved in the community.”

Kaylee Carbelo and Ava Sheen help make Valentine’s Day goodie bags for children in foster care as part of a JustServe club activity in Orange County, California, on February 9, 2024. Photo by Maci Whitesides, courtesy of Church News.All rights reserved.
Members of various high school JustServe clubs participate in a Global Youth Service Day project in Aliso Viejo, California, on April 29, 2023. Photo by Alan Gibby, courtesy of Church News.All rights reserved.

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