POCATELLO — For nearly a decade, hundreds of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints volunteer one day in the spring to beautify the grounds at the Mountain View Cemetery in Pocatello.
Equipped with rakes, tarps and a strong work ethic, close to 400 volunteers spent about four hours recently from 9 a.m. till noon piling up the leaves and branches that had accumulated over the winter.
“This cemetery cleanup is a chance for all the youth to get out, get some fresh air, clean and really, it’s about serving the community, but it’s also about getting to know each other,” said event organizer Mitch Beckstead. “It takes a lot of really great leaders from throughout the community to put this effort together.”
Planning begins in January and consists of multiple email threads and communicating with cemetery officials. Five different LDS stakes — Pocatello, Pocatello West, East, Central and Alameda — participated in this year’s cleanup.
From the Pocatello East stake, Bonneville Park ward leader Heidi Payne also volunteered year.
“One of the things that always strikes me is how a few people can accomplish so much,” Payne said. “We work on this one corner and at the end we come together and the whole entire cemetery is done and it’s amazing to me how much happens.”
Service projects like the cemetery cleanup teach youth members valuable life-long skills, but also provides a unique social opportunity.
“I like to help people and work, just get stuff done,” said volunteer Camiel Hopkins. “I’ve been doing it forever but I don’t come because it’s fun, I come because you get to meet new people and learn how to work together with people. Everything that we do for the community just makes us stronger together.”
It’s not every day that members of the church have the opportunity to showcase the many benefits religion can bring to a community, according to five-year cemetery cleanup volunteer Laura Riley with the Pocatello East stake.
“It’s with friends so it’s something fun to do, but it also is a good way to show our support for the community,” Riley said. “It’s a way to show that a religion isn’t something that necessarily gets in the way of helping people. This shows what we are and how we care.”
Volunteer work isn’t just something that helps the youth, however, it can also have an impact on all local citizens in the area.
“This teaches us patience,” said Levi Bates of the Pocatello East Stake. “And it lowers taxes for the guy who would have to do this on his own.”
Beckstead said the groups rake the leaves into a pile and the cemetery has a truck that swings in with a giant vacuum on it to remove all the debris.
Though it’s tough work, many of the kids leave with a sense of accomplishment, in addition to a few new friendships or acquaintances.
“There’s some leaves that get raked, but then there’s some smiling and joking. So I think they’re having a good time,” said Trent Sutton, the Sagewood Hills ward leader of the Pocatello East stake. “Most of them probably wouldn’t even be out of bed by now.”
Andrew “Alex” Fitzsimon of the Pocatello stake said that service projects like this are important, but Fitzsimon specifically enjoys this project because it’s important to remember the past in order to continue with the future.
“And one of the ways we can do that is by cleaning up the cemetery and to continue living life to the fullest,” Fitzsimon said. “We get invited to this one a lot more often and it’s a little bit more fun in all honesty. It provides one of those feelings that you just get by helping people without ever really knowing why you get it, that feeling of service.”
Many of the rows inside the cemetery are tightly situated, which can provide limited access for a riding lawnmower, which is another reason volunteers make this project happen every year.
“This is a neat service project that they put together every year,” said Boyd Rowe of the Pocatello West stake. “This part that is overgrown really takes over the cemetery here, really on parts that a lawnmower can’t get to. Service projects like this are important because we’re kind of a time in the world’s history where it’s really tough for the youth to focus on anybody but themselves. This gives them an opportunity to serve others and broaden their horizons.”