A group of Latter-day Saint young adults recently participated in an effort to help more than 100 homeless individuals find food, clothing and services at Project Connect in Mesa, Arizona. The event on Wednesday, August 16, 2023, was sponsored by Human Services Campus, in collaboration with state, federal and nonprofit partners. Three Young Single Adult (YSA) stakes (similar to a diocese) of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints hosted the event at the historic Inter-Stake Center near downtown Mesa, including the Mesa East YSA Stake, Mesa West YSA Stake and Tempe YSA Stake. Project Connect is a one-day traveling resource center held every four to six weeks in various locations across the Phoenix Metro Area.
“Project Connect is where we bring all of the services from our campus [in Phoenix] out into communities that are geographically far from us,” said Kim Beaudoin, development manager for Human Services Campus. “This includes emergency services like clothing, a hot meal, and also wrap-around services; getting people progressively into housing, dealing with any mental health barriers, behavioral health barriers or substance abuse, so that we’re getting people housed quickly.”
Caring for those who are experiencing homelessness is especially important when summer temperatures are often well above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Project Connect responds by inviting vulnerable guests inside an air-conditioned space as a reprieve from the intense heat. The organization also provides water to keep them hydrated.
Beaudoin said, “We could not do this without the host sites. We work a lot with churches and community centers, they open their doors to us . . . it’s really a big undertaking. But, having places that are strategically far from where we [usually] serve our clients, to be able to extend that reach and meet people where they’re at, is a huge valuable resource for us.”
Mesa West YSA Stake Service Co-chair Jordan Smout has been involved in planning the project, which began about six months ago. He said that his peers were “pretty excited to come out and help. I think it will be a good experience for them and our guests. What I’ve been thinking about is that there’s no room for, you know, anxiety, depression, negativity and selfishness when you’re really serving other people with love.”
As hosts for Project Connect, young adults from the Mesa East YSA Stake collected and assembled items for more than 150 hygiene kits and snack packs; members of the Tempe YSA Stake held a clothing drive; and Mesa West YSA Stake young adults prepped food for lunch at the event. Young adults, missionaries and other volunteers served as guides to help guests navigate the event and direct them to services such housing assistance, social security benefits, state issued IDs and more. In addition, young adults helped sort clothing donations, prepare and serve a home-cooked meal for more than 240 guests, staff and volunteers and set up and take down the event.
Natalie Nilsen, a young adult from the Mesa West YSA Stake, rearranged her work schedule so she could attend. “There are so many things I want to do to help and so many people that can be helped. This was such a great set up and so easy to come and just give some time,” Nilsen said. “It just fills me up to be able to be in the service of others. I’m not a people person, but I find when I’m helping and serving and happy, I just love the people and I love being able to show them my love and God’s love so that they know they have support.”
The guests who attended came from a variety of backgrounds and circumstances. One woman, who just days earlier left an abusive relationship, tearfully expressed her gratitude to her young adult guide. She said, “I have nothing, I left everything behind. I never would have thought I would be in this situation. Thank you for your generosity and kindness toward me.”
Scott Dike a young adult from the Mesa East YSA Stake said, “It has been an amazing experience to be a volunteer with Project Connect. It helps me feel like I’m doing what Jesus Christ would do and helping other people receive the care they really need in this moment, so it’s awesome.”
In addition to young adults, many of the volunteers at the Mesa project signed up through JustServe. Human Services Campus relies on volunteers to accomplish its work, and JustServe is one of the ways the organization reaches out to local volunteers.
“JustServe has been really instrumental,” said Beaudoin. “We can reach out [through JustServe] and [note] we need 30 people; these are the shifts and this is what they’re going to be doing. It’s really great to have that [post] redirect back to our signup, and volunteers come through for us. It’s really amazing!”
Andrew Stewart, first counselor in the Mesa West YSA Stake presidency, hopes that the young adult stakes can host Project Connect again in the future.
“There are so many young single adults in the Valley who are looking for purpose-driven activities to be involved in, and this is a really great one,” Stewart said. “The greatest resource in the Church [is] its members. There’s no better way to demonstrate our belief in Jesus Christ than by serving with our fellow men and women in a place like this.”