BYU students give meaning to ‘go forth to serve’

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Students are welcomed into BYU’s campus with the sign that advises them to “enter to learn, go forth to serve.” For many, it does not take long to begin living both parts of this motto by forming their own nonprofit organizations or getting involved in charitable efforts.

Four students took up the invitation to serve by strengthening children with cancer, supporting children’s healthcare, improving eyesight overseas and working to rebuild disaster-stricken nations. This is only a snapshot of a campus-wide culture.

“That’s the thing about BYU, is everyone is involved with everything all the time and everyone is doing amazing things,” said Keighley Richardson, a member of the coordinating board for Camp Kesem, a summer camp program for children of people who have or have had cancer. “I think people don’t feel like they are doing enough unless they are helping others, which is amazing.”

All of the students involved in these charities serve to make a difference, but their personal stories often affect how and when they get involved.

Richardson, a junior from Phoenix, Ariz., said she got involved in Camp Kesem, a national program with local chapters, because she remembers feeling alone and afraid when her own parents dealt with cancer.

Porter Ellett, from Loa, Utah, got involved in charity work because of an accident he had as a child. After falling out of a truck, cracking his skull and damaging nerves in his arm, he was treated at Primary Children’s Hospital. Eventually, at age 16, it was at Primary Children’s that his arm was amputated. He remembers the staff’s treatment and the difference they made and is working to give back.

Ellett and his wife wake up at 4 every morning to ensure they have the time to fit everything in and can dedicate time to serving. They are currently raising money through donations and Ellett’s motivational speaking gigs to buy a tree for the Festival of Trees that will be auctioned off, with proceeds going to Primary Children’s. Extra money will buy sporting equipment for children at the hospital.

“I think everybody who is a college student should be making a difference,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of fear of standing out, and I think people kind of just get caught in the mold and don’t think they can make a difference, when really they can. They just have to make the choice to want to and step out of their comfort zone and do it.”

Ellett isn’t satisfied with the work he has done. He has plans to collect money to send children to college, start sports camps and swim in the 2016 Paralympics.

Other BYU students are exposed to issues after leaving home to serve as missionaries. Trammell Cox started Seeing is Believing, a group that provides eyeglasses and vision services to children in impoverished countries, after noticing a need as a missionary in Cambodia.

“I love the people and know how great they are,” said the senior from Centennial, Colo. “When you see how grateful they are for a simple pair of glasses and … you go back and see a lot of them can read when they couldn’t before, it’s really gratifying.”

Cox’s brother completed his Eagle Scout project in Cambodia after gathering eyeglasses throughout Utah. When Cox’s family came to pick him up from his mission, they brought 500 pairs of glasses and spent the day distributing them. That day inspired Cox to start Seeing is Believing. Since then the organization has expanded, with the group distributing 3,500 pairs of glasses last August. He hopes to expand to other countries soon.

Cox’s organization isn’t unique, but according to him, starting his own charity helps him see the difference he is making firsthand.

“We wanted the autonomy to be able to control everything and make the decisions,” he said. “We wanted an organization that we could tell people every dollar donated goes to buying glasses as opposed to paying our CEO. … By setting up our own organization we were able to use that and put everything towards glasses.”

Sustain Haiti was started by a group of MBA and a few undergraduate students following the earthquake in 2010. The team wanted to provide lasting support to Haiti instead of just short-term aid. Each summer the organization sends volunteers to teach English, provide public health education and sponsor a business competition, among other things.

Ashley Pico, the group’s executive director, got involved while working on her nonprofit minor after a professor mentioned the organization in class. Since then she has given her time, even though it was often hard to come by. Now, after graduating, she works for the organization full-time.

“It’s fulfilling,” she said. “Giving up a Friday night hanging out with friends and using it to better a community, or even one life, is kind of a bigger deal in the long run.”

Each of these students said they hope others at BYU will get take the sign at the entrance of BYU seriously and get involved serving in any capacity they can.

“If you feel strongly about it and you feel passionate about it and feel like you have the skills, then go for it,” said Cox. “It does stretch you in a lot of ways, and you will grow.”

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