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Mormon Helping Hands transform colonia conditions

Church volunteers clean up 80 tons of debris

20120330_LDS_Colonia_Llano_Grande_Cleanup_JB4599Bright yellow shirts with the words Mormon Helping Hands, smiling faces, and trash bags dotted the landscape of Colonia Llano Grande on Saturday, March 17, as more than 600 volunteers from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints dedicated their Saturday morning to clearing out trash, brush and debris from the streets and alleys of this neighborhood just outside Weslaco.

In a massive effort dedicated to serving others, volunteers were able to remove over 80 tons of trash and debris. Focus was given to trimming trees obstructing traffic and power lines, clearing overgrown drainage ditches, streets, and alleys, cleaning lots, and making much needed home repairs. In total, 16 large truckloads of rubbish were collected and removed from the colonia.

The colonia, located less than 10 miles from the Mexico border, was once a neighborhood riddled with heavy gang activity. Although violence has largely dissipated, years of neglect and limited resources left the area in desperate need of attention.

20120330_LDS_Colonia_Llano_Grande_Cleanup_JB4641Leaders of the Church worked closely with Hidalgo County Precinct 1 Commissioner Joel Quintanilla to select the neighborhood with the most need. The church members provided the labor for the massive cleanup project, and the commissioner ensured that the county provided the roll-off dumpsters, trucks and personnel needed to haul away the mountains of brush and debris.

Resident Maria Martinez commented, “This part of the colonia was kind of forgotten. We don’t usually have much help.”

Martinez has lived in the colonia for nearly 12 years. Twelve family members reside with her in her single-wide mobile home which has been added onto as her family grew.

“I didn’t expect this,” she said. “I’m giving thanks to God. He is the one doing all of this.”

20120330_LDS_Colonia_Llano_Grande_Cleanup_JB4705Her home was one of the five properties chosen to receive repairs—in addition to the neighborhood clean-up effort. Volunteers replaced windows, made ceiling and roof repairs, built wheelchair ramps, and cleared tall weeds and brush from the selected homes.

The service project was organized in commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the welfare program of the Church, said Brice Chandler, president of the Church’s McAllen Texas West Stake.

“The Church focuses so much on service because it’s The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In all that we do we seek to follow and emulate the Savior, and his life was a life of service. He came here to do the Father’s will and to help other people. We strive to follow that example and reach out to help other people,” said President Chandler.

President Larry Wilson, stake president of the McAllen Texas Stake of said, “It is our duty, our obligation and our desire to reach out to help those less fortunate, those in need and those who are troubled. Through Christ-like service, we hope to uplift, encourage and strengthen those in need.”

20120330_LDS_Colonia_Llano_Grande_Cleanup_JB4757County leaders caught the spirit of service as well, donating the use of equipment, dumpsters, and even their time. County Commissioner Quintanilla spent hours Saturday morning wielding a chain saw alongside Church members cutting down overgrown trees along the streets and alleys of the colonia.

The spirit of service was contagious as even those of different faiths joined in the efforts. Pastor Lucy Martinez, of Templo Fe y Victoria Church, volunteered the use her church’s property, nestled within the colonia, as a center of operations for the massive clean-up project.

Elder Reid, of Orem, Utah, serving a self-funded two-year mission for the Church said, “I think it’s important that we all help each other, whether we go to the same church, whether we live in the same city…Our Heavenly Father put us here so that we can serve each other and help each other come closer to Him, and whether that’s through spirituality or just helping someone clean their yard I think we should always be serving each other.”

Elder Reid is one of the approximately 70 men and women currently serving as missionaries in the Texas McAllen Mission who all joined the efforts of local members.

The spirit of service caught on quickly with the residents as well as they came out to pitch in, assisting Church volunteers with the cleanup effort. Volunteer Michelle Richardson observed, “Sometimes people just need a little extra push to get some things done. They see a big group helping out in their neighborhood and so they decide they want to come out and help too.”

20120330_LDS_Colonia_Llano_Grande_Cleanup_JB4787The combined efforts of so many members of the Church and the community brought about a tremendous transformation. Streets and alleys, once too crowded for sanitation trucks to travel, are now brightly lit, open and clear of debris. Where mounds of trash once stood, clean lots now take their place. An abandoned house that was barely visible through the surrounding tall grass now appears neat and trim. Another deteriorated house was removed from the site.

A vacant lot where children used to play had become so overgrown with tall weeds and brush and littered with piles of trash that they were no longer able to play there. Now, absent the three-foot tall weeds, a makeshift tire swing hanging from a tree invites the youngsters to play there once again.

Elder Christian C. Jensen, of Eagle Mountain, Utah, a missionary serving in the Texas McAllen Mission, summed up the day perfectly: “We’re all here wearing these bright yellow shirts with the Church’s name on it, which bears the name of Jesus Christ. If they’re seeing that we’re all together helping them then they’ll see that Christ still loves them, there’s still hope for them to have some faith in Him, and He’ll help them in their own lives.”

More photos can be viewed here.

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CoverageAreaThe Progress Times is the hometown newspaper for the local communities of Mission, Sharyland, Alton, Palmview, La Joya and surrounding areas in Western Hidalgo County. We have a staff of veteran reporters who work diligently every week to bring our readers the latest news as it affects their hometown area and people.

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