To start out I should say that I like parks. My wife and I are raising three children (1 down, two to go) in a New York City apartment, so instead of a back yard, we have the park. But unlike the backyard, we have to escort our children to the park. So, I’ve spent quite a bit of time in parks. And how clean they are does make a difference.
But I’m not sure that cleaning the park should be our first choice for service projects.
With the call in General Conference for each Church unit to hold a day of service this year, I have to wonder about our priorities in selecting service projects. From what I’ve seen in news stories in recent months, we are cleaning a lot of parks. It seems to be one of our favorite ways to provide service.
I guess the issue that bothers me is that it sure seems like there are bigger problems and ways to offer more direct assistance to those in need than cleaning up parks.
We hear the Chinese proverb cited regularly, “Give a man a fish and he won’t starve for a day. Teach a man how to fish and he won’t starve for his entire life.” If I had to characterize cleaning the park as either “giving a fish” or “teaching a man,” I think its more like “giving a fish.”
But beyond this, isn’t there a kind of hierarchy that says that actually feeding the hungry is more important than cleaning the park?
I do recognize that finding service projects is not always trivial. Some things that could have been done in past decades (such as constructing houses, digging wells, etc.) are significantly less practical because of insurance issues and governmental regulation. It may also be more difficult to find projects that have direct beneficiaries in need because the beneficiaries may hide their need in some cases, or because their needs may be met in part by others. And some problems require ongoing, long-term commitments, which are often difficult for LDS congregations to make. In any case, it isn’t exactly trivial to find projects, and often requires a good knowledge of the community and its needs. [I'm sure there are other wrinkles that make finding projects difficult, please mention them in the comments.]
Still, I think finding recipients of our services who benefit personally is the ideal. In his address in General Conference on service projects, Elder Eyring suggested that when planning service projects we should “choose as recipients of your service people… whose needs will touch the hearts of those who will give the service.” Somehow, I have a hard time feeling like cleaning the park meets Elder Eyring’s suggested criteria.
I don’t know yet what our ward or stake will do. Like the congregations I’ve read about in the news, we have also cleaned parks in the past — perhaps even more than any other service we’ve provided. For all I know that may be what happens again this time. If so, I’ll glady participate.
And I will enjoy the cleaner park when I go there.