By Paul Maryniak
Every day is a day of service for Michelle Curry.
Curry administers a Phoenix network called Just Serve, which connects groups, individuals and even government agencies with projects that brighten the lives of people and neighborhoods.
It is part of a nationwide operation set up by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to link needs and volunteers through a website, justserve.org.
“Just Serve is a platform,” said Curry, who has overseen the Valley operation since it started two years ago. “It is not a business. We don’t accept donations to run it. It is not for proselytizing or publicizing the church. This is a gift to the community from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”
Indeed, a number of different church denominations are part of the network. The LDS church pays for technical maintenance, and many of its members have volunteered to become unpaid specialists who help connect people with needs.
The service, which has been expanded to Canada, counts more than 160,000 volunteers and 22,000 posted projects across the country.
Curry was asked by the church to take on the job after spending several years in its public affairs department. In her capacity, she deals with county and state agencies as well as large organizations to identify needs and enlist volunteers.
She demurs at having any attention paid to her work, and prefers people instead explore the website and find a project that engages them.
She said the church also doesn’t want any attention as far as Just Serve is concerned.
“We really don’t want to stand out,” Curry explained. “We want to be equal or below those who serve. When you serve someone, you’re on an equal basis. Service strengthens not just the person you’re helping, it also helps you.”
The website elaborates on the philosophy of Just Serve:
“Our individual efforts don’t need to be huge—a little bit of change here, a few hours there—but even small efforts quickly add up to make a real difference. As we work side-by-side and learn from each other, mutual understanding increases, misconceptions can be corrected, and new friendships are built.”
The site is designed to be as user-friendly as possible for both volunteers and people who need help.
People or groups can type in the area where they live and the site produces a list of organizations that need volunteers for various projects.
The choices are seemingly limitless, ranging from the Phoenix Zoo and Valley of the Sun United Way to schools in low-income communities, hospices and memory-care facilities.
For example, Red Mountain Assisted Living on S. Southwind Court in Gilbert could use people who can visit its residents.
Groups that need a project also have the ease of listing what kinds of work they need help with.
There is one way that Just Serve cultivates publicity: It asks volunteers to post success stories.
“We collect stories and post them every month,” she said, noting that such stories help to inspire would-be volunteers.
The Arizona Chapter of Newborns in Need, which draws women from Gilbert and other East Valley communities, enlisted 101 people to make blankets, bibs, booties and other infant wear with 135 pounds of material.
Dignity Health East Valley received 5,400 crayons donated for children who visit the Mercy Gilbert Hospital, either as patients or visitors.
“You cannot imagine how much of a kind impact you are having on patients and families in the East Valley,” Barb Farmer, Dignity’s volunteer services manager, told Just Serve.
Just Serve volunteers also provided handmade bears for Mercy Gilbert that Farmer said go to “children in the emergency room, senior patients who are scared and/or have dementia, and to our patients who unfortunately have to celebrate their birthdays while being a patient in the hospital.”
“Each bear is different and it always seems that the perfect bear ends up meaning something special to the person it is given to,” Farmer added. “Those moments take patients out of their pain or sad situation and transport them back to happier times.”
Curry said volunteers sign up for projects that are dear to them for personal reasons.
“People like to serve where their heart is,” she said. “For example, someone might have Alzheimer’s in the family, and those people’s hearts are with Alzheimer’s sufferers.”
Some of the projects can even be accomplished without leaving the house.
A Mesa woman posted anonymously about having her three children, ages 4 to 9, write birthday cards for homeless kids.
“I thought this would be a long and difficult activity to do with them. I was very wrong. They kept asking how to spell a child’s name and then would spend 15 minutes at a time writing and illustrating the cards.
“We have had some very tender moments through this experience as my children wrote notes and created birthday cards for these new friends they have never met. I don’t think I’ve ever seen them so engaged and happy.”