On June 25, a Sunday like no other, members of the Highlands Ranch Colorado Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints attended church in their work clothes before heading out, 2,000 strong, to assess and help clear the destruction from a freak tornado. While, thankfully, no one was injured when the storm cut a 6-mile path through the middle of their town on Thursday, June 22 — likely millions of dollars of damage occurred when countless trees were uprooted and several buildings hit.
After informal neighborhood cleanups Friday and Ward outreach to members and neighbors on Saturday, the Highlands Ranch Stake Presidency directed Bishops to shorten Sacrament meetings and cancel all other meetings on Sunday so that members could be instrumental in the larger organized community cleanup. Over 2000 gathered at Church meetinghouses to form cleanup teams that fanned out through the affected neighborhoods.
Some climbed trees to trim branches; others used chainsaws to cut up trunks and stumps. Teams worked together to pull downed trees off fences. Kids and adults of all ages carried branches to the piles on the curb. Nine-year-old Emmett Burgoyne spoke for many when he said, “Mom! This was so much fun! Can we do it again tomorrow?!”
The Stake coordinated their efforts with Douglas County Emergency Management in response to requests for assistance that came to the Crisis Home Cleanup Hotline. In addition to the more than 200 households assigned, teams typically helped two or three of the adjacent neighbors as well. Highlands Ranch Stake President Jeff Whipple said, “As Christians, we really try to focus on the second great commandment, to love our neighbors, as well as the first, to love our God, and at a time like this, we try to get out and serve others.” Members from the Castle Rock and Littleton Stakes also joined in the cleanup efforts.
Neighbors were so grateful for the outreach and support, and many were inspired to join in the service efforts. Their comments illustrate how Latter-day Saints shared the gospel through their actions.
“You’re all volunteers? That’s amazing!”
“We really can’t thank you enough. So many of our neighbors are older and they shared with us how much your volunteers helped the entire street. We’re all so thankful for the hard work and help.”
“I cannot thank you enough, you and your church friends, for all your labor and help yesterday removing the tree and debris from my yard. Unfortunately, I am out of town and could not be there personally to thank each one. I am in awe of the wonderful people that have come together to help in our neighborhood. It warms my heart and I feel so blessed. Thank you so very, very much.”
Members of the Highlands Ranch Stake gathered for a brief Sacrament meeting on June 25 before joining work teams assigned to households that requested help through Douglas County.
Most damage from the tornado that hit Highlands Ranch, Colorado on June 22 was from uprooted and damaged trees. Teams of Latter-day Saint volunteers worked to remove trees, branches and debris from over 200 neighbors’ yards.
While younger children got to go to “nursery” in volunteer’s homes, older children like seven-year-old Eliza Kelsey were able to join their families for a Sabbath they will always remember.
Several hundred youth, including 12-year-old Brighton Hanson, were among the approximately 2,000 volunteers from the Highlands Ranch, Littleton and Castle Rock Colorado Stakes who helped neighbors recover from the recent tornado.