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Helping Hands in the Community

by Michelle Strubeck for Seward City News-
Elder Mills and Sister Mills at the Seward Community Library and Museum. Photo: Michelle Strubeck.

If you have ever done volunteer work, you may have noticed a difference in the way you feel afterwards. There is a boost in your mood, you feel a sense of accomplishment, you have a higher self confidence and feel more capable. Volunteer work is also good for your social life. It gives you the opportunity to develop social skills if you are shy and you can develop friendships by being around other like minded individuals. From a health perspective, doing volunteer work can help lower rates of depression and stress because you are focused on something other than yourself. Volunteering has numerous other benefits. Or course, you also make a difference. Every person counts and the help is always appreciated.

Meet Elder Richard Mills and Sister Devie Mills. They are missionaries with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. They have spent time doing mission work abroad and they are spending 2017-2018 in Seward. Elder Mills and Sister Mills arrived in Alaska in February after spending a week training in Utah.  After a few days in Anchorage for training they came to Seward in March. They will be here through February 2018 when they return home to Colorado Springs, CO.

Elder Mills and Sister Mills, in addition to their church activities, are devoting service time to three places of business: The Seward Senior Center, The Seward Community Library and Museum and Mountain Haven. They spend one day per week at each place of business helping out in different capacities. While at the Seward Senior Center Elder Mills washes dishes during lunch and Sister Mills makes beautiful music on the piano entertaining those in attendance. When they are at the Seward Community Library and Museum they re-shelve the many books and other materials that have been returned by patrons; something that is definitely appreciated. Over at Mountain Haven, Elder Mills and Sister Mills spend time singing with the residents and getting to know them on a one-on-one level. Janet Durnil, Life Engagement Coordinator at Mountain Haven stated that Elder and Sister Mills are wonderful and they have been priceless with their contributions. She went on to say that they jumped right in and they have been dedicated from the beginning.

Elder and Sister Mills celebrating Gawai with local Malaysians. Photo courtesy of Elder and Sister Mills.

Prior to arriving in Seward, Elder Mills and Sister Mills spent time abroad in England and Malaysia doing mission work. England has a special place in their hearts due to their family history, but Malaysia is the one place where they feel like they can truly make a difference. During their time England they lived in Northampton and Bedford primarily working with local congregations. They were assigned to teaching classes and working at the genealogy library to research people’s family trees. They also spent time meeting with young missionaries, making sure their housing was being maintained. When asked about cultural differences in England, Elder Mills and Sister Mills said there were little nuances with words being used differently and things were a little more proper. They also commented that it was interesting to be in the region their ancestors came from and to have similar experiences as those that walked before them.

During their 18 months in Malaysia, Elder Mills and Sister Mills did mission work at a new church where the congregation was only five years old. This particular location was near the second largest jungle in the world. Due to the language barrier, the younger missionaries would serve as translators for them. They taught English to the locals and Sister Mills taught piano lessons. She had 10-12 students and she also started a choir with 15 members. Grants were obtained so the piano students could receive free keyboards to continue with their lessons; this is something they otherwise couldn’t afford.

While each trip has impacted them differently, Elder Mills and Sister Mills said going to Malaysia was a life altering experience for them. It caused them to refocus their priorities and they are more grateful for the blessings in their lives. We are very prosperous in the U.S. while the people of Malaysia have fewer opportunities. However, Malaysians are very generous; they will welcome you into their homes and serve you a meal. That meal can equal one day’s salary and they often take care of extended family as well. They went on to say that the people they were surrounded by didn’t have much in terms of material items. One day they were driving down the road and saw a family living in a tin shack with a large screen tv. Many people in Malaysia don’t have cars or internet service. They do have pre-paid phones and often they have to buy a new phone with a new number after the old phone runs out.

Part of enjoying going abroad stems from Elder Mills’ 30 year career with Hewlett-Packard. He worked as a production engineer before moving into marketing and eventually business development. He was fortunate enough to travel to Europe and Asia two weeks out of each month and Sister Mills would accompany him when she could. They also spent four years living in Amsterdam. They said all of the traveling they have done has made them more culturally aware and sensitive to expectations.

When senior missionaries are interested in doing mission work there is an application process they must go through. At the time of application, their youngest child must be 18 and no longer dependent on their parents. They can list the type of work they are interested in. The time frame for their work can be anywhere from 6 to 23 months; after 24 months it becomes a tax issue. Senior missionaries are responsible for all their expenses and may need to find their own housing. The church does supplement some costs for housing if housing costs are over$1400 per month. Elder Mills and Sister Mills said many people have the misconception that the church pays for every mission trip in full, which they don’t. Another misconception that Sister Mills pointed out is that they wear name tags and many people will mistake her for a Catholic nun, since the name on her tag is “Sister Mills”.  They actually have 8 children and 23 grandchildren!

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There are 5,900 senior missionaries assigned from church headquarters in Salt Lake City, UT and 23,000 service missionaries doing work from home in their local community. Senior missionaries are allowed to have visitors, whereas the younger missionaries cannot. They are also allowed to travel home in case of family emergencies with permission from their Mission President, all at their own expense of course. The Mills recently had one of their sons and four grandchildren visit them in Alaska and seven of their grandchildren have been born while they were on church assignments.

Living in Seward has been an enjoyable experience for Elder Mills and Sister Mills. They aren’t use to living in a small community where everyone knows each other. They have been surprised by everyone’s friendliness and willingness to help each other out. Another aspect of living in Alaska that has surprised them is the amount of daylight there is. Soon they will be experiencing the darkness of Alaska as winter is upon us. When their time in Seward comes to an end Elder Mills has said he would like to return to Malaysia for another mission trip, while Sister Mills would like to stay home and enjoy being around their family.

If you are interested in doing volunteer work at the Seward Senior Center (SSC), The Seward Community Library and Museum (SCLM) or Mountain Haven, feel free to contact them.

Kathy Martin, Administrative Assistant at the SSC (224-5604) said their biggest need for volunteers is primarily with kitchen relief. They need help serving lunch, cleaning the dining room, and washing dishes. They have a monthly foot care program and they are looking for two volunteers to help the 10-12 people that are serviced during this time. They also have a monthly USDA food distribution program where low income seniors receive food boxes. Volunteers are needed to come in the week before distribution to help with inventory and the week of distribution only requires one hour of time. There are approximately 20-25 boxes per shipment weighing 28 pounds each.

If you would like to volunteer at the SCLM, Director Valarie Kingsland (224-4082) said there are a number of ways in which volunteers can be utilized. Aside from re-shelving library materials, volunteers are needed to help mend books or other materials to lengthen the life of the library collection. Volunteers are also needed for program/event assistance and decorating/displays, just to name a few.

Janet Durnil (224-2928) said there is a need for one on one computer classes with Elders at Mountain Haven along with reading to them and teaching them to read. She went on to say that if volunteers have a certain skill set they can figure out a way to incorporate those skills into their volunteer work. She also stated that volunteer work is a great way to bridge gaps within the community and build a relationship.

For more information:

Seward Senior Center – contact Kathy Martin, Administrative Assistant (907)224-5604

Seward Community Library and Museum- contact Valarie Kinsland, Director- (907)224-4082

Mountain Haven- contact Janet Durnil, Life Engagement Coordinator- (907)224-2928

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