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National recognition for two ministries


Alabama Rural Ministry founder and director Lisa Pierce (center) and the Rev. Sheila Bates, Tuskegee University Wesley Foundation director, pose with actor Tony Danza at the 'Make a Difference Day' Awards luncheon.
Alabama Rural Ministry founder and director Lisa Pierce (center) and the Rev. Sheila Bates, Tuskegee University Wesley Foundation director, pose with actor Tony Danza at the 'Make a Difference Day' Awards luncheon.

April saw national recognition come to ministries involving youth from Los Gatos United Methodist Church in Los Gatos, Calif., and volunteers from the Alabama-West Florida Conference.

Doug McNeil and Jesse Salem—both members of Los Gatos Church—were honored April 5 for founding Lighting for Literacy, while Alabama Rural Ministry was recognized April 25 as one of America's top volunteer organizations.

McNeil was also one of 12 Rotarians recognized as "Champions of Change" during Rotary Day festivities at the White House. He said Lighting for Literacy enables youth to build technology that helps spread literacy and education around the world. The program is a partnership between the church and Los Gatos Morning Rotary

"It's about helping other people," he said. "It's not just helping your neighbor but (also) people in other parts of the world that I will likely never meet. I think that's doing God's work."

The project was launched when McNeil was looking for a project that would teach youth science, sustainability and "service above self," Rotary International's slogan, and Salem had a problem that needed a scientific solution. He wanted to provide light—safely and inexpensively—for people who must use kerosene or candlelight if they want to write or read at night.

After a mutual friend introduced the two engineers, they decided they needed light-emitting diodes, better known as LED, powered by the sun.

Salem designed the solar kit, McNeil said, which includes a 12-volt battery, a solar panel, a charge-control circuit and an LED strip—all readily available at hardware stores.

The church supplied the youth, each paired with an adult mentor, to build the kits. In summer 2012, three youth on the Los Gatos team to Colonet, Mexico, helped install the first five lights. More of the kits went to Colonet earlier this year. Another provides light for 80 youngsters living in an orphanage in Bangalore, India, to study and read at night. The kits also include USB ports to allow cell phone charging.

Members of Alabama Rural Ministry were hailed for "putting their faith in action" during the annual "Make a Difference Day" Awards luncheon in Washington.

"Make a Difference Day," created by USA Weekend, is observed on the fourth Saturday of October as a national day of helping others. The honorees each received a $10,000 donation from Newman's Own.

The rural ministries group coordinated the work of 72 volunteers, 28 miles from its headquarters, who made home repairs for the disabled, sanded walls for a historic church, cleaned a park, entertained nursing home residents and helped launch a food bank.

After accepting the honor, ARM founder and director Lisa Pierce said the group plans to share some of the funds with the Wesley Foundations at colleges and institutions in the conference.

"We hope to get more volunteers to help serve in the spirit of our Lord and Savior," she said. Volunteering "was a great way to partner with communities in which we live and serve," she added.

Adapted from United Methodist News Service stories by Heather Hahn, a multimedia reporter for United Methodist News Service, and Maidstone Mulenga, director of global and electronic affairs for the Baltimore-Washington Conference.