Pinewood Derby for Refugees

Two refugee girls with pinewood derby cars and trophies.

I remember sitting in the general women’s session of conference as the “I Was a Stranger” effort was announced, thinking, “I need to do something.”

Soon after, I had the idea to hold a pinewood derby event with refugees, but I was pretty nervous to present it. I’m a shy person, and it’s hard for me to communicate and express myself. So it took me a while to talk to anyone about the idea. I finally spoke with my Relief Society president, and she thought it was a great idea. I used to work at a school with a large number of refugee children, so I called the school to see if they felt this idea was even feasible. When they expressed their support, I decided that I could do this.

I’m on the Cub Scout committee, and during our monthly meeting, the pinewood derby was brought up. I told the committee my idea to invite the refugee children to join us. I was worried that my idea might get shot down, but the response was the complete opposite—everyone on the committee was so supportive.

My sister heard about what we were doing, so she went and bought all of the cars. My husband’s grandpa carved out half of the cars with his wood saw, and a couple from our ward volunteered to do the other half. Other ward members donated paint and sandpaper.

Once the cars were carved, we took them to the school, and we helped the refugee children paint them. That was probably the highlight of the project for me. The kids were so excited, and the room was full of energy. They loved painting the cars, and I loved getting to spend time with them.

After the cars were painted, the young men in our ward put the wheels on them and made sure the cars weighed the right amount. The pinewood derby was announced in sacrament meeting, and we invited the ward to come out and watch. It was neat to see people there who weren’t necessarily involved with the Cub Scout program, but who came to cheer on the refugee children. Their energy was contagious. There was a sister in the ward who made awards, and another sister brought her popcorn machine and made snack bags.

The first race of the evening was just for the refugees, to show our support for them. These children were running back and forth from the start to the finish line, and you could tell just by watching them that they were really excited. I wish we could have slowed down time and made the night last longer because it was just so special.

Like President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, I also I feel strongly that love is spelled t-i-m-e (see “Of Things That Matter Most,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2010, 19-22). The refugees at this school have a lot of needs, and time is one of them. It seems that all these kids know is school. They get to school early in the morning and they stay after for the after-school programs. Most of their parents work two or three jobs, so even when these kids get home from school, they generally just stay at home and do their homework. They just don’t get to experience a lot of what other kids get to experience.

The more time you spend with a person—any person—the more that you connect with them. The times in my life when I’ve felt the most joy have been when I’ve taken time to really listen to people and get to know them—serving them, connecting with them, and laughing with them. Those are some of my favorite moments.