Where Love Works Miracles

“Where Love Works Miracles,” Ensign, Apr. 1988, 24

Where Love Works Miracles

Deseret Industries is more than a store—it’s a place where people grow in abilities, skills, and self-respect.

Jim. Two things happened in his thirteenth year: first, he dropped out of school; not long after, he stopped talking.

The mental handicap he had been born with made him a slow learner; it also made him the target of taunts, practical jokes, and physical cruelty. His classmates pinned him to the ground and scribbled words across his face with a marking pen. And slowly, Jim turned inward, creating a shell around himself that could not be penetrated by words, laughter, or unkindness.

When Jim turned eighteen, his bishop took him to Deseret Industries, where trainers taught him to stain and finish furniture. He was known as the quiet worker. Month after month he punched the time clock and did his job, all without a sound. When he had to communicate, he wrote on a pad of paper.

Eight years of silent labor passed before that day when, for a reason unknown to anyone, he looked up from his work and, noticing a new manager, spoke one miraculous word.


A year and a half later, Jim stood in sacrament meeting and read a short talk he had written. He bore his testimony and expressed gratitude for Deseret Industries. It was the first time anyone in the ward had heard him speak in fourteen years.

It was a miracle, not of a flash or an instant, but of months and years of patient and loving kindness. It was the kind of miracle that happens at Deseret Industries—not rarely, but by the hundreds every year.

Deseret Industries came into being fifty years ago during the Great Depression. An arm of the newborn Church welfare program, it was given four challenges: (1) to provide work and training for those unable to find employment; (2) to provide a storehouse for bishops to help those in need; (3) to provide a way for the community to exercise the principles of thrift by providing low-cost merchandise to the public, and (4) to provide the Saints a way to consecrate nonmonetary items for the purpose of helping others to help themselves. Deseret Industries has fulfilled these objectives with love, determination, and faith.

Lane’s bishop came to Deseret Industries in desperation. “This man is living with his family in a tent,” he said. “He came here to find work, and now his family scavenges the streets looking for food.”

Lane was put to work immediately. He learned to load and unload trucks, to pack furniture so that it wouldn’t be scratched during transport, and to treat those who came in with donations so that they felt welcomed and appreciated. Most of all, Lane learned to respect himself. He began building the confidence he needed to keep a job. He learned how important proper grooming was, and he began showering regularly and taking pride in his appearance.

It wasn’t long before Lane was ready to start interviewing for a job. Impressed with his work experience at Deseret Industries, the owner of a large warehouse gave Lane a chance. Lane works there today, completely independent and able to provide for his family.

But it’s not just the disabled or the disadvantaged who find new life at these federally-sheltered licensed workshops. Mike had a graduate degree in electrical engineering, but he couldn’t keep a job. After losing another in a long series of positions, Mike went to his bishop and, together, they found the answer at Deseret Industries.

Mike’s problem was that, although he was well-trained vocationally, he lacked the personal skills necessary for keeping a job. With the help of his supervisor, he realized that others viewed him as uncooperative and inflexible. Once Mike confronted this reality, he was able to change. Three months later, he was hired by a large electronics firm and has since been promoted into management.

“You can’t talk about Deseret Industries without tears.” The voice belongs to Elder Glen Rudd of the First Quorum of the Seventy. “It’s a tender subject. It’s an exercise in patience, it’s an exercise in pure charity—the kind that far exceeds the gift of money and other material objects. It’s the gift of opportunity, … a chance to become a somebody, to have dignity.”

Elder Rudd has a special love for the program, a love he gained in large measure through his years of service in the Church welfare system. He served in the general welfare office for eight years and managed the Welfare Square complex for twenty-two years. He describes Deseret Industries as a place where miracles occur. “They’re not great big miracles,” Elder Rudd explains, “but they’re daily miracles where a man who has probably never had the chance to be self-sustaining or to have the dignity of earning his own way can feel just as important as a manager of a big store.”

Miracles at Deseret Industries are not limited to the successes of the people who work there. For the bishop striving to help the poor and needy in his ward, this workshop and retail store is a welcome storehouse.

One bishop explains what recently happened to a family in his ward. “They lost everything in a fire—all their furniture, their clothing, their appliances. When this family came to me, I didn’t know what to tell them. And then I thought of Deseret Industries. Nearly all of the essential needs of this family were met with their help.”

It was a pleasant summer morning on Saturday, 5 June 1976, when the Teton Dam burst above Rexburg, Idaho, flooding the valleys. The Idaho Falls Deseret Industries was open that day, and by early afternoon a command post was set up there to coordinate relief efforts for the area. Deseret Industries trucks traveled through the night to deliver emergency supplies to Rexburg. Bedding, furniture, household necessities, and clothing were issued to people upon receipt of bishops’ orders—with no stipulation as to church affiliation. One man waited uncomfortably as his order was filled, obviously nervous that someone would discern he was not a member of the Church. Only after workers handed him his supplies and thanked him did he realize the order was his—free and clear. Then the tears came.

Of course, Deseret Industries is not just for bishops and the needy members of their wards. Thousands have discovered that shopping at these stores not only saves money, but is an adventure as well. Most people are surprised by their first visit—clean stores, inviting displays, useful merchandise, and good bargains.

One woman was particularly delighted with what she had found. “Do you see that young lady over there?” she asked. “That’s my daughter. And do you see that young man over there? That’s my future son-in-law. We’ve spent all morning shopping to furnish their first apartment, and you should see how nice everything is going to look once it’s all together.”

Deseret Industries also provides a way for Saints in the latter days to consecrate nonmonetary commodities. One member who had been touched by a talk about the program approached a store manager and told him he had a lawn mower that he had intended to sell, but after hearing about the marvelous things happening at Deseret Industries, he had decided to donate the machine. The manager thanked him and assured him that the donation would be put to good use.

“You don’t understand,” the man continued. “This is no ordinary lawnmower. It’s a riding mower worth at least seven hundred dollars.”

Later, the man spoke again to the manager. “One of the choicest experiences I have had was giving something of real value to Deseret Industries. I can’t remember when I have had such a peaceful, joyful feeling.”

Some of the most heartwarming experiences of all come from what happens to donations after they are processed and placed onto the sales floors. The day the Idaho Falls store opened was a hectic one. More customers than anyone thought possible had come to shop and to celebrate its opening. Finally closing time came, and the employees nearly collapsed from an exciting, yet tiring, day. Willis Yost, multi-region welfare agent, noticed a Native American Indian, dressed in tatters, peering through the locked door.

Brother Yost opened the door and invited him in. “Do you have any blankets?” the man asked in broken English. They led him to the few blankets still left. The man didn’t have enough money, so Brother Yost paid the difference. As he left, the man turned to Brother Yost and smiled. “Maybe I can sleep warm tonight,” he said.

“To some people, Deseret Industries is just a store,” Elder Rudd explains. “To me, it is a place where people grow in abilities, skills, and self-respect.”

Giving to the poor and the needy, lifting the troubled hand, cheering the troubled heart—this is the work of Deseret Industries. Perhaps more than anything else, this administering to the needy is why people refer to Deseret Industries as one of the most Christlike programs in the Church.

“I’ve always felt that Deseret Industries and bishop’s storehouses were ’temporal temples,’” Elder Rudd explains. “In temples, where sealings and endowments are performed, great spiritual blessings are given the Saints. In our ‘temporal temples’ we also bless people, spiritually as well as physically. I’ve been a temple president [in New Zealand, from 1984–1987], and I know what a temple is; however, I feel the same way about our welfare facilities.”

Deseret Industries started with a handful of people in 1938. It now trains over three thousand individuals yearly. It has grown from one small building to forty-eight facilities throughout Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona, Nevada, Idaho, and Utah. Some have their own manufacturing plants.

One requirement for the program’s successful operation is the close cooperation of bishops and Church members. In reality, it is a bishops’ program. The workers are recommended by bishops, and the items at the store are made available to bishops for distribution to those in need.

For those areas where Church membership is not sufficient to support a traditional Deseret Industries, a new Church-sponsored rehabilitation program is being tested in the North America Northeast and North America Southeast areas. The program uses local priesthood and community resources to help people develop employment skills. Individuals accepted into the program are placed in rehabilitation programs in the community and then assisted with training, job counseling, and, ultimately, with permanent job placement by members called as Church-service rehabilitation specialists.

Donald had attended special education classes for the mentally retarded during his school years. After graduation, he found temporary employment with a large government agency in Washington, D.C. For years Donald worked his allotted seven hundred hours per year but was laid off when annual program funds were depleted. Donald couldn’t be hired full-time because he couldn’t pass the required civil service examination.

About one year ago, Donald’s bishop referred him to LDS Employment Services. Bruce Ballif, the employment manager, talked with Ron Campbell, the rehabilitation manager, and came up with a plan. Leland and Ruby McCants, Church-service rehabilitation specialists, were assigned to work with Donald. After interviewing Donald and meeting with his wife and his bishop, they determined that Donald needed full-time work to meet his own needs and the needs of his family.

Brother and Sister McCants began immediately to work with Donald on behavior necessary to get and keep a job: personal hygiene, dress and grooming, punctuality, communication. At the same time, Brother and Sister McCants went to work to find a full-time position for Donald. Through the united efforts of rehabilitation specialists, Donald’s bishop and family, and a host of government employees, Donald now works full-time for the United States government.

Gary Winters, a field manager for Deseret Industries, says that the concept behind Deseret Industries is people helping people help themselves. Indeed, that is the reason every Deseret Industries store exists. Whenever a person gives old furniture, outgrown clothes, or surplus goods to Deseret Industries, he gives a gift that goes on giving in terms of self-reliance and self-respect. And anyone who buys an item from Deseret Industries benefits not only himself, but hundreds of other people as well.

Industry uses people to build products; Deseret Industries uses products to build people.

One thing is certain, Deseret Industries is a place where work is combined with love. The result is dignity, respect, and spiritual miracles. Deseret Industries continues to fulfill its objectives of providing work and training to those unable to get or to keep a job, providing a storehouse to help bishops care for the needy, providing opportunities for members to purchase quality used items and consecrate nonmonetary items to a worthy cause.

It is impossible to estimate how many thousands of lives have been touched, how many futures made brighter with the help of Deseret Industries. After fifty years of doing the Lord’s work, Deseret Industries is now, more than ever, a place of joy and of triumph—a temporal temple where love turns work into miracles.

Steps to Employment

Step 1: The bishop interviews the individual to determine if he or she qualifies as a candidate for Deseret Industries training. Those who are disabled (physically, mentally, or emotionally) or unable to get or keep a job in private industry are most likely to qualify.

Step 2: The individual takes the “Bishop’s Authorization for Services” form to Deseret Industries, where he or she is interviewed by the rehabilitation coordinator. The purpose of this interview is to determine whether Deseret Industries can help the person and if training slots are available.

Step 3: Once the individual is accepted into the Deseret Industries program, he or she is assigned to a rehabilitation service worker who assists the individual in training.

Step 4: The individual is assigned to a work area and a supervisor. The individual’s family and bishop are invited to attend a meeting during which, with the individual’s supervisor, the rehabilitation coordinator discusses areas in which the worker can improve, and his or her goals for doing so. A date is usually set for completing the training and helping the individual to find a job outside Deseret Industries. (This date rarely exceeds one year for nonhandicapped individuals. It may be longer for those who are handicapped. Job placement may not be a goal for the elderly.)

Step 5: As the individual’s performance improves, rehabilitation service workers teach interviewing skills and discuss with the individual his work preferences.

Step 6: LDS Employment is contacted when the person is ready to begin interviewing. Rehabilitation service workers begin searching for a suitable job for the employee in private industry.

Step 7: The individual finds a job. In 1986, over 38 percent of individuals trained at Deseret Industries were placed in industry.

Step 8: Throughout the next year, rehabilitation service workers and the rehabilitation coordinator check on the individual’s progress. If there are challenges, Deseret Industries helps the individual meet them. In 1986, 84 percent of those placed in employment outside Deseret Industries retained their jobs.

What Is an RSW?

Sylvia and Grant Lundgren knew what they wanted to do after retirement. They wanted to serve a full-time mission—and they did. They wanted to be heavily involved in their ward—and they were. What they hadn’t anticipated was a call from the Area President asking them to serve as rehabilitation service workers at the Sacramento Deseret Industries.

Their new assignment put Brother and Sister Lundgren in a challenging yet exciting position. The day a worker started at the Sacramento Deseret Industries, they were there. They worked elbow to elbow with him, teaching him to improve himself. If an individual needed help with his grooming, the Lundgrens showed him how. If another couldn’t understand a task, the Lundgrens patiently reviewed each step until he could do the work himself. But they discovered their major assignment was to take time to understand and love, to help the disabled, elderly, and those in need build a future of independence and self-respect.

Rehabilitation service workers serve in every Deseret Industries facility and at most LDS Employment/Rehabilitation Centers. They are called by the Area President and set apart by their stake president. They usually serve thirty to forty hours a week for one or two years. Most who are called to this position find the experience is much like serving a full-time mission—without leaving home.

The Lundgrens feel that their success in the calling was a result of relying on the Spirit to direct their efforts. Serving as rehabilitation service workers taught them the meaning of Christlike service and provided them with opportunities to reach out to those less fortunate than they and offer the miracle of a new beginning.

Job Placement Success

Number of workers placed in jobs outside Deseret Industries:

Number of workers placed in jobs outside Deseret Industries
  • Neil K. Newell, a sales manager at Deseret Industries in Provo, Utah, is Blazer A leader in the Orem Ninety-fifth Ward, Orem Utah Stake.

Photography by John Snyder

After being referred to Deseret Industries by their bishops, individuals are trained in a variety of occupations. These workers are assigned to the carpentry shop at the Murray, Utah, facility (from left): Bruce Gibbons, Stan Griffin, Alvin Blackburn (seated), Mike Stohel, and Frank Wheelwright.

Employees on the retail floor at the Murray Deseret Industries store (from left): George Olsen; Connie Boulton, sales supervisor; Wayne Mortimer, sales manager; Wendy Anderson (front); and Lisa Olsen.