It was a place he never thought he’d be in. A father of seven, standing in the Bishop’s storehouse with his wife, with a grocery cart full of food to feed his family. This was a low Genola resident Lonny Ward never thought he’d hit, and at the time, was afraid he’d never climb out of.
But he did make his way out and is now helping countless others around the world to find their way out of challenging economic hardships.
For more than a decade, Ward worked as the manager at the BYU Dairy, believing it was something he would spend the remainder of his career doing. All that changed when over time, Ward came to the realization that he needed a change — that there was something more out there for him and his family.
“It was a difficult decision for us to make,” Ward said. “In the transition, we used up all our savings, retirement, and all of our credit. In the end, we had no money, and I never thought of using church welfare to take care of my family; yet, there we were. It was devastating to be in this position. Having grown up on a small farm in southern Idaho, I always believed that as long as you worked hard, you would be able to provide for yourself.”
For the next several years, Ward and his family struggled financially at a time when the U.S. economy itself was still recovering.
Ward said that they nearly lost their home, yet in his own hardship, he still felt compelled to find a way to serve others.
“Even in our family’s deepest despair, I felt like I needed to find a way to serve others,” Ward said. “I found small employment opportunities to travel to places like Kenya to set up schools, and I served as a member of the city council for a few years. And for some reason, at that time, I felt like I needed to run for mayor.”
Running for mayor of Genola would not fix his family’s financial woes, as the stipend for the position was $150 per month. Even so, Ward went to the town office to file the paperwork to run, and in 2014, was sworn in as mayor, serving one term in that position.
During his time as mayor, and through other opportunities to serve overseas, Ward said he began to have a deep love for people of all walks of life. He wanted to use his background in public service and agriculture to teach people in developing countries how to live self-sustaining lives — something he was working on doing in his own life as a husband and father.
“My own life situation really humbled me,” Ward said. “Then going to places like Kenya where there are the richest of rich and the poorest of poor, I learned that people even in impoverished situations still had so much. I found that rather than focusing on what they didn’t have, many of the people were grateful for what they did have. It helped me to do the same in my life.”
Ward began looking for positions in his professional life to be able to serve more fully, people in developing countries, and began working for an organization called CHOICE Humanitarian. This organization creates programs and projects to eliminate poverty in rural communities by teaching them how to use their natural resources.
“I’ve seen mothers who will walk for hours just to get fresh water to their homes, but after we teach them how to have access to it on their front step, it opens up a whole new world,” Ward said. “When these mothers aren’t spending that time getting water, they are now able to learn a new skill to help provide for their family and feel self-worth.”
That sense of self-worth is something that Ward said is one of the most valuable things people can have.
“When I think back I remember how worthless I felt,” he said. “I’ve seen the same in those who I work with. Just because you don’t have a job, or struggle providing for your family, you still have value.
“It often takes going through tough times to be able to get to a better place. But when you find yourself in the service of others, you will always find fulfillment because we all have value.” (Brown is a Serve Daily contributor.)