By Sue Botos
While many teenagers spend their summer break from school working at fast food restaurants or on their tans, more than 12,000 students throughout the country have paid about $250 each to work for free.
For the past week, 510 of these students, representing church groups from Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Oklahoma and other states, have been painting, weeding, scrubbing, planting and doing other projects in parks and neighborhoods throughout Cleveland and its suburbs. The students, and their adult chaperones, are part of World Changers and P2 Missions, initiatives of Life Way Christian Resources, which recruits volunteers to do community service work throughout the U.S. and Canada.
One crew of 12 was hard at work last week, removing branches and other debris from the beach at Bradstreet’s Landing in Rocky River. Coordinator Kaley Blankenship explained that 22 crews had been at work in seven communities, including Cleveland, helping with a variety of projects, including construction work in North Ridgeville and distribution of food to the homeless.
She explained that World Changers city representative Jay Schroder coordinated the students’ efforts with a number of area churches. “Jay calls the churches and asks about what it needed in a particular community,” she said. In Rocky River, Gateway River Church is sponsoring the groups.
“This is the first time we’ve ever meshed both groups together (World Changers and P2 Missions), and we’re finding out it works well,” Blankenship stated. She said that the volunteers were being housed at Bedford High School, where they sleep in classrooms. Breakfasts and dinners are provided by local churches, and each morning at about 7:30, the crews hit the road in buses headed for the day’s project. The participation fees paid by the students go toward transportation, room and board. Often supplies are provided by the cities.
According to Blankenship, the groups are proof of the adage, “the more hands, the lighter the work.”
“What’s cool is that small church groups would take a year to accomplish these projects. Our groups can do it in a week,” she added. A group of affiliated youths came to the area last year, performing park cleanup and reroofing Elmwood Cabin.
On this cool and sunny day, adult volunteer Jason Royston of Rogersville, Tenn., was giving out last-minute instructions. The group then joined hands in prayer before taking on the beach debris. He paused when asked why he has been doing this for seven years.
“It’s just knowing that we make a difference in people’s lives and see the results,” he said, adding that the work shows “the way the Lord loves us and takes care of us.”
The students said they have especially enjoyed the interaction with residents. “This is a good way to show our faith,” said Olivia Snodgrass, 15. She added that after she had heard older students talking about the program, she “couldn’t wait until she was old enough” to participate. While this group consisted of high school students, some allow middle school age students to help out.
Noah Eidson, 16, from Chicago, said work was not just about making money. “The spiritual growth is a lot bigger,” he stated.
Blankenship said that the crews have identified themselves by coming up with “goofy names.” This particular group was dubbed the “Snow Coneheads,” known for handing out the icy treats to residents.