Teen volunteers bring hope from new generation

Published 1:10 pm Wednesday, June 26, 2024

Last week, more than 80 teens representing 24 churches from four states came to Vicksburg to spend their week in the hot summer sun, working on homes for people who needed help.

Much can be said about the upcoming generation, and I often find myself sounding like my grandparents when they expressed concern about the direction my generation was taking. While it does seem the values of young adults keep taking a step away from the values their elders hold dear, times like last week bring me optimism and encouragement for our future.

For most teens, summer is a time of relaxation and fun, combined with sports practices and possibly a part-time job. For 31 years, a project called “Service Over Self” has taken place in Vicksburg. Although it is headed up and sponsored by Crawford Street United Methodist Church (CSUMC), the participation of churches from all over the state and beyond makes it possible.

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For one week, teens in grades 8 through 12 team up to perform construction work under the supervision of experienced adult volunteers to improve homes of people who are unable to do the work themselves. Oftentimes, the homes are in dire need of repair. The work is dirty, laborious and sweaty. The kids do everything from clearing lots to repairing a variety of housing issues.

The roughest athletes, cutest cheerleaders, most studious and quiet kids all come together and not only form bonds among each other, but work hand in hand sawing, painting and nailing, among other tasks. These kids, from a range of backgrounds, see first-hand the effects of hardship. They see homes missing windows, with ceilings that are caving in and steps that are rotten. They build wheelchair ramps and repair bathrooms. They measure and cut and they install and paint.

I’ve visited the sites with the kids, sweating and smiling, always enthusiastic despite the conditions. I asked Lee Ann Whitley, youth director at CSUMC, why the kids love this hard work in scorching temperatures rife with mosquitoes and wasps. She said she thinks it’s because not only are they helping someone, but they are learning to do work they wouldn’t normally do, such as learning to use a circular saw, installing plumbing and shoring up floors. They are being trusted by adults to do adult work that they might not otherwise be exposed to. They are also working together with kids their own ages accomplishing results that they can see.

After a long day working, the kids report back to the church for fun evening activities. One of these “fun” activities is packaging rice and beans for another charitable effort, Rise Against Hunger. 

The teens are genuinely experiencing what Jesus  meant when he said to “love your neighbor.” They are not just quoting a scripture, they are making it a reality. They are loving their neighbors in the truest way possible. They are being the hands and feet of Christ.

For these teens, in a time of life filled with the challenges and uncertainties unique to being a teenager, they set aside their preoccupation with their own lives to focus on others. They are actively bringing about a positive change in this community. They are coming together to empower others. They are transforming themselves by volunteering. Their energy, resilience and commitment is inspiring.

And as I look at what lies ahead, these teens are giving me hope for a brighter future.

Sally Green is a reporter for The Vicksburg Post. She can be reached at sally.green@vicksburgpost.com