Teen Volunteers Change Hearts Through Service

by: Hamil Harris Special to the AFRO
/ (Photos by Hamil Harris) /
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On most days, James and Esther Brooks leave their home in Columbia, Md., drop off their daughter Clarissa, and head to their respective government jobs. But last week the Brooks drove a 15-passenger van and lead a charitable convoy of teenagers, luggage, and paint supplies into Parkersburg, W.Va. where for four days they painted homes for people in need at the Mid-Ohio Valley Work Camp.

The Brooks, members of the University Park Church of Christ in Hyattsville, Md., joined other church youth groups from Maryland, Virginia, Ohio, Tennessee, and Pennsylvania. The week-long mission trips are common among many church groups during the spring and summer.

Students from Hyattsville, Md. travel to West Virginia to help paint houses during the Mid-Ohio Valley Work Summer Camp. (Photos by Hamil Harris)

Elizabeth Carro’s home received a new paint job. After losing her husband and mother earlier this year, she decided not to worry about getting her home painted even though she was made the offer last year. “It is a miracle’” said Carro after Brooks arrived and the teenagers jumped out the van and her yard quickly filled with long ladders, cans of paint, and young people lugging ice chest filled with water and drinks.

But despite coming with their own refreshments, Carro had a surprise. Her son, who manages a nearby Sonic restaurant, dropped off frozen drinks for all of the young peope who sang while they worked.

An official warned Brooks that some people in the community were rather conservative and might make harsh comments toward Blacks, by the end of the week there was nothing but tearful hugs and new relationships.

The work camp lasted from June 25 to June 29 and according to David Muller, co-director of the Mid-Ohio Valley Work Camp, about 333 students and about 30 volunteers painted 32 homes and, during the night, took part in nightly worship services, baptismal services, and pizza parties at Ohio Valley University in Vienna, Va.

Ryan Mbuashu-Ndip said he came to the camp with his sister Katherine and others members of the youth group from University Park. As he painted Ndip, 14, said, “I hope that people see what we doing and be inspired and take a look at Christ.”

Esther Brooks said while the work was hard, “I was blessed to work with an incredible group of young people and I’m learning from them as well.”

Garrison Jolly, a member of the University Park youth group said, “This trip has taught me family because it is all working together to glorify God. We are helping people and bring them to God.”

The teens dined on chicken salad, BBQ, and chicken with all the trimmings at the Lynn Street Church of Christ in Parkerburg, W. Va. and according to Ron Laughery, one of church’s ministers, the program is really making a difference in the community. “This is not just about painting houses, it is about reaching out and sharing with people the good news of the gospel,” Laughery, 77, said. “One man whose house was painted said I love those children and he is here having lunch.”

What was unique about this charitable camp is that Brooks and most of the volunteers from University Park are Black and most of the people they were helping were White, which created several strong bonds.

During one meal Brooks connected with Michael Lightle, a youth leader from the Xenia Church of Christ in Ohio, located where he was raised. Brooks and Lightle looked beyond race and any political difference and found common ground in their faith. Lightle said, “In the Bible we are going to go out and take care of our people take care of widows, orphans.”

“The kids get a chance to see service in real time and what I tried to do is help them to see that this is an extension of faith,” Nunley saud.

On the last day of the work camp Brooks and the people on his team presented Carro with a paper Bible that had been signed by all of the volunteers. “I’m glad that I can change this lady’s life for the better,” he said.

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