Socks, chalk, rakes, and more—these friends of diverse faiths are uniting to make their community a cleaner, happier, better place.
When Ryan Q., 15, of Missouri, USA, finished his Eagle Scout project a few years ago, he was itching for more of that just-served, feeling-great excitement, and he didn’t think his work was done. “I felt the community could still use volunteers,” Ryan says. “And I saw a need for youth specifically to serve in the community.” A couple friends from his homeschooling group agreed. “We started out with myself and one other friend coming, but we’ve grown to about 10–15 people coming to a project.” The youth come from different family and religious backgrounds, but they all share the same desire to serve.
Three years after they first came together, the interdenominational service group is still going strong. Ryan and the others work with local organizations—like senior citizen aid groups and environmental protection groups—to identify needs in the community. Then they plan and enthusiastically complete a project every month during the school year. Activities have covered all kinds of things, including cleaning yards and streams, lifting spirits, and helping feed the hungry.
“My favorite activity was at a local animal shelter,” says 17-year-old Jessica M., who identifies with Metaphysical Spirituality. “We helped organize all the pet supplies. And then we got to play with the cats!” They also hosed out cages and gave the workers a much-appreciated hand. “The best part of being in this group is meeting friends and helping animals and people,” she says.
“I also like visiting the assisted-living homes because I get along well with seniors,” Jessica says. “We talk and share stories and sing while Ryan and others play the piano.”
Visiting with elderly members of the community has been a popular activity—and the group has done it more than once. “We went to an Alzheimer’s home over Christmas,” says Ryan. “We each sat with a resident and got to know them. We made crafts and sang Christmas carols together. All the youth felt the Spirit and wanted to do the project again!”
Another time, they took “warm fuzzy cupcakes” (fuzzy socks rolled into the shape of cupcakes) to the residents of another assisted-living home.
“While there we celebrated a woman’s 101st birthday!” says Ryan. “We had a great time talking with the residents, laughing with their jokes, and learning from their life lessons. One woman was 103 and still loved doing crossword puzzles on her iPad with her friend who was 102!”
Chalk It Up to Kindness
Looking for a cheap project with a big reach, the group harnessed the power of sidewalk chalk. They obtained approval from the city and set out. “We went downtown and wrote kind messages on the sidewalk with chalk,” says Isabelle C., a 15-year-old Lutheran. “When we finished, we left some chalk and wrote a message saying ‘write some more’ so other people could keep writing kind messages. This was my favorite project because I knew the messages we wrote would make someone smile. And they made me smile!”
“What I love most about the service group is knowing that through the activities we do, I’m helping someone in need,” she says. “I also love being able to connect with the other people who are in the group. The service group is a great way to build strong relationships. All the members in the group are service-minded teenagers who love helping others.”
In the Service of Christ
Ryan’s already thinking of more ways to serve. “We’ve been focusing on teen-only service projects, but next year we’re hoping to include families as well. I’m also trying to find more projects where we can work directly with people. We’ve found that those are the activities when we most feel the Spirit and the joy of serving.”
“This has been a great opportunity to reach out and do work with members of other faiths,” Ryan says. “Service has provided an experience where we can all bond in the service of Christ.”
Want to start your own community service group—and keep it going? Ryan’s advice: look to groups you’re already a part of. Find people with a shared interest. “Our homeschool community provided the niche that nurtured the group. But it could be any niche—be it a yoga club, hiking group, whatever—just as long as the values are the same and the connections are made, the group will flourish.”
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