Volunteers drop in, team up, help out

Dozens of middle, high school students come for cleanup

July 04, 2008|By Jessica Anderson | Jessica Anderson,Sun Reporter

Dozens of youngsters in bright T-shirts rapidly rotated their arms in unison, creating a turbulent sea of blue.

They were loosening up near the Patterson Park pagoda in preparation for a long morning of community cleanup - in a city that most of them had never before visited.

Under the "PowerPlant" initiative sponsored by the North American Mission Board, students from all over are sent to various cities to work on community projects. About 90 middle and high school students came to Baltimore this week from as far as Mississippi and Illinois to pick up trash, weed, lay mulch, and hand out water bottles and energy-efficient light bulbs.

The writing on their shirts asked: "What if: We decide everyone matters?"

For the teenagers, the week was dedicated to "treating everybody like they do matter, and taking the focus off themselves," said Roger Littleton, youth minister at the West Lynchburg Baptist Church.

Their host, the Gallery Church, helped organize the activities as part of the "Together Baltimore" campaign. The summer volunteer project attempts to clean up areas around the city and "to get the city to say it's a team issue," said Gallery Church pastor Ellis Prince.

"What if everyone gave two vacation days a year" to volunteer? he asked Wednesday, watching the youngsters' morning routine.

As each of the teenagers tried to stretch one leg and balance on another, a group leader shouted: "Clearly all of you are tired, and lost rhythm and balance." After the exercises, the smiling and chattering teens quickly fell silent as the daily prayer cards were passed out.

As a few kids lowered their heads; others lay back in the grass. Daily assignments were announced, and the groups quickly split up.

One group of about 30 headed to the nearby Commodore John Rodgers Elementary School, while others piled into vans to work near William Paca and City Springs elementary schools.

Behind Commodore John Rogers Elementary, volunteers from Cambridge, Ohio, and Lynchburg, Va., swept leaves and trash cluttering the outdoor amphitheater seats. With only a few brooms to go around, several kids pulled weeds, while others picked up pieces of glass.

As the group worked through the morning, neighborhood kids played baseball in a courtyard close by. Prince pointed out what he suspected to be drug dealing nearby.

The visiting volunteers "know Baltimore leads the nation in statistics that you don't want to lead the nation in," Prince said, but that doesn't seem to change their feelings toward the city.

"It's been awesome," said Ashleigh Richards, 16, who came with the West Lynchburg Baptist Church. "I just love all of the architecture here."

Overseeing the work, Derek Miller, a Gallery Church intern, said "We really value pouring whatever we can back into the community."

After working until noon, the kids headed to the Severn Run Baptist Church for prayer and religious study sessions. The teens stayed at the Annapolis Area Christian School, sleeping on air mattresses on the gym floor. For food, some chose local restaurants, while others kept costs down with lunchmeat in coolers.

A few went to see the Orioles' win Tuesday night. Others walked around the harbor.

"Our group has learned a lot through serving other people," Chris Parker, a student pastor with the Trinity Baptist Church in Cambridge, Ohio, said. He added that the urban experience has been good for the youngsters.

When asked if it had been difficult chaperoning the group of teens, Jayme Littleton, who came up with the Lynchburg group, laughed and said: "It's a week they have to learn it's not about them. It can be a hard lesson for teenagers."

jessica.anderson@baltsun.com

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