Students find many ways to volunteer
By Jared Janzen
Youth groups at Named 2015 spent Friday morning and afternoon serving 21 agencies throughout Denver. Their goal was to learn how God was at work in the city, and after a hard day’s work, they managed to not only bless others, but also discover what it looks like to be a servant.
The day began with all students and youth leaders meeting just after 8 a.m. in the Convention Center for instructions. Organizers stressed for students not to be in the mindset of God “showing up” as they served, because God was already at work at these agencies long before the Named 2015 volunteers arrived.
“What we want to do is we want to open our eyes, find where God is already at work, and then go there and join him in that work in bringing new life, light and order to chaos,” Matt Ford, planning team member, told youth groups as they prepared to serve. Ford also told students he hoped this would help them recognize ways God is at work in their home communities and join in as God’s representatives.
Arrangements for the service opportunities, or Service Ops, were made through the Denver branch of DOOR (Discovering Opportunities for Outreach and Reflection), which connects volunteers with partnering agencies for service periods of a day, a month or a full year.
By 9 a.m. the youth groups had begun branching out to their various service locations with smiles on their faces and sack lunches in tow. The weather was great for those who would be volunteering outside. Students utilized a variety of transportation methods to get to their service locations. Some groups walked or took the public transit system, while others rode in the charter buses or vans that they had taken to the conference.
The process of organizing the departures of 766 students and youth leaders into the greater Denver area went surprisingly smoothly according to planning team members. They attributed this smoothness largely to help from a dozen interns from Fresno Pacific University and Tabor College who had spent the previous afternoon preparing hundreds of sack lunches and then distributing them to each group Friday morning.
Groups serve a variety of Denver agencies
One of the service sites was the Bridge Project, an organization that runs an afterschool program for students from kindergarten through college to help them succeed with academics. Youth from North Fresno Church of Fresno, Calif., helped clean the Lincoln Park site, which is one of four Bridge Project locations in Denver. They washed grime off walls and chairs (photo left), reorganized the small library and raked leaves.
“I know I’ll be blessing someone,” said one youth member serving at this site. Schoolchildren weren’t around to interact with because they were in school while the youth were there, but the youth still recognized that their work would benefit others.
A number of the agencies were located in Denver’s poorest neighborhoods, areas where the air and water are polluted by nearby refineries, or in so-called “food deserts” where the only stores available to buy groceries are places like 7/11 and Family Dollar. Some of these neighborhoods are being threatened with gentrification, where properties are purchased and new housing built, thereby raising property values but displacing low-income families who can no longer afford to live there.
EarthLinks Community Garden, not far from Sports Authority Field at Mile High, home of the Denver Broncos football team, is located in one of these neighborhoods. Those who benefit from the garden are homeless or low-income families who grow fruits and vegetables and make earth-friendly products like soaps, lotions, bee boxes, bat boxes and more. EarthLinks was forced to move to a new location last summer when their previous property was purchased for development. Youth from Mission MB Church of Mission, Texas, helped landscape the agency’s new property (photo right).
“This is something we’re doing for God,” said a student who dug up weeds. “We put aside our own wants and needs to serve him full-heartedly.” His fellow group members helped form a pathway around part of the garden and prepared materials for composting.
A group from Parkview MB Church of Hillsboro, Kan., volunteered at First Mennonite Church washing windows, raking and sweeping (photo left). Right next door, their friends from Hillsboro MB Church, also of Hillsboro Kan., painted recycling containers for an organization called Jobs for Thy Neighbor, whose goal is to promote recycling programs in Denver to improve the city’s status of one of the poorest recycling rates in the country at only 14 percent.
The long list of Service Ops also included planting trees in a park, working with Habitat for Humanity, working with organizations that help homeless people or young adults with neurological conditions, spending time at nursing homes and senior living communities and helping at a food bank.
Agencies give positive feedback
Cindy Cervantes, associate director of DOOR Denver, said that the agencies she had heard back from all reported very positive things about the youth groups’ work ethic. Some agencies ran out of things for the youth groups to do, which meant the group finished earlier than planned.
Youth who served at Food Bank of the Rockies even set a new record of 1,800 meals packed in one day, smashing the old record by about 600 meals. The 82 volunteers who helped at the food bank represented Buhler MB Church of Buhler, Kan., Koerner Heights Church of Newton, Kan., and Hesston MB Church of Hesston, Kan. These groups also helped the food bank with a number of other projects in addition to packing meals.
During Friday’s evening session, a number of students shared reflections about their service experiences with the larger group (photo right). Whether they were working in a community garden or spending time with adults with brain damage, these students all shared that they had a meaningful time, which, as the Service Ops intended, will propel many of them into a life of service in their normal everyday lives.
Photos by Vance Frick of Tabor College