While some Midlands area students are sleeping in and enjoying their summer vacations at home, others are spending at least a portion of their summers giving back to the community.
That was the case Monday, as GraceWorks – bringing together participants from eight Midlands area Lutheran congregations – launched a week of service in the Columbia area. Like the congregations in GraceWorks, many denominations around the Midlands offer community youth volunteer programs during summer months.
GraceWorks, in its second year, draws rising seventh graders through recent high school graduates for projects that will help 19 community organizations that serve children and adults. Starting out their days in worship at Ebenezer Lutheran Church, more than 90 youth and adult leaders will be fanning out around Columbia, Lexington and Blythewood this week in signature green shirts to visit the elderly and veterans, read to children, hand out bottles of water and more.
Monday, Isaac Charlton, a rising Dreher High School freshman and member of Columbia’s Incarnation Lutheran Church, worked with fellow participants to paint a conference room at Transitions Homeless Recovery Center downtown, something that the center’s staff and volunteers say they do not have time to do because of the high numbers of people they serve daily.
“I feel good about helping people and actually doing something to help people in the community,” said Charlton, who also participated in last year’s program. “I like serving lunch to people and people coming by and telling you thank you and telling us how much they appreciated us working here. It’s very meaningful.”
Jenna McCall, also part of Monday’s Transitions team, said she, too, served with GraceWorks last year, adding her favorite part was the water wagon.
“It is when we walk around downtown Columbia, and in the library and the bus stops, and hand out waters, talk to people and get to know them,” said McCall, a rising Chapin High School junior and member of Mt. Horeb Lutheran Church in Chapin. “Last year someone told me and my friend that we were getting our angel wings from heaven, and I just enjoyed it.”
Craig Currey, chief executive officer of Transitions, said projects like GraceWorks allow students to not only give back to their communities but learn about the kinds of help people in their communities need.
“These kids are the future,” Currey said. “We hope as they mature and go to college and go out to the work force that they understand there is a social need to help people. They get more than they give.”
Mary Anderson, pastor at Incarnation Lutheran who was one of the leaders at Monday’s Transitions project, said the theme for this year’s GraceWorks is based on Ephesians 2:10, which teaches that people are created for works of grace.
“This is totally giving of yourself the entire time,” Anderson said. “(Transitions) has volunteers and staff, but they don’t have time to do some of the things we are doing, like cleaning cubbies and light fixtures. They need to be done for appearance’s sake, but from a spiritual and theological perspective, it is allowing the kids to learn about loving your neighbor.”