It’s a hot day in late June, with temperatures around 97 degrees and thick humidity. While many prefer to be inside with the air conditioning on high, a group of 12 middle and high school students are taking their lunch break after a morning of lawn-mowing, weeding, sweeping, plant-trimming, trash-cleaning, and overall beautifying.
This volunteer group is comprised of 3 boys and 9 girls, all hailing from St. Simons, GA. The church came to Charlotte as part of CROSS Missions, a Charlotte-based organization that strives to “cross over the lines that divide us, cross out stereotypes, and keep the cross of Christ in us,” says CROSS Missions Coordinator Beth Van Gorp. Missions teams spend a week in Charlotte, working with about 10 different non-profits and spending half a day with each organization. This morning is spent at Charlotte Family Housing’s Plaza Place Shelter.
“It’s really imperative to get kids out of their comfort zone to get them to live out what it means to be Christ’s light,” says Nat Scott, St. Simons Island Presbyterian Church’s director of Christian Education and Youth Ministry. “It lets the best person in them appear.”
While this group will spend time with other organizations in Charlotte, including retirement homes, children’s homes, and other non-profits, their trip begins with yard work at Plaza Place.
“Service work is the best way to dive in,” says Scott about the mission trip. “When you pour yourself out physically, later it’s easier to ease into relational stuff.”
For Charlotte, a high school junior and member of the mission team, the trip opened her to new experiences. “It’s my first time mowing lawns,” she says with a smile. “You learn to appreciate people who do that – it’s hard work that manual pushing!”
In her third year participating in the mission trip, she sees the bigger picture. “I think it’s important because it helps maintain everything,” she says about her job as lawn-mower. “People do notice them, and I’m sure they’re grateful.”
The trip also holds deeper meaning for her. “We’re talking about bringing light into the darkness and that’s what I want to do. I learn to appreciate what I do have because I have a lot,” she says. “Every time I’ve come, I feel like I’ve done something worthwhile. I like helping other people.”
While Charlotte mows the lawn, 14-year-old Erin, also a three-year veteran, pulls weeds from the flower beds in the front of the shelter. For Erin, the manual labor is a nice change of pace. “It’s fun to do something different. We’re usually inside playing with kids or the elderly,” Erin says about enjoying being outside. She also recognizes the importance of her job. “It makes the job of the people who work with maintenance easier,” she says of her role. “They can focus on other things.” Erin has also grown through her service at Plaza Place. “You learn to appreciate what you have when you come here,” she says. “You see how appreciative these people are.”
While Erin weeded the garden beds, others worked behind the shed to weed the site’s newly-planted vegetable garden. When the vegetables are ripe, families will be able to eat the cucumbers, tomatoes, watermelons and other plants that are usually costly at a grocery store.
Regardless of which task the volunteers focused on, their individual efforts made a big impact.
“The small things – pulling weeds and mowing lawns – can go a long way,” says Eliza, a 14-year-old on the trip. “The people who live here will appreciate it.”
The shelter at Plaza Place provides a roof and safe space, but thanks to volunteers like Eliza, Erin and Charlotte, Plaza Place can provide more. “We come to this housing site to make it look nice so the residents can come out and enjoy their surroundings,” Scott says. For the families who stay at Plaza Place, the weeding means they can enjoy playing basketball outside after school or work, they have a peaceful place to budget or set goals while still enjoying the outdoors. The group also weeded a vegetable garden from which the families will be able to grow healthy, affordable food that they can then cook for a meal.