Where can a teenager acquire practical skills, help someone in need, bolster their spiritual life and still enjoy all the trappings of a summer camp experience? Skeptical that some such place exists? Well, it does and it's closer and less expensive than one might imagine.
On June 13, Smyrna Presbyterian Church kicks off their ninth-annual Mission Work Camp. The church will host not only youth from its church and Crossroads UMC, but also from congregations in Florida and Wisconsin until June 19.
Project Director Brad Cavender says they have 110 students, sixth grade to high school seniors, who will be divided into 12 teams working on 18 sites throughout the county. The teams will be doing much-needed repairs on homes of the elderly and handicapped.
"It's a ministry to our community," said Cavender. "We're emulating Christ by helping those that can't help themselves."
According to Cavender, the list of recipients was assembled with the help of referrals from Rockdale County Senior Services. Past and current projects have included roofing, painting, siding replacement, yard work and many other tasks now beyond the seniors' abilities.
Emily Johnson, a 76-year-old widow and beneficiary of several past missions, says the teams have painted, fixed doors, taken down dead trees and even pressure-washed her house last summer. "I appreciate the help and kindness... it's unbelievable how good they are, and the young people seem to really enjoy doing it," she said. When her husband Paul, who suffered from Parkinson's, was alive, he loved having the youth about too, she said.
Lunch is packed and transported to the sites not only for the workers, but also for the residents, and it's a good break for fellowship said Cavender.
Smyrna Presbyterian's new youth minister, Michael Salvis, participated in the camp when he was a teenager and attests to the experience's value. "The first year I participated we shingled a roof. Needless to say, I was a bit overwhelmed, but as the week progressed, we finished it, and I learned a lot. The kids learn they can accomplish things they thought impossible and they can make a difference even if they're eighth-graders. They learn their backyard can be a mission field," he said.
The campers stay in cabins on Smyrna Campground and disperse to the various sites Monday through Thursday mornings after breakfast. Late afternoon they head back to camp to swim or take advantage of the camp's tennis courts and ball fields. At 7 p.m., they play music and listen to a message, and anyone is invited to attend the service. Afterwards, there's always swimming, and Friday is a free day with different trips to choose from such as Six Flags or Stone Mountain.
Cavender says about 50-60 church members volunteer to prepare meals, chaperone and work at the job sites. Both Cavender and Salvis vouch that the food is outstanding and not just camp fare.
The cost for the week is $140, which goes to purchase supplies for the week's projects. "I guarantee a lot of the kids will get more out of this week than a week at the beach," said Salvis.
For more information, contact Smyrna Presbyterian Church at (770)483-8962.