Each summer the Grace Church Youth Group travels somewhere in the U.S. to serve an area with much-needed physical work and to spread the word of God.
"We have done drywalling, put roofs on houses, mowed lawns, served meals to homeless individuals, delivered goods to the needy, and witnessed to those who are willing to listen," said Youth Director Jenny Brown. "The kids take our trip seriously and they love serving others."
In recent summers the kids have been on mission trips in South Dakota, Louisiana, Joplin, Missouri, Kentucky and Colorado, including Native American reservations. This year, 30 Grace Church kids were meant to join 1,500 youths at a FUGE Camp in Ridge Crest, North Carolina.
The COVID-19 pandemic put an end to that.
The teens were disappointed, but didn't lose heart. Instead, they decided to help others locally.
"They are really a close, good bunch of kids," Brown said.
They started at the June Chester Area Christian Food Pantry Mobile Market. "We had 16 kids and three adults show up, who spent the morning serving clients of the CACFP," she said.
Brown and the kids had the opportunity to visit with Bob Koenegstein, director of the Food Pantry. He heard they were looking for summer projects, and had an idea. The First United Methodist Church of Chester needed work done at the church this summer and they were looking for volunteers.
"The kids talked it over and it didn't take long for them to adopt the First United Methodist Church as their mission field for the summer," Brown said.
They even came up with a theme for this year's efforts, "DWELL: Three days, one city 62233."
On July 20 and 21 the group worked at the Methodist Church and on July 22 they returned to the monthly CACFP Mobile Market.
The mission work day began by 9:15 a.m. and lasted until noon. On Monday the kids primarily cleared weeds and dirt away from cement parking blocks in the back parking lot, and then painted each one with bright yellow safety paint. Another group painted the curbs that surrounded the church from front to back. Both of these projects helped to provide much-needed safety awareness for people parking or driving around the church.
Another crew tackled the job of scraping, cleaning and painting an outside stairwell that leads down into the old fellowship hall from the State Street approach. They also primed the stairs going down inside the stairwell in preparation for the final coat of paint the next day.
At noon each day the group traveled back to Grace Church for lunch and the afternoon session that included praise, worship, and a chapel service. To close each day there was a brief time for reflection and an opportunity to discuss high points and low points of the day.
On Tuesday one group painted the stairs leading down the stairwell into the old fellowship hall. Another group painted all four awnings that protect the four entrances into the church education and office wing, kitchen and current fellowship hall.
Another group of young men sanded the cover to a radiator in the entrance to the fellowship hall while still another group pained window ledges at various points around the outside of the building.
Church members Bob Koenegstein and Jeanne Wagner were impressed with the maturity and work ethic of the Grace Church youth.
"They all worked extremely hard and took their assignments seriously," Koenegstein said. "We never had to remind them to behave or get to work and we were impressed with their maturity, kindness,
willingness to help and take direction. They completed all of the work asked of them and now have the place looking beautiful."
"I am very proud of our kids," Brown said. "They worked really hard this week and learned a lot about helping others. The mission efforts were successful for both the recipients of our services, and for our youth group because these efforts helped others and gave our youth a sense of worth and fulfillment."
"At so many of our mission trips, we work for a week and go home. We don't see a finished product. This year we took great pride contributing to our own community and we got to witness a finished product. It was a great experience!" she said.