Youth mission week: closer to home, and just as gratifying



From left, Liz and Phil Pfeiffer, Susan Aaron and Sandi Keller pause from cleaning the playground July 24 at The Presbyterian Church of La Porte, part of the youth group’s Mission at Home week. The playground is open to the public.


 Story courtesy Julie Dean Kessler

It wasn’t going to happen this year. The youth group wouldn’t be spending a week in northern Michigan on a mission trip because Westminster Camp at Higgins Lake is closed due to the pandemic. It was time to rethink the concept.

The youth leadership team at The Presbyterian Church of La Porte came up with Youth Mission Week at Home, a week of activities in La Porte that was every bit as arduous as the scrapped Michigan venture. Would the kids go for it?

Ravi Pillai spreads mulch at a city park.

“I thought it would be worse than being at camp because at camp there was a lot of fun stuff to do. Here, I was expecting to do (some boring work). But it was a lot more varied, and a lot easier to have fun the whole time,” said Ravi Pillai, 14.

Youth leadership team member Ken Fry said it’s important for the church to keep moving forward with its mission work, even though it looks a lot different during the pandemic. “This week was just a really special time for people to pull together and have some things happen for the people of La Porte,” he said.

Adrianna Ledonne, leader of the youth group team, said the challenge for the week of July 20 was how to help people in the community and allow the kids to have a sense they were doing something important. Each day had a specific focus, from working at city parks to building a shed for Habitat for Humanity to doing yard work and more. The week had adults actively involved, too, so that it became a churchwide mission week.

“Getting out and doing for others is heeding the church’s call to go and serve, to help bring good news to people, and to help people where they are. We wanted the mission work to keep the kids involved, give them something to do and have people to hang out with during the summer,” said James Barth, who with his wife Phylicia is on the youth leadership team. He said appropriate safety measures were in place against the coronavirus for the 10 youths who were on hand every day from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

But there was nothing to be done about the weather.

With temperatures soaring into the mid- to upper 80s with high humidity, “The challenging part was when we did yard work for someone and it was really hot,” said Annalise Zeedyk, 14. Ravi agreed, noting that spreading a lot of mulch in the park that day was hot work. There was also painting of small park shelters and rest rooms. Even so, “I was really excited to be getting out and doing something to help someone,” said Annalise.

“After the hot and humid work you could see the kids’ joy that they had completed what they set out to do,” said Ledonne.

Adult church members wanted to help, too. Susan Aaron, her daughter and son-in-law Liz and Phil Pfeiffer, and Sandi Keller cleaned up the church’s playground that had gotten a bit overgrown. “The neighborhood children are welcome to play there any time and we wanted it to look good. It’s what you do for the community,” said Aaron.

Mary Heath spent a day working in the church yard., joining youths and adults who had their own areas to work in the rolling landscape. “I was weeding and trimming in at the front of the church and I was fortunate to be in the shade.”

Ross Lawrence, who at 84 is still active on projects, pruned crabapple trees, trimmed bushes, and painted new downspouts. “It’s important because it enhances the beauty of the church building and makes things orderly. That’s in keeping with one of the church’s tenets: ardor and order.” He wasn’t alone: “It was nice to have so many people help beautify the church grounds,” he said.

Annalise Zeedyk tackles weeds at a La Porte house.

The church’s mission team has been supporting the Township Trustee 24-hour pantry box for several months, collecting items at the church twice daily and delivering them to the trustee’s office at 1700 Lincoln Way, #6. There’s a need for healthy, ready-to-eat proteins, so on one Mission at Home day the team delivered canned tuna, chicken, salmon, peanut butter and more. Heath is one of those who makes the twice-daily run. If there’s not enough food on any given day the mission team buys more, she said. Another day was a 100 Diaper Packages Drive for Dunebrook, whose mission is helping parents build healthier, happier families.

Everyone, including youth, agreed that organization was key. A large board tracked tasks and progress; Carla Pillai organized park cleanup, Marcia Morris helped find yard work and others provided food.

“We got to see son Ravi get excited about working, helping other people. One of the highlights was the fun of seeing kids get into it and learn new skills.” – Carla Pillai

“The mission week was definitely successful” – Ravi Pillai

“The beginning and end were the most fun because we didn’t know what to expect and the end was a pool party.” – Zeedyk

“It was a special week. The kids could go home at night and still feel like they accomplished some mission work.” – Ken Fry

“This experience helped them grow as a youth group.” James Barth.

Church youth also involved in Habitat for Humanity project

The La Porte Presbyterian Church youth got hands-on with a Habitat for Humanity project, building a shed for a partner family. “Habitat for Humanity is a good cause and I liked that we were giving to the community,” said Ravi Pillai.

Anna Beck hammers helps build a shed for a Habitat partner family.

Since 16 is the minimum age people are allowed to work on a Habitat site, the shed was built, in between other projects, over four days. Lumber was measured, cut, squared and nailed. Each piece for the roof trusses and walls was labeled for assembly on the home site. Ron Ebeling, who has been construction manager for many La Porte County Habitat homes, was on hand to lend his expertise. James Barth, whose Marine duties had given him experience in building, helped coach the youths. Zeedyk was enthused. ‘I thought, this is fun, I don’t build anything that often.”

“It was absolutely lovely to have them do this because we can’t usually have young people on our work site. To have them be based at their church was wonderful and a great solution,” said La Porte County Habitat for Humanity Executive Director Sophia Coleman. She and the current partner family stopped by the church to see the work being done.

“Part of our mission is to put faith into action. The La Porte Presbyterian Church has always been very supportive of our Habitat for Humanity mission. It’s so great of the kids to be contributing to the community; it’s not often 12-year-olds and older can do that,” said Coleman.

The current partner family is in Michigan City; next year it will be a La Porte family. Each partner family must spend 250 hours of sweat equity working on their house, and friends and extended family are encouraged to do 250 more. Home ownership becomes available to accepted Habitat for Humanity homes because mortgages for them are available at no interest and some labor and materials are donated. Sales of items ranging from drawer knobs to refrigerators at Habitat’s ReStore locations help pay the cost of the build along with community and corporate donations.

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