The carefree days of summer were temporarily on hold for more than 200 high-school students from around the country who gathered in Salt Lake City this week to make life a little nicer for 24 local families in need.
World Changers, a service group of the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, just finished up its weeklong community enhancement project in Salt Lake City one of 95 cities it will be helping out this summer with a student volunteer corps numbering more than 23,000.
Danielle Morrow, a Nashville resident and missions communication leader for World Changers, was here for the second consecutive year to help coordinate the 215 students, their adult leaders and the ambitious projects they planned across the city.
"This year we're doing 14 roofs, two wheelchair ramps, some fences and a lot of painting," Morrow said earlier this week. "We have a lot to do, but it looks like we will be able to complete our 24 scheduled projects and maybe get to our four backup projects."
Morrow said the student volunteers, most of whom came as groups from their home churches, and their adult leaders all paid for their own transportation to Salt Lake City, as well as a $260 fee to cover room and board for the week. Their labors benefit families who have been identified by local housing and community development officials as good candidates, based on criteria that involves both financial need and an improvement project that can be completed in the week that the World Changer volunteers are in town.
Sara Richardson, a promotion and grant specialist with Salt Lake Housing and Neighborhood Development, said these projects would not get done without the involvement of the student volunteers.
"Their volunteer work is what makes these projects feasible," Richardson said. "We could do maybe one or two of them on our own with the funds we have."
Richardson said more than 75 percent of the funding came via monetary and service donations from local businesses. The city was able to obtain materials at cost, had local construction companies volunteer hauling and prep-work duties and obtained some federal funding to bring it all together. Richardson said there are some local groups that do similar work on a smaller scale, but World Changers is unique in the size of the volunteer group it brings, the amount of work it accomplishes and what it leaves behind.
"It's a special project because it brings people together in a very unique way," Richardson said. "Our whole goal here is to make neighborhoods better places to live, and that's what happens."
Danielle Avis is a 15-year-old from Tulsa, Okla., one of a group of about 30 students from Evergreen Baptist Church who made the trek to Utah. This was Avis' second tour in Salt Lake City. She helped re-side a home in South Salt Lake last summer and made a lasting connection with the family on whose home she worked.
"We all got really close to the family we worked for last year," Avis said. "We had dinner with them Sunday night."
As for her motivation to do volunteer work, Avis puts it simply: "I want to show people the love of God in my life and be his hands and feet."
Sean Patrick is a youth pastor at Holladay Baptist Church and one of the people who brought World Changers to the attention of the Salt Lake development office. He said it took two years to lay the groundwork for the group's first effort, and he helped out with the 28 projects that were completed in the summer of 2007. This time around, he was a project manager and beamed as he talked about the student volunteers.
"These students take an enormous amount of pride in the work they do," Patrick said. "It's a wonderful thing. We all get an opportunity to do good work for, and love, these people."Local residents who are interested in getting on the project list for next year can contact the Salt Lake Housing and Neighborhood Development office at 801-535-7228.