Ozark Mis­sion Project campers help with needed re­pairs

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - VOICES - JANELLE JESSEN

On a steamy hot Tues­day morn­ing, the sound of saws and elec­tric drills buzzed in Loretta Shoe­maker’s back­yard and the smell of sun­screen and freshly cut wood filled the air.

A group of three teenagers, three adults and a col­lege staffer from Ozark Mis­sion Project were busy build­ing a shed and a back porch for Shoe­maker. The pre­vi­ous day they had cleaned up her back­yard and built a screen door.

The ad­di­tions will give Shoe­maker, who works as a greeter at Wal-Mart, a safe way to get in and out of her home, and a dry place to store her things.

Ozark Mis­sion Project is a statewide sum­mer camp pro­gram as­so­ci­ated with the United Methodist Church. About 60 teenagers and staffers from the Pu­laski County area were in Siloam Springs late last month do­ing yard work, paint­ing houses, build­ing porches and wheel­chair ramps, and do­ing other mi­nor home re­pairs, ac­cord­ing to Amy Ben­nett, a youth min­is­ter for As­bury United Methodist Church in Lit­tle Rock.

Each sum­mer, about 1,000 stu­dents par­tic­i­pate in 13 Ozark Mis­sion Project camps across Arkansas. Last year, the project served 271 in­di­vid­u­als and fam­i­lies in 25 Arkansas coun­ties, said Bai­ley Faulkner, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the or­ga­ni­za­tion.

In Siloam Springs, the or­ga­ni­za­tion part­nered with Kind at Heart Min­istries to iden­tify in­di­vid­u­als in need of ser­vice. Ozark Mis­sion Project set a goal of do­ing 60 projects in the Siloam Springs area, which in­cluded work sites in Col­cord, Lin­coln and Gen­try, Ben­nett said. The camp teaches stu­dents prac­ti­cal skills, such as con­struc­tion, as well as life skills like lov­ing their neigh­bor, Ben­nett said.

Dur­ing the camp, par­tic­i­pants also have fun. They spend their even­ing do­ing ac­tiv­i­ties and work­shops to­gether. They also have a din­ner with the peo­ple they serve. Siloam Springs campers stayed at the First United Methodist Church and show­ered at the homes of vol­un­teers.

Ly­dia Schal­len­berge, 15, was par­tic­i­pat­ing in Ozark Mis­sion Project for the first time re­cently. Her friend Phoebe San­ders, also 15, has been in­volved in the or­ga­ni­za­tion for three years.

Schal­len­berge said she de­cided to get in­volved af­ter hear­ing from fel­low youth group mem­bers how much fun the project is. She said the camp is teach­ing her how to care for oth­ers. Like Schal­len­berge, San­ders said par­tic­i­pat­ing in the camp has taught her how im­por­tant it is to help oth­ers. Both girls agreed they will be back next year.

Cam­ryn Clark agreed that the best part of Ozark Mis­sion Project is the re­la­tion­ships campers build with each other and their neigh­bors. Clark has been par­tic­i­pat­ing in the project for nine years over­all and four years as a staff mem­ber.

Ozark Mis­sion Project has pushed Clark out­side her com­fort zone and given her a chance to meet new peo­ple, in­clud­ing neigh­bors, com­mu­nity mem­bers and fel­low youth group mem­bers. Be­ing in­volved with the camp has helped her form a mas­sive net­work of friends through­out the state.

“The amount of ac­cep­tance and love you feel in this com­mu­nity is some­thing I’ve never felt be­fore,” Clarke said. I just feel like there are very few places you can show up whether you are in a bad mood or you don’t know any­body, and what­ever mind­set you come into it doesn’t mat­ter be­cause at the end of the week you have a group of peo­ple who have been be­hind you and care about you. That’s some­thing I don’t ever think I’ve ex­pe­ri­enced out­side of OMP. You walk in and you have 60 peo­ple who want to be your best friend.”

Shoe­maker said she has a great amount of re­spect for the teenagers who are will­ing to spend their sum­mer help­ing oth­ers. They’ve been work­ing re­ally hard do­ing as much as they can with what lit­tle time they have,” Shoe­maker said. “They’re help­ing a whole lot of peo­ple.”

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