More than 100 youth from Baptist churches across Virginia spent a week on the campus of Bluefield College in June to make a difference in the lives of low-income families in southwest Virginia and southern West Virginia through a faith-based community service program called Impact Virginia.
Sponsored by the Baptist General Association of Virginia (BGAV), the summer service initiative is designed to provide home repair for low-income families while also offering opportunities for spiritual growth for participating teens.
“This is really good for the kids,” said Frank Scott, who brought his nearly 40 years of general construction and home repair expertise to Impact as a site project leader. “It gets them in a new environment where they can meet different people and learn about them. And the most important thing is, it brings them closer to God.”
This year’s youth in Bluefield worked on eight different homes, seven in Tazewell County, Virginia, and one in Mercer County, West Virginia, replacing roofs, building handicap ramps, restoring decks, rebuilding porches, installing vinyl siding, cleaning up yards, and improving landscaping.
“I like to help out; it feels good,” said Gracie Gulywasz, a volunteer from Mechanicsville, Virginia. “I’m a compassionate person, so I like to help people. I also think it’s nice hanging out with other people and getting to know them.”
The youth represented eight different churches affiliated with the Baptist General Association of Virginia, including Grace Baptist Church in Williamsburg, Poroporone Baptist Church in Shacklefords, First Baptist Church of Staunton, Broadway Baptist Church in Onancock, New Bethesda Baptist Church in Mechanicsville, Central Baptist Church in Richmond, Fort Lewis Baptist Church in Salem, and Marion Baptist Church. Another group of teens came all the way from the Norwegian Baptist Convention to join the Virginia Baptists on mission, including Johannes Trovi, who was participating in his second Impact experience.
“This kind of work is good for me. It’s good work experience,” said Trovi. “It’s also good to be able to help others. If you have the opportunity to do something good for someone and help them out, then you should do it.”
At Mark Austin’s house in Bluefield, West Virginia, the youth replaced shingles and damaged wood on his roof. They also repaired a ceiling inside ruined by the leaky roof and power-washed an access ramp to his home.
“It’s a blessing,” said Austin about the repairs the Impact teens made to his home, a residence he inherited after his parents lived there for 40-plus years. “Where I have MS (multiple sclerosis) I’m not able to do that kind of work. I had called around to a lot of places to see if I could get some help. I was running out of hope, so it’s a blessing they could do this for me.”
Caleb Bittler, an associate pastor to families and youth, led the group of teens from New Bethesda to Impact Virginia. A 2013 Bluefield College graduate who later worked in residence life for BC and youth ministry in Bluefield, spoke about the opportunity to return to the community to give back. He also spoke about the multiple benefits of the experience for the youth.
“It’s an opportunity to give them practical knowledge, such as learning how to put a new roof on a house,” said Bittler, “and an opportunity to teach them how to serve the Lord by serving others.”
Randy Collins of Broadway Baptist Church, who joined his daughter on the mission trip, spoke about the value of helping a community in need and the lessons in service above self and teamwork as he helped a group of teens build an access ramp and a new porch and steps on a home in Bluefield, West Virginia. Joining him on the work site was Annette Burns, an adult leader from Poroporone Baptist Church who spoke about the joy of getting to know other Christians and fellowshipping with them. Burns also shared her appreciation for the sacrifice the teens made to be a part of the mission project.
“Seeing these kids work is amazing,” said Burns. “They cease to amaze me with their knowledge and willingness to help. For them to give up time in their summer to do this, serve other people, says a lot. You don’t find that often. I’m grateful they want to take time to do stuff like this.”
A proud partner of the Baptist General Association of Virginia, Bluefield College has served as a host site for Impact Virginia since 2009, helping facilitate the restoration of countless homes throughout southwest Virginia and southern West Virginia. On the BC campus, the youth enjoy breakfast and dinner and daily devotions and worship prior to and at the end of each service day. And, considering the fact that part of the Bluefield College mission is to “develop transformational servant leaders,” collaborating with the BGAV to bring Impact Virginia to Bluefield is just one way the school can fulfill that mission.
“Impact Virginia is a tangible way that Virginia Baptists show the love of Christ to their neighbors,” said Bluefield College campus pastor Dr. Henry Clary, “and as BGAV youth are on mission here to build and to repair, they are at the same time helping low-income families with needed home repairs that they would never be able to afford on their own.”