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Wednesday evenings for a group of local middle school students look pretty different from what might be the norm for this age.

In a time where the focus of many teens is on self and technology, around 20 teens gather weekly for community service, enjoying social time and community responsibility in the process. Many arrive from participating in school sports and other after-school activities. The program is coordinated by the youth ministry program at Christ Community Church in Montreat.

Eighth-grader Camillia Harrin said Wednesday nights are one of the best parts of her busy week.

“I have learned to be respectful and communicate with all different groups of people,” she said. The program has helped her learn much about her own community and the needs right here. “I didn’t know there was a winter homeless shelter until recently when I went there to help with the dinner meal and play bingo with shelter guests,” she said. She said she has a broader perspective on life now.

The weekly service projects have ranged from visiting residents at the VA Medical Center to sorting produce at Bounty & Soul.They have included bingo gaming with Marjorie McCune Memorial Center residents and working in the In The Oaks community garden. Harrin has dined with homeless shelter guests, raked leaves and helped someone move.

Most of the events mean traveling to wherever work is needed. However, some event nights at the church are for planning and preparing materials. Making cards for the veterans and making cookies and packages for the homeless shelter have been on the schedule. The students’ evenings begin with a quick pizza dinner and some socializing, then it’s off to serve the community.

“The kids are learning about the needs right here in our community and gaining a better understanding of our church mission to be disciples of Jesus Christ,” said Marcella Calloway, church youth program associate. Before they depart to serve, the kids pray for the meal and for those they will be serving that evening. As a group, they discuss the audience they will be with to better understand the situation and how to respond. The adults involved encourage the kids to interact, to make conversation with their beneficiaries and show them that they care, said Calloway.

The idea for the youth service program surfaced from Calloway’s desire to spend more time with the kids. At the same time, she was hearing comments of frustration from parents in the church. Many were seeing their teens act selfishly, Calloway said. She organized a few service projects, not thinking they would become an ongoing program.

What started last fall with nine kids has grown to a consistent 20 and above. The group, which meets weekly from 6-8 p.m., is open to any middle school student. The majority attend Christ Community Church regularly. Others are friends who have come along and then invited other friends.

Missy Harrin is grateful her two daughters are involved in the project.

“I believe it is helping them think beyond themselves and gain a greater perspective on life,” she said. “They are learning so much and having fun serving the community with their friends.”

“I am so proud of the kids,” Calloway said. “I believe we are all born with a sense of compassion, but sometimes we never get an opportunity to act on that.”

She feels she is simply guiding the opportunities for the participating youth.

“The kids have really stepped up and are so eager to serve,” she said. “They ask me what else they can do to help. It has been such a blessing to me.”

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