Servant projects help youth ‘rub shoulders with locals’

Jul 20, 2015 by and

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Arloa Bontrager of Goshen, Ind., has volunteered her time coordinating servant projects since the 2003 Mennonite Church USA convention in Atlanta.

Youth from Millersburg (Ohio) Mennonite, Lomard (Ill.) Mennonite and Freeport (Ill.) Mennonite churches build garden beds for Kansas City Community Gardens, one of 35 servant project sites in Kansas City. — Lowell Brown for MWR

Youth from Millersburg (Ohio) Mennonite, Lomard (Ill.) Mennonite and Freeport (Ill.) Mennonite churches build garden beds for Kansas City Community Gardens, one of 35 servant project sites in Kansas City. — Lowell Brown for MWR

She thinks it’s one of the greatest parts of convention. This year was no exception.

“I think it’s almost sacred space that we get to rub shoulders with locals,” she said.

About 2,000 conventiongoers took part in projects at 35 sites throughout the city for four hours each afternoon weekday during convention. About 1,800 of those were youth.

Greta Klassen, 15, and Abigail Greaser, 16, both from Goshen, Ind., and their youth group from Assembly Mennonite Church in Goshen served at Kansas City Community Kitchen on July 3.

Klassen chopped celery and broccoli and Greaser chopped squash and zucchini. They and others also helped clean and prepared for a meal that Klassen said would be Monday’s lunch.

It was one of the best parts of their convention experience, they said.

“One guy gave us all a hug when we left,” Klassen said.

Greaser said she’d worked in a soup kitchen before and now she is even more interested in doing it again.

“It’s really gratifying,” she said.

Christa Hoover, from Harrisonburg, Va., coordinated that site for the week. She was one of 22 servant project site volunteers.

The kitchen has been open 25 years, she said. They started very small and now serve between 300 and 500 people. The whole operation runs on volunteers, including groups from 22 local congregations. Only three people are paid staff.

“Like everyone was a volunteer,” Greaser said. “I think that’s just a really cool concept.”

Klassen said the food they worked with looked good.

They get donations from Whole Foods, among other places, Hoover said.

“They serve extremely healthy foods,” she said. “It’s often introducing the people they’re serving to into unknown territories.”

Working with meat was unknown territory for a few vegetarians among the youth.

Hoover said they were all good sports.

“One asked for another job,” she said. “The others were like, ‘we’ll do whatever.’ ”

She appreciated the youth as well as working with the organization.

“They’re really generous and compassionate people, and they’ve got a good thing going,” she said.

Organizations noticed the can-do attitude of many Mennonite youth.

“Host agencies have been really excited and pleased with our presence,” Bontrager said. “There was one that said our kids did in an hour what many other kids do in three.”

Bontrager said one unique thing about this year was that because of a Mennonite Voluntary Service unit in Kansas City, many connections to local organizations were already in place.

Four or five sites were with organizations that host a VSer, Bontrager said.

She also appreciated the help of local congregation Rainbow Mennonite Church in arranging a wide variety of sites.

Youth at Harvesters, a food bank, helped pack 28,500 pounds of food in one day.

Many youth worked outdoors in the heat, at sites like Kansas City Community Gardens, which maintains vegetable gardens for communities and schools.

Azusa Village, an organization addressing the needs of women and children in the black community, were very excited to have help and even took time to talk about their mission and work, Bontrager said.

“It’s been a great way for us to get to know more about Kansas City,” Bontrager said. “We get out in the community. . . . It’s like we see where God is at work.”

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