The youth from First United Methodist Church of Port St. Joe (UMC-PSJ) did not plan to pound the pavement inFranklin County this summer. Until an opportunity to hit the ground running happened in the aftermath of the tragic Lime Rock fires in Eastpoint that erupted June 24.

To date, the group has completed three service projects for victims; one of which was a partnership with kids from Midway United Methodist Church of Lexington, North Carolina, being hosted by UMC-PSJ, and Oak Grove Church, to do outreach during the week of June 25.

Both groups headed to the affected neighborhoods on June 29 to distribute bottled water as fires still smoldered.

“Many of these children, including myself had never seen a sight like this,” said UMC-PSJ Youth Director, Julie Willis Hodges. “We prayed with the folks of Eastpoint, while passing out supplies. It was heartbreaking.”

The fires had impacted the Midway group as they drove to Port St. Joe, forcing a detour.

“Our kids took away from that …that everything can change in an instant,” Midway Program Minister Amanda Thomas said. “At first people told us they didn’t need help, but the more the kids talked to them, they opened up, and it was a powerful experience for our children.”

Thomas attended Duke Divinity School with UMC-PSJ pastor, Rev. Dr. Geoffrey Lentz and it worked out that the Christian Community Development Fund (CCDF) had organized construction and yard work sites in the area for Midway’s first trip to Florida.

“This was spur of the moment mission,” said Thomas. “We came for the purpose to do good work and had all these extra hands.”

In total, 28 Midway kids participated with 19 from UMC-PSJ, which included middle, high-school plus three former college students.

“It’s been a summer rooted in service for our youth. They’ve acted as ambassadors of our church,” said Willis Hodges. “Through projects, I’ve witnessed positive changes in our young people such as healed relationships and desire to grow in their relationship with God. I see this school year as a new beginning for our students.”

 

Ninth-grader, Brianna Biagini, said, “It’s definitely changed my summer … and opened my eyes to see that something can come up. Yet, everyone comes together.”

She believes, “God gives me signs how he wants me to help and this fire was a major sign that I needed to get out, and help the community more, and get to know people.”

 

On July 17, the Port St. Joe group partnered with Franklin’s Promise Coalition at its drop off site in Carrabelle to sort personal hygiene and cleaning kits that are being passed out to Eastpoint residents, receiving temporary trailers. Church member, Vicki Abrams also donated furniture that the group delivered.

The UMC-PSJ girls wrapped up their summers Aug. 1 by going shopping at Pier Park for supplies needed to put together packages for 77 impacted children going back to school.

The packages were passed out at Franklin County School District’s Back to School Bash Aug. 3.

“The kids were so budget-minded” said Willis Hodges. “And Old Navy gave us a good discount.”

Joe Taylor, Director of Franklin’s Promise said, “We asked Julie’s group to take on 10 young people living in two households. She had limited money to do shopping so we provided extra from donated funds so that all ten could be treated in a similar fashion.”

The FUMC Mission Committee, led by Sue Kubitskey, Vicki Abrams, and Skip Griffies have also adopted the family of Paul Sanders and his grandson, John Paul, and are working to get his power boat back in operation in order to resume the family business.

Lentz summed up these efforts, saying, “Our United Methodist slogan is, ‘open hearts, minds and doors’ which means church is not just what we do in our building. It is what we do in the community. Our congregation is proud that our young people are growing by service to their neighbor. In this type of outreach, they experience transformation to last a lifetime.”

On Aug. 19 the youth will share a video presentation, during both church services. If you wish to donate to the Mission Committee effort contact Sue Kubitskey at 647-6030.