Eastern Mennonite Seminary students create local service camp
Volunteers Morgan Shank (right) and Dalton Stoltzfus, both 15, line up support beams for a wheelchair ramp at a home on Myrtle Street in Harrisonburg on Wednesday. The students’ week of service, sponsored by Renew, is dedicated to strengthening relationships while serving people in need close to home. (Photos by Michael Reilly / DN-R)

Seminary Students Create Local Service Camp

The Need’s Already Here

Mike Souder has taken classes at Eastern Mennonite Seminary. Kara Yoder, current seminary student, and Peter Eberly, 2007 MDiv, are on the planning committee. Chris Johnson, 2010 MDiv, is the evening guest speaker.

You don’t have to go far to find people in need.

That’s why, rather than packing up for a service trip in a faraway community, more than 200 local middle and high school students are banding together this week to help organizations and residents in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County.

“[I] grew up serving locally before [I] had the privilege of serving internationally or even out of state,” said Mike Souder, director of the youth service effort called Renew. “It’s important for people to learn to serve in their community …  to serve the people that serve them.”

Camp connects local churches

The camp, now in its second year, brought together youth from 17 local churches for five days of service and nearly doubled the number of campers it had in its inaugural year.

Souder, who is also the outreach pastor at Grace Covenant Church, organized this year’s camp along with Adrian Mills, daytime projects director, and evening activities directors Cris Lopez and Gordon Weirich.

The camp’s mission is threefold, according to Souder: to strengthen campers’ relationship with God and the community, as well as the relationships among local churches.

“It is a really cool way to meet other people from churches in our area,” said camper Caroline Shank, 15, daughter of Merle and Sue Shank.

To fully focus on the camp’s goals, students have been camping at Harrisonburg High School since Sunday, despite the school’s proximity to their homes.

“You really need to get away to have time for your world view to change,” Souder said. “If they went home every night, they would lose the momentum of what’s happening.”

Youth serve at 50 sites

On Wednesday, students helped build a porch at First Step, a shelter for victims of domestic violence, ran the food bank at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church, served meals at the Salvation Army and performed yard work and cleaned at multiple other locations.

By the time camp ends Friday, the teens will have worked at about 50 different sites.

For camper Iain Slater, 13, a self-proclaimed “city boy,” the week gave him an opportunity not only to appreciate hard work, but to strengthen his faith.

“[I originally thought] it was a week of a lot of work,” said Iain, son of Joseph and Terri Slater. “When I came here, I found it was so much more, especially spiritually. We’re glorifying God in our work.”

Article courtesy of the Daily News-Record