ALBANY, Ga. -- Braving the scorching afternoon heat, swarms of gnats and poison ivy was all in a day's work for one group of middle school students from Jacksonville, Fla., which volunteered to prune vegetation overgrowth at Hillsman Park Tuesday.
The group of 15 students donned bright yellow vests and was wielding shears and clippers while taking tips from and city of Albany Arborist Ili Si Malone on the correct way to prune the azaleas that surround the park and its infamous lime sink.
The students at the park are part of a larger youth group from Beach United Methodist Church in Florida that traveled to Albany as part of its summer mission trip. This year makes the third time the group has traveled to the Good Life City to lend a hand.
Elizabeth Smith, 14, said she enjoyed the mission trip to Albany last year and was excited to be back for another year.
"Last year it was so much fun. It's a great feeling to know you are working to make the community better," Smith said while clipping away at an azalea bush Tuesday afternoon.
Pruning isn't the only thing the youth group of almost 40 middle school students and chaperones has been up to this week.
"We have volunteered at the food bank, the (Albany) Rescue Mission, at nursing homes and next we are going to paint playground equipment," said April Harrell, a chaperone for the youth group and mother of twins Adam and Ben. "We are just all over the place."
The group has been in town since Monday and in addition to volunteering for the city, the group also hosts a vacation bible school that is held in Leesburg, where the group stays when it visits Albany.
Connor Hervey, 12, the youth group's jokester, said this was his first mission trip and that he was having a good time in Albany.
"It's all about the 9 Square," the 12-year-old joked to a Herald reporter. "We love to play 9 Square, but really it has been a lot of fun. We've been working hard and doing all kinds of stuff for the city, like putting up drain markers, picking up litter and, of course, lots of 9 Square."
Beach United Methodist Church offers its youth group mission trips within the United States. One of the reasons the group comes to Albany is because Ryan Stone, youth director for the church, has family in the area.
Bowles said she is grateful to the group for all the hard work it does to help enhance Albany's image.
"They are neat young people, and I am delighted they are in the community," said the KADB director. "It's a great thing for the community, and the young people are learning early on that it's good to give back."
Today and tomorrow the youth group will be removing graffiti from the area, installing a flower bed at Henderson Gym and doing yard work for several elderly citizens.