Jacksonville students lend a hand in Albany

Photo by Joe Bellacomo

Photo by Joe Bellacomo

ALBANY, Ga. -- For the third straight year, middle school kids from Beach United Methodist Church in Jacksonville came to visit.

Taking their locations and assignments from Judy Bowles, executive director of Keep Albany-Dougherty Beautiful, the 40 seventh, eighth and ninth graders signed up for four afternoons beautifying Albany.

"These young people are to be commended for their commitment to visually improve our community during their summer break," said Bowles. "They're giving up part of their vacation to do this."

They picked up litter in east Albany and pruned undergrowth in Holloway Park -- not to mention the cleanup of several yards and their painting of Carver and Thornton gyms. Every morning, before the work began, the youth mission group held a Vacation Bible School class together with a group of Albany kids.

"They (the students) have built some relationships here," said Denise Pacci, youth pastor for the Jacksonville church. "Ten of them were here last year, and they really looked forward to coming back."

The mission kids come from three or four separate schools, and are charged $250 each for the privilege of helping others in need.

According to Pacci, Albany as a location was selected because Ryan Stone, pastor at Beach United Methodist, has spent some time in the area and had a grandmother who lived here. KADB was located through the Internet, and has set up every Bible school and work session for the group.

When it was discovered that the community where the students were to present their Vacation Bible School had a school of their own, the students went in search for another group to serve. They found one on Society Avenue. On the second day of school, some of the Jacksonville kids noticed something wrong, Pacci said.

"Their (the Albany kids') stomachs were growling, and we asked them what they had eaten for breakfast. 'Nothin' is what they said, and some of them hadn't had dinner the night before, either. These kids were missing meals during the summer months."

Pacci said the students called home for more money for food and got it. Normally the Jacksonville group would have about an hour to themselves each morning, while an adult in their group made their lunches for later on. The kid started making their own sandwiches during that time to share with the Albany kids.

According to Pacci, there was not even a structure to hold the bible classes, and so they bought a tent and pitched it in an open field.

"There was just a jungle gym and a merry-go-round, and trash everywhere, Pacci said, "But we held the school there. Some of the younger kids just wandered in -- with no parental supervision."

Today, the group returns to Jacksonville -- tired but happy.

"We're all having pizza first," Pacci said.