A group from Park Rapids Assembly of God Church recently completed their first mission trip to Austin, Texas, consisting of Leaders Cassy Smith and Zelda Kurth, 19-year-old Youth Helpers Brenden Mattson and Michelle Witkins, youth Casey Witkins, Taylor Mattson, Hailey Smith, Kaitlin Smith and Riley Kline.
The group drove down to Texas and once they arrived, the group of nine participants was split up.
"It was different from other mission trips. Usually a youth group goes together and they do something," Cassy Smith said. "On this one, they split us all up. The leaders and everyone were all on different crews."
In total, there were 14 crews consisting of 70 people, leaders included and they completed over 1,500 hours of community service.
The crews were then sent to work or complete projects each day. Some of the crews went to the same spot each day for the whole week; some would spend two days in one place and two days at another, and some went to the same place everyday. According to Smith, it was dependent upon the needs throughout the community and the size of the projects.
The trip was arranged through Group Mission Trips, which is a faith-based organization that helps create service experiences. Since 1976, more than 450,000 mission trip participants from all over the world have accumulated more than 13 million volunteer hours helping people in need with the help of Group Mission Trips.
"We went during the Week of Hope," Smith said, adding that the group worked from July 16 through July 21.
The group was hosted by Twin Lakes Fellowship in Cedar Park, Texas. The church had bought an old school that was converted into dorms where the crews stayed.
Located on the same site, was the Reveal Resource Center where Smith and her daughter Hailey worked the first two days.
Smith explained that the resource center supplied members of the community with bread and clothing as well as frozen foods. Crew members helped to distribute the items.
Smith also worked another day at a horse therapy ranch that worked primarily with struggling veterans, battered women and troubled youth. While there, the crew picked rocks in their horse pens in order to lay down dirt so the terrain wasn't rough for the horses.
A group of two crews worked at a boys and girls club everyday, spending time with young kids. Another crew went to different houses to complete landscape projects. Another project was picking up garbage along a river. They completed roofing projects at a wounded veterans' houses. They picked up garbage in parks. Some of the crews worked at an adult day care as well as other various projects throughout the community.
In order to go on the trip the youth had to be at least 12 years old. The youngest member from the Assembly of God group was 13 and the majority of them were high schoolers.
One of the youth presented the idea to the youth leaders, voting amongst themselves where they wanted to go and ultimately chose Texas because they wanted to work with horses.
"We had one youth member that expressed she wanted to go on a mission trip," Smith said, explaining that the youth were directed to look into it on their own. "So she did that and presented all of the youth with the options."
The group completed a lot of fundraising to come up with the money to pay for the trip. Smith said the community was an amazing help to them, adding that the members of the community donated numerous items and gift cards.
"I hear a lot of them say it made them come out of their comfort zone by being split up and not being with their own youth group," she said. "It was the best thing ever for them and it went really well. They met a lot of new people and created some great relationships. They got to bring that home with them too."