By Claudia Mathis
Amelia Witschi, after spending a week as a member of the Summer Servants, feels that her faith is stronger than it has ever been. “It is easier to understand the Christian faith when you are doing what the Bible says, not just reading about it,” Amelia said. Amelia and 24 other teens from the suburbs spent a life-changing week July 8-13 as they crossed boundaries, serving residents of the city of Syracuse. For most, it was an eye-opening experience. They had the opportunity to see the needs of inner- city residents.
An ecumenical mission, the youth represented DeWitt Community Church, Holy Cross Church in DeWitt, Eastern Hills Bible Church in Manlius and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Baldwinsville.
During the week, the teens resided with their adult leaders at DeWitt Community Church. Their daily activities included prayer, reflection, games, sports, music and service to the community. From 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., the youth broke up into teams to serve at the Bishop Foery and Vincent House neighborhood centers, the Brady Faith Center, the Stone Soup Community Education Garden, the Rescue Mission, St. Lucy’s food programs and at various locations doing minor home repairs for local residents.
Amelia said she was inspired throughout the week by the presentations that were given every night before dinner by Kevin Frank, director of the Brady Faith Center, and a few of his acquaintances. “The people that came to share their experiences inspired me to always try my best in following Jesus because they proved that faith and help from others can get a person through even the hardest situations,” Amelia said.
The Summer Servants program has been in existence for two years and is the brainchild of Frank. Through his extensive experience in ministry at Unity Acres, the Oxford Inn and as a lay outreach minister at St. Lucy’s, Frank underwent a transformational faith journey. “It changed my heart,” Frank said. “I thought, ‘Why not open it up to others?’”
As someone who has worked with the homeless, Frank is impressed with their loving nature, compassion and honesty. “After weathering incredible storms, they are longing for a restoration of family and community,” said Frank. “Sharing these moments with them has been life-changing to me.”
Amelia, along with Summer Servants Hannah Brod and Jan Sampsell, chose to spend the week serving at Stone Soup Community Education Garden on Syracuse’s southwest side. They also volunteered to serve lunch at the Rescue Mission and worked at St. Lucy’s food pantry and Bread of Life lunch program and completed gardening projects at various residents’ houses.
“The Summer Servants youth and other volunteers make the garden extra special and really allow us to do some special things,” said Emily Nisco-Frank, coordinator of the garden.
Organized and overseen by the Brady Faith Center for the last five years, the garden not only provides food, but also hope and beauty to the community.
Nisco-Frank added that the garden serves as an area where people can learn how to garden. She offers educational and planting sessions to children at Huntington Family Center, the Brady Faith Center and Seymour School. “We’re able to reach out to youth to give them the opportunity to spend time with nature,” said Nisco-Frank.
On the afternoon of July 10, the flourishing garden was abuzz with activity. Set in an impoverished neighborhood within St. Lucy’s Parish, the garden boasted daisies, marigolds and herbs planted among towering tomato, pepper, broccoli, corn, squash and cabbage plants.
The teens and Nisco-Frank led activities for eight children and their helpers who were visiting from the Brady Faith Center.
The theme “Cultivating Peace” was prevalent throughout the afternoon’s activities. After singing the song “Amazing Grace” the children and their leaders broke into three small groups.
Jan, from DeWitt Community Church, illustrated the practice of achieving a sense of peace through mediation. The children sat on large rocks that had been placed in a circle. Flower pots filled with zinnias had been placed in the center of the circle. Jan, as one who is very interested in Japanese culture, illustrated what a Japanese Meditation Stone Garden looks like. A container had been filled with sand with stones placed on top. The children were encouraged to touch and rake the sand and then to arrange the stones in a peaceful design. Jan and Nisco-Frank offered suggestions on how to meditate and then gave them an opportunity to practice meditation.
Hannah, from Eastern Hills Bible Church, is an accomplished ballet dancer and is a member of the dance group Light of the World Ballet. She led her group in a name game that involved various movements and also directed the children in the construction of a prayer sack made by tying up a small handful of sand in some fabric. They shared their hopes and prayers at the end of their session.
The third group, led by Amelia, planted plants in a very dry, rocky part of the garden. Amelia directed their attention to a weed that was thriving in the rocky soil. She talked about how people, like plants, can thrive in imperfect conditions as long as they have a little love and encouragement.
The three Summer Servants had volunteered at the Rescue Mission prior to their arrival at the garden that day. They greatly enjoyed the experience. “It was really fun,” said Hannah. “I learned how to be a better Christian by serving others and how one person can make a big impact.”
“When working with the people at the Rescue Mission and food pantry, I was able to experience the lifestyle of helping and giving to others that need it. It opened my eyes to what Jesus wanted us to do with our lives,” said Amelia.
The Summer Servants program has been growing each year. Last year, the first, 16 teens participated. “I would love to see it grow and expand to two weeks,” Frank said. “These kids want to be here. They are the church, living it out right now — a tremendous witness and light.”