LEIGHTON — Many kids opt to spend their summers swimming at the pool, vacationing at the beach, or relaxing at home.
But for the young volunteers with World Changers, summer is a chance to step outside their comfort zones and serve others wherever their help is needed.
This week, 215 kids and crew leaders from several states flocked to Lauderdale and Colbert counties to complete exterior work for elderly, disabled and disadvantaged homeowners.
The volunteers arrived Monday and split into 20 crews before spreading out to begin work Tuesday.
“All of the groups have been wonderful,” said Tim Ray, project coordinator for the area. “The kids are just great participants.”
Ray said this is the 13th consecutive year World Changers has come to serve people in the Shoals. The organization has several other projects happening throughout this month in the Southeast and Puerto Rico, he added.
Volunteers were housed at Hibbett Middle School, and churches provided lunch each day.
While some volunteers were first-timers, others had been on multiple trips with World Changers. Many chose to get involved after hearing stories from others who had been enriched by the experience.
“It’s such a blessing to be able to help someone who actually needs help, and to see the impact that it has on them personally, and how well they can go on and do life now that we’ve come in and helped them,” said 19-year-old Cade Ashley, an Indiana native who is in Leighton on his second trip with World Changers.
Ashley and his crew are wrapping up work today on the home of John Smith, which has included painting, caulking and replacing boards.
Smith said his pastor connected him with the crew.
“They’re just doing a makeover on this place,” he said. “It’s just like a blessing to me to have this done because it’s just one major thing off me.”
For 16-year-old Arkansas native Kara Chenoweth, the trip has been a valuable opportunity to give back.
“I feel like everything here we do is not just work,” she said. “It’s worship, also, and it’s just really satisfying to think about what we do every day and what we’re doing to John’s life and helping them out a little bit. It’s just really beautiful when it all comes together.”
A few miles away, another crew is finishing up the installation of a new roof on Katie Johnson’s home.
Johnson said the last time World Changers came to work on her house was about three years ago. Just as before, she said she has enjoyed the company of the volunteers as they’ve worked at her Leighton home, which her husband had a hand in building in 1952.
“They just come down here on their own free will,” she said. “I got to talk to several of them. They are just something else.”
Kaylen Young, 18, handled jobs on the ground. She said she decided to join World Changers after seeing them volunteer in her hometown as a child.
Both she and 16-year-old Sebastian Hendricks, a veteran volunteer with World Changers, said they have a strong desire to serve.
“Ever since I’ve been the age, I’ve just had a heart for missions and going out of the county, in the country — just anywhere around to help people,” Young said.
Johnson said she enjoyed seeing all the volunteers bond through service.
“The World Changers are a wonderful thing,” she said. “If I was young again, I would be involved with it myself because I love it. I love the work they do, and these kids are such good Christian kids. It expands people’s religion all around the world to have them coming. It’s amazing. This is a godsend.”
While serving others is one focus of World Changers trips, Ray said it’s also about inspiring the young volunteers to share the gospel.
“Our purpose is an evangelistic effort,” he added. “We are here to share the love of Jesus Christ, and we do that through labor — through working for the homeowners. That’s our mission.”
Ashley encouraged anyone thinking about serving to take that step outside their comfort zones.
“You will have no regrets,” he said. “I feel like it’s a responsibility for us as Christians to do these things, and step in and be there for each other because it’s what we’re called to do.
"When we follow and listen to what (God has) instructed us to do, we reap what we sow, and it’s just an amazing thing to do.”