Help! 1,200 teens to invade Belleville next week

News-DemocratJuly 5, 2013 

Whether it's clearing a walking trail, planting flowers or picking up trash, more than 1,200 teenagers will spruce up Belleville parks, neighborhoods and schools as part of a Big Day of Serving on Thursday.

Youths from the Christian Missionary Alliance Church will travel from St. Louis to Belleville on 27 different buses. The teenagers from across the country are all taking part in the LIFE 2013 youth conference to be held from Tuesday to July 13 in St. Louis.

As part of the conference's Big Day of Serving component, each attendee will do at least three hours of volunteer work in the St. Louis area.

The teens will be completing more than 15 projects in Belleville including at Bicentennial Park, Laderman Park, Highland Neighborhood, Signal Hill School, Khoury League, Gass Park, Hough Park, Bellevue Park, Citizens Park, Green Mount Mobile Home Park, Main Street, Henry Raab School, Roosevelt School, Abraham Lincoln Elementary School and West Junior High School.

"The idea behind the Big Day of Serving is in one day we can make a huge impact in specific communities," said Matt Cesare, community director for the event. "We as Christians do this to serve our neighbors in any way we can. It's really about putting our faith into action and going out and doing good for folks."

The Rev. Rob Dyer pastor at First United Presbyterian Church in Belleville worked with Cesare to get Belleville involved in the Big Day of Serving.

"It's kind of fun when you get to put the right people together and see God doing amazing things," Dyer said.

"It's a great opportunity for Belleville," said Jim Schneider, the city's director of human resources.

Belleville School District 118 Superintendent Matt Klosterman said district officials are thankful their projects were selected.

"It's incredible what these young men and women are doing as far as committing to serve not only in their own communities, but a community they don't know anybody," he said.

The projects were things that needed to be done, but Klosterman said the schools have been struggling with limited resources and manpower.

At Henry Raab and Roosevelt schools, the volunteers will be weeding, trimming, planting and mulching. At Abraham Lincoln and West Junior High schools, the teens will be installing a patio, planting and mulching.

"These young, able-body folks are going to come in and help us improve our grounds and facilities," Klosterman said. "What great role models of what it means to give back."

Dyer coordinated with city officials and Amanda Guinn, the program director for Belleville AmeriCorps, to hammer out the list of projects in Belleville.

"It's so exciting to know we have such a great diverse group of folks coming out to do the work," Guinn said. "We have such a cool bunch of projects."

Schneider credited the neighborhoods in Belleville with helping to determine the projects. "I think it's one of Belleville's strengths -- the neighborhoods," he said.

The youths attending the conference -- 5,500 total -- will also be completing projects in and around St. Louis. "Everybody who is coming is going to have this opportunity to serve," Cesare said.

In all, more than 100 projects at 75 sites will be tackled next week.

"For the youth, we want them to have an experience and know they can make a difference in the world," Cesare said.

Contact reporter Jamie Forsythe at 239-2562 or jforsythe1@bnd.com.

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