From city Communications Director Brett Broesder:
Imagine more than 400 people fanning out through every city neighborhood–painting churches, planting trees and cleaning parks. It happened in Bridgeport on Saturday as part of The Big Day of Serving.
“As a community, we’re so grateful for everyone who spent their day lending a hand. I saw young people. I saw older folks and every age in between rolling up their sleeves to help other people,” said Mayor Bill Finch. “They all seemed to enjoy themselves as much as the people they were helping. They truly embody their slogan: Youth transforming America’s neighborhoods.”
One group of about 30 people spent the day painting at Walters Memorial AME Zion Church, 12 Gregory St. The church was organized in 1835 and remains the oldest black church in Bridgeport.
“This is exactly what we needed,” said Pastor Janene Hawkins, who has led the congregation for the past six years. “This is an answered prayer. It means more than words can articulate.”
After flooding from Hurricane Sandy caused extensive damage to the church, Hawkins has been leader prayer in the Church Center.
Volunteers John Sutor and the Rev. Adele Crawford came from Brookfield where they belong to the Valley Presbyterian Church.
Members of their youth group regularly go on volunteer missions and come back with stories about how life altering the experience was, said Sutor.
“Soon adults were saying, ‘I want a bit of that feeling,'” he said.
Mayor Finch stopped at several of the work sites to say thank you to the volunteers.
He spoke of the city’s progress in building new schools and parks and the administration’s efforts to create green jobs and sustainable energy.
He said Walters Church and Pastor Hawkins also is a story of sustainability.
“The hurricane knocked her down but she is still standing.”
The Big Day of Serving is a series of one-day events across the nation. Christian youth groups from throughout the region converged on Bridgeport looking to transform neighborhoods. They joined by scores of local volunteers, many of whom were community leaders from Neighborhood Revitalization Zones.
What did they go? Among other projects, the volunteers painted at Walters Memorial AME Zion Church in the South End. They cleaned up the Reservoir Community Farm. They planted trees in the Hollow. They volunteered stocking at the Bridgeport Rescue Mission in the West Side and cleaned up Johnson’s Creek in the East End.
Mayor Finch said the business community in Bridgeport was such an important partner. Businesses like Home Depot donated supplies for the project. Restaurants donated food to provide breakfast and lunch for the volunteers. The Webster Bank Arena opened its doors for registration and The Field at Harbor Yard opened its doors for a post-cleanup barbeque.
“We were grateful hosts but we also wanted to be gracious hosts,” said Mayor Finch. “We hope they all come back next year.”
The trip was organized by a faith-based youth services group called Group Mission Trips.
What will the children get out of it? They say that the Big Day of Serving energizes kids and helps them develop a servant’s heart.
In 1976, Colorado sustained a catastrophic flood. The following year, Thom Schultz, founder of Group Publishing, organized church youth groups from across the country to come to Colorado and help rebuild the homes and lives of the flood victims. More than 300 teenagers and their youth leaders, just like you, arrived in Colorado and worked on over 50 repair projects. Since then, over 300,000 mission trip participants have racked up more than 6 million volunteer hours serving people in need.
Home Depot–Supplies, Sacred Heart University–400 boxed lunches, Fortuna’s Catering Co.–75 sandwiches, Bridgeport Neighborhood Trust–$250.00 (lunch South End), Stop and Shop Supermarket Company–$250.00 gift cards, Aquarion Water Company–Water, Wades Dairy Inc.–juices, Subway Restaurants–300 sandwiches, Bridgeport Hospital–$250.00 (lunch Mill Hill), Tony’s Huntington Inn–12 pizzas, Bridgeport Hospital–$250.00 (lunch Mill Hill), Frankie’s Diners–condiments, The Executive Chef–chips and drinks, PepsiCo–12 cases of soda, Crystal Rock–10 cases of water, Webster Bank Arena–venue, Harbor Yard–venue, Fruta Juice, Tony’s Huntington Inn–12 pizzas, University of Bridgeport–Paper goods, Newman’s Own Inc–1 case of popcorn, Billy’s Bakery–bagels, Trader Joe’s–bagels.