Everywhere Cheryl Poole looked, she saw energetic teenagers working, some scraping the old white paint off the siding of her Pitcher Avenue home, while others rolled on a new coat in a creamy latte tone and brushed bright crimson on the trim and doors.
“These young people are my ram that came out of the bush,” Poole said, referring to the Bible story where God provided a ram for Abraham after he nearly sacrificed his son Isaac. “I thank God for the World Changers.
“It lets you know that God answers prayer,” Poole added with a big smile. “I was trying to renovate my home and I ran out of money. I had tears of joy knowing volunteers were coming here from different states.”
Poole is one of nine Gus Young neighborhood residents, mostly elderly and on a fixed income, who had their homes painted and fixed up this week by 97 teens from five Southern states as part of the 12th annual World Changers mission project to Baton Rouge. The teens, from six Southern Baptist and one United Methodist church, were divided into nine teams with names like “Dandy Sanders,” “Plumb Bobs,” and “Level Heads.”
Nationwide, more than 14,000 students are participating in similar missions in 75 cities and Puerto Rico, according to Wesley DeeAnn Pena, a Liberty University student and World Changers spokeswoman. “We are here because we want to be able to show this city God’s love in practical ways,” Pena told a small crowd gathered at St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church during a welcome ceremony hosted by East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Kip Holden and administration officials on Tuesday morning. “They will be painting houses; they will be cleaning, working in yards and just showing God’s love. They have paid to paint houses. They have paid to sleep on the floor.”
She said teams of World Changers served earlier this summer in Covington and Shreveport and are scheduled to be in New Orleans July 18-23.
World Changers is a 25-year-old ministry of the Southern Baptist Convention’s LifeWay Christian Resources, and each student pays about $250 to participate, she said. This mission is headquartered at Florida Boulevard Baptist Church, where the teens, supervised by adults from their respective churches, bivouacked in Sunday school rooms, with boys and girls in separate areas.
“I cannot thank you enough and cannot even count the number of homes and people that they have helped,” Holden said. “They don’t ask for money and come here out of the goodness of their hearts. When a call goes out, they raise their hands and say, ‘Here am I, Lord; send me.’ ”
Florida Boulevard Baptist’s associate pastor, the Rev. Joey Beeson, is project coordinator, and he thanked Holden and the city-parish for providing police officers for security; firefighters for inspecting the homes and providing smoke detectors; the Public Works Department for mowing lawns; and pest control for spraying the areas where the teens are working.
“We just want to serve the community in the name of Jesus,” Beeson said. “I told the mayor we all have to work together regardless of denomination, regardless of background, regardless of socioeconomic conditions.”
The city-parish Office of Community Development, through grants, purchased about $50,000 in materials, mostly paint, for the projects, according to officials.
Several churches and neighborhood residents provided lunches, snacks and bottled water, keeping the teens hydrated during the 90-degree-plus afternoons.
The Rev. Richard “Father Rick” Andrus, pastor of St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church, said they were glad to host the kickoff ceremony.
“Scripture tells us it is more blessed to give than receive, but just because you are a giver does not mean that you will not receive a blessing in return,” Andrus said. “Our volunteers will be blessed because they are a blessing.”
Around the corner from the church, the “Roller Kings” team was scraping and painting the home where 79-year-old Olevia Albert has lived nearly her entire life.
“It’s a blessing just to have them here,” Albert said. “To give up their summer to do something that I really needed — it’s a blessing to me, and I’m sure it’s a blessing to them.”
Macy Thompson, 16, who attends First United Methodist Church in Lyons, Georgia, said she wants “to change the world and make a difference in people’s lives.”
Her friend, Shelby Thomas, 14, added that she wants “to show people the love of God and, if they don’t know him, to tell them about him.”
Jillian Bartosh, of First Baptist Church of Christine, Texas, was scraping paint alongside Thompson and Thomas.
“I want to love this city like God loves this city,” the 15-year-old said.
“We’re making this house look better,” added David Gray, 13, of Sterling Wood Baptist of Houston.
“They are doing an excellent job and are very diligent,” said adult team leader Dawn Thompson, of First UMC of Lyons. “They are trying very hard to help the owner of this house and help the community.”
Koral Fisher, 17, of Sterling Wood Baptist Church in Houston, said they paid their way here by holding fundraisers, “with, like, talent shows and bake sales.”
“I was a rent-a-youth,” added Gray. “I mowed yards, and they paid the church instead of me.”
Around the corner at Poole’s home on Pitcher Avenue, the “Scrape, Splatter and Roll” team was taking a break and enjoying cups of shaved ice flavored with a red juice Poole made for them.
“I think they’ve got my place looking like a brand-new home,” she said as she inspected the progress.
“I just thank God for teamwork,” Poole added. “It takes teamwork to do it this quick. I am truly grateful. It is so pretty.”
More information on the program, can be found at world-changers.net.