Bob White smiled as he watched Micah Evans use a drill to secure a board on a porch.

The pair, along with a team of students and adults, were working to build a deck and a new wheelchair ramp this week, at a residence in Grove. 

With words of encouragement, the 70-year-old Grove man told the Grove teen how to measure the distance between boards, and where the screw should be placed.

As a tech angel, White was one of 10 local men taking part in the 2017 Youth Force work camp. 

Led by Eddisu and Randy Barker, members of First United Methodist Church in Grove, this week's Youth Force brought together more than 39 adult volunteers and 63 students between the ages of 12 to 19, to undertake a variety of construction-based projects throughout Grove, Jay and the region.

In the past week, the participants - who represented churches from across Oklahoma - divided among a dozen homes, undertaking projects like repairing siding, building decks and wheelchair ramps, and painting siding.

Many of the adults, especially those working as Tech Angels or behind the scenes, were members of either First United Methodist Church or Church of the Shepherd (COS), in Grove.

White joked he was recruited for his first mission experience of this nature by the persistence of his pastor, Thomas Corrigan.

"I love it," White said, as he watched the students work. "They are learning something new every day."

White said his strategy, in helping the students learn how to resurface a deck and build a handicapped ramp, was to "lead by example."

He was often seen working with the students, helping to guide them through the various steps of the project.

"This makes you feel fresh and renewed," White said.

First timers 

Tyler Harmon, 13, Grove, came to Youth Force at the encouragement of his friends.

"I like helping people," Harmon said, as he drew a cutting line across a wheelchair ramp rail. "I think it's nice that [the group] wants to help people who aren't capable of doing this stuff right now."

Tristan Vancil, 15, agreed. The Poteau student was also taking part in his first Youth Force trip.

He, along with four students from First Christian Church in Poteau, joined with the First United Methodist - Poteau team, for the trip.

"I wanted to try this out," Vancil said, joking that the toughest part of the trip was getting acclimated to the heat. "It's pretty interesting helping others. 

"It makes you feel good about yourself."

Returning students 

Other students, like Leslie Clark, 13, from First United Methodist Church in Prague, was taking part in her fifth youth mission experience and second Youth Force. 

Clark said the trip like Youth Forth help her learn to appreciate things and how to give to others.

"It feels good to give back," Clark said. "This helps me realize how, we as Christians, need to help others."

This was also McCall Stephens, 15, from First United Methodist Church Altus, second Youth Force trip.

"I have learned how you actually feel better about yourself when helping others instead of just wanting stuff," Stephens said. "Greed is not important when you come out here and help people who actually need it."

Stephens said she has grown in her faith during the experience.

"It's made me a lot stronger and closer to God," Stephens said.

Other stories

For 18-year-old Jeremiah Medlin of Lawton, the week at Youth Force marked part of the countdown to the U.S. Marine Corps. The young man leaves in less than two weeks for bootcamp.

"Your getting to help out people and do the work of God with your own hands," Medlin said. "At home, I wouldn't really be doing anything except sitting around and wasting time.

"This is better than that."

Whitney Blessing, 14, a member of COS in Grove, said she enjoyed helping people in her home community.

Her teammate, and fellow COS member, Lydia Blackfox agreed. 

"It's nice to see them smile, when they see what we have finished," Blackfox said. 

About Youth Force

This is the second Youth Force mission week in Grove. Eddisu Barker hopes to repeat the project on at least a bi-yearly basis.

Youth Force is part of the Volunteers in Mission organization, within the Oklahoma United Methodist Conference.

Students paid $185 in order to attend the mission-based camp. The fees not only paid for the basic supplies for the camp, but also provided funding for the various projects.

During the first mission week, in 2016, 45 students and 50 adults, worked on a variety of projects. While last year's efforts were centered around yard work and smaller building projects. 

This year, with an approximately 75 percent increase in participants found themselves completing more complex projects.

Both Barkers said teaching students about the joy found in service, is what keeps them involved in Youth Force. 

"This is teaching kids servanthood at an early age, and giving them the opportunity to do something," Randy Barker said. 

Eddisu Barker agreed.

"If they learn [at an early age] and get excited about it, it will carry through the rest of their lives," Barker said, "instead of thinking of [work] as a burden.

"The kids are extremely responsible and hardworking. They are willing to do anything we ask them to do, in order to help others."

Like the camp numbers, the number of participants within First United Methodist Church-Grove, has also grown in the past three years. In the first year, the Barkers took six students to Henrietta. Last year 12 took part in the first Grove camp. This year, 18 Grove students - not counting the eight representing COS - participated in the week's efforts.

"Getting COS, another church on our community involved was wonderful," Randy Barker said. "We didn't want this to be a Methodist thing. We want it to be a community-wide thing. We hope to add more churches in next year."

Jason Cox, family pastor for COS, said his team included eight students and another adult. 

"I absolutely love this," Cox said. "We want to teach the kids to not only reach out into the world, but also their community.

"This is not inward focus, they want to help people in the community and we are joining in to help. I think that's awesome.

"Anytime, anywhere they [the students] can show love for anybody, it's a way to help spread God's message."

A look ahead

The Barkers said a final decision on if the camp will take place next year will come later this fall, as all of the expenses and projects are analyzed. 

"We want this camp to be self supporting," Randy Barker said, adding that several local businesses, including Lowe's, Grove Paint, T.H. Rogers, Harps, Greg Bolton with Indigo Sky Casino, and an anonymous donor, helped in a multitude of ways.

Ultimately, Eddisu Barker hopes students leave the camp, with a deeper respect for the struggles that people often face, and the knowledge that they have accomplished a great deal during the week.

"I think many times, all of us get caught up in our own world, and think everybody lives like we do," Eddisu Barker said. "When we see [our neighbors] and meet them, they become real, and not just a number or a story in the newspaper. 

"It helps put a face and a heart on [the story] for the kids."

Of the projects completed this week, Eddisu Barker said none were extravagant. 

"We did things to help with accessibility for older adults," Eddisu Barker said. "They weren't asking for elaborate things. They were asking to be safe."

Many of the projects came through word of mouth referrals. Others were given to the Barkers through the Northeast Oklahoma Community Action in Jay, or the Grove Senior Citizen's Center.

"At least two-third of the projects were not connected to the church," Eddisu Barker said. "That's another exciting thing for why this needs to be a community-wide project."

Helping others

For Ashley Kirk and her parents, Robert and Freda Vann, the Youth Force trip was "a gift from God."

"I think it's awesome," Freda Vann said. "These kids are getting up, during the summer time and doing work like this - and paying to do it."

Vann said her home in Jay needed some work, things the family was unable to accomplish due to physical and financial limitations. 

"My husband grew up in this house, it belonged to his grandparents," Vann said. "They sold it and we bought it back 21 years ago."

She smiled as she watched the students complete the various projects, adding their efforts helped breathe new life into the home.