COLUMBIA — Columbia, a city whose residents routinely travel to help in areas hit by disaster or poverty, was on the receiving end of a mission trip last week.
Impact Generation, a youth group sponsored by the Seventh-day Adventist Church, brought 14 teenagers from five states to Columbia for its first domestic mission trip, with the purpose of helping Columbia residents save on utility bills.
During their week in Columbia, Impact Generation exchanged three air conditioners and installed 12 weatherization kits for low-income and elderly residents, in order to make their homes more energy-efficient. Columbia Water & Light and Central Missouri Community Action donated the pieces of the weatherization kits. Each kit includes a water heater blanket, insulation for the water heater pipe, two window covers, compact fluorescent light bulbs, weatherstripping and outlet gaskets — all expected to reduce a home’s energy consumption and therefore utility bills. . The group also put on activities for children and teens, including a puppet show and a poetry cafe, at the J.W. “Blind” Boone Center.
Impact Generation is a program for high-school-aged Christians through the Center States Conference of Seventh-day Adventist Churches, which is based in Kansas City, Kan. The group partnered with the Columbia Seventh-day Adventist Church and worked with Central Missouri Community Action to identify projects that would fit with the group’s goals. The group’s motto, written on the youths’ T-shirts, says, “We will change tomorrow.”
Darin Preis, executive director of Central Missouri Community Action, was contacted by the group because its organizers had heard there were opportunities to assist the community.
“Well, honestly, I didn’t think of Columbia as a mission city,” Preis said. “I thought it was strange, but Columbia does have lots and lots of community development needs. If there’s an offer to help, we’ll take it.”
Preis said this was the first mission group to work with Central Missouri Community Action.
“They were looking for cities to expand their organization’s mission and for struggling communities,” Preis said. “I always thought of Columbia as a strong community.”
Still, he said, the city does have its struggling pockets.
“For them to have taken note of that from Kansas City caught my attention,” Preis said.
Ben Nordhues, student coordinator of Weatherization Four-Winds, signed up the residents whose homes the group weatherized during the week.
“They are my heroes,” Nordhues said of the mission group. “It’s really nice to see such dedicated people actually working to change the lives of Columbia residents.”
Nordhues, who has gone into a number of homes doing weatherization, senses that some parts of the city are overlooked.
“There are people in Columbia who are in sub-humane living conditions and no one is noticing,” Nordhues said. “Overall, Columbia is a growing city,” he said, “but as we grow we can’t leave people behind.”
Nordhues said the residents wouldn’t have had their homes weatherized until the fall if Impact Generation hadn’t decided to come to Columbia.
“It was cool because now we know when we go home, how to cut down on our energy usage,” said Tatum Fowler, 17, a youth member from St. Louis.
The theme of taking home what is learned is central to the group’s mission. Columbia was selected in part because of its similarities to the youths’ own cities. Pastor Kymone Hinds, youth director for the Central States Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, said this would enable them to continue their work with peers back home.
Youth member, Kayla Hamilton, 16, of Wichita, Kan., recalled one man the youth helped early in the week.
“He said he thought he’d never see the day where young people are actually doing something to make a change,” Hamilton said.
For Riana Mitchell, 16, from Denver, working with children in Columbia had a big influence on her.
“Yesterday I met this little girl, she wanted to help with everything,” Mitchell said. “Even if she wasn’t in the best situation, she had all the joys in the world.”
Mitchell thinks there is a lack of good role models for kids, and she wants to provide a positive influence. This is one reason she joined Impact Generation.
Impact Generation brought youth from Colo., Kan., Mo., Iowa, and Neb.