Volunteers help homeowners during National Day of Service

Wednesday, September 7, 2011 | 6:18 p.m. CDT; updated 10:39 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, September 7, 2011

COLUMBIA — Columbia residents will give back to their community Sunday by putting their hands to use for the Sept. 11 National Day of Service and Remembrance.

Across the country, more than one million people will participate in service work in their communities, according to the national website.

Getting Involved

What: United Methodist Church Serve 2011

Location: Meeting at Wilkes Boulevard United Methodist Church, 702 Wilkes Blvd.

When: 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

More information:

What: Columbia Mall 9/11 Day of Service and Remembrance

Where: Columbia Mall parking lot (Bernadette Drive and Stadium Boulevard) and the mall's commons

When: Ceremony 11 a.m.; Volunteer Fair, 1 to 5 p.m.

More information:

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In Columbia, members of the six United Methodist churches and other residents will spend their Sunday morning participating in the Serve 2011 event. Church members and people who signed up through the churches will work with about 15 homeowners to bring their houses up to city code.

The project is one of dozens the Missouri Conference of the United Methodist Church has set up across the state.

Also as part of the National Day of Service, an Honor and Remembrance Ceremony will be held at the Columbia Mall on Sunday morning with the Columbia Fire Department, Columbia Police Department and Missouri Task Force One. A volunteer fair will be held in the afternoon.

Anyone is welcome to join the churches' volunteer efforts Sunday morning.

“It’s become a two-stage approach,” said the Rev. Keith Vessell, associate pastor at Missouri United Methodist Church on South Ninth Street. “A lot of that is cleanup, yard work and basic painting. But what we’re interested in really is the relationships we build and what we can do over time.”

Vessell is in charge of organizing the local churches' events. Through the city's Office of Neighborhood Services, the Boone County Council on Aging and other referrals, he compiled a list of houses that need work to be brought up to code.

Eight of the houses came from the Boone County Council on Aging, volunteer coordinator Amadi Swartz said.

Working with Bill Cantin of the Office of Neighborhood Services, the downtown Missouri United Methodist Church was awarded a $1,000 grant to go toward supplies and equipment.

In addition, a Columbia tree removal service is donating time to remove a large oak tree from one of the properties.

The homeowners being helped cannot afford the repairs and are being ticketed by the city for property maintenance code violations, Cantin said.

“It helps us out because, ultimately, the only recourse we have with a property that has property maintenance code violations is to take them to court,” Cantin said. “There are certain cases where we don’t want to do that, but our hands are tied.”

Vessell said they have a plan to do everything they can on Sunday, but his eye is on the longer term. “It will then allow us to come back continually over time — to really improve their lives and improve their living situations.”

Service projects provide an effective outlet for many processing the Sept. 11 attacks, Vessell said. "It reinjects hope into people's lives," he said.

Cantin sees it as a chance to focus on the community spirit that developed following the attack.

"The idea is not just to commemorate what happened but to rise above it," Cantin said. "I think it's excellent, the whole idea of not dwelling on what happened but going forward."

Reflecting on what the day means to him, Vessell sees it as an outlet for people to deal with the emotions of the realities of the anniversary.

“A lot of folks gave their lives to save people and help people,” he said. “That screams to me something more than just a mention in a service. It’s got to be something bolder and grander, which can only be accomplished by masses of people.”

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