COLUMBIA — On Saturday, youth from around Columbia will wake up early, but not to eat a bowl of cereal and watch their favorite cartoons.
Instead, at 9:30 a.m., they will join each other in a day of community service. Five-year-olds and high school students, and many youth in between, will gather for a rally at Boone County Courthouse to kick off the third annual Columbia Youth Service Day, sponsored by the Youth Community Coalition.
Youth will pick up trash in local parks, clean graffiti off buildings and plant flowers at elementary schools.
"I think it allows adults to see that there are a lot of great students in the community," said Ryan Worley, assistant coordinator for the youth coalition. He said the day gives young people an opportunity to feel invested in their community.
The youth coalition, recognized by the City Council as the youth advisory commission, is made up of youth, parents and community organizations.
Worley said his group provides "a vigorous approach to overall youth development." To achieve its goal, the coalition teaches young people about drug and violence prevention and about the importance of community.
Last year, the youth coalition helped Columbia get selected as one of the America's Promise Alliance's "100 Best Communities for Young People," presented by ING. The alliance recognizes communities that are making extraordinary efforts to reduce dropout rates and provide outstanding services to their youth, according to its website.
"When people come together and work together, things like that happen," Worley said, adding that the help of law enforcement, the community and local schools contributes to the success of the coalition.
Maria McMahon, outreach counselor at Hickman High School, has been participating in Youth Service Day with her students since its creation. She expects about a dozen of her students to participate on Saturday.
"They really enjoy giving back to the community," she said.
McMahon runs the H.O.P.E. — or Helping Our Peers Everywhere — club at Hickman. Students in the club get training from Worley and the youth coalition, the MU Wellness Resource Center and other outside programs. The training prepares students for hosting programs and presentations on subjects like the Internet and transportation safety.
"Youth are an integral part of making the community flourish," McMahon said.
More than 200 youth participated in the service day last year, Worley said. Although this year he's expecting fewer, he said he will still commend those who show up, much like he said he did in his speech last year.
"I said, 'A lot of people look around the community and don't see the good things that youth do," Worley said. "But look at you. You're here on a Saturday morning when you could be in your beds.'"
The service day will run from 10 a.m. to noon.