Live music from the band Sifa, an inflatable obstacle course, free balloons, food from Big Daddy's BBQ truck and hundreds of people crowded into Douglass Park Friday. Some came for the community event, others came to celebrate the hard work many would be putting in the next day. This was a kick-off event for the city wide service day organized by ForColumbia.

They began with 11 churches in 2015. But on Saturday, 55 churches have pledged to join the day of service. ForColumbia predicts that over 2,000 volunteers will take part Saturday, serving local individuals and nonprofit organizations in more than 100 locations. But the kick-off celebration is different.

"Today's about hanging out, having conversations and making connections," said Shelly Mayer, the volunteer coordinator for ForColumbia.

This year, Mayer and ForColumbia invited local members of the community who lived near the park, as well as service day volunteers and their families.

Now in its fourth year, Mayer says that she and her executive board have been busy for months, prepping for the day of service and the kick-off event.

Together they coordinated everything from scouting service locations, figuring out where volunteers will go and for how long, advertising, budgets for each specific service project and coordination of project heads.

Pam Leslley of The Crossing church has been coming to this event since it began and now gets to spearhead her own project during the service day. 

Leslley, her husband, and their team of 25 volunteers will descend en masse to a local woman's house tomorrow with a long list of chores. They will put in a new rail for the stairway, paint the garage, fix the deck, organize and clean the house.

"It's important that we do the landscaping too," Leslley said. "When we're done she'll have a nice space out front and out back for her to garden. She loves to garden."

Dee Campbell-Carter of Friendship Missionary Baptist Church is looking forward to her activity: a community garden. Volunteers will be putting dirt in plots, planting seedlings and setting up water barrels. She is especially excited about growing fruits, vegetables and medicinal plants. But that's not what she thinks is most important.

"We have diversity in our groups and those we serve," said Campbell-Carter. "We're not looking at race because we are all children of God."

James Wong, a self identified Christian from China agrees.

"Usually, denominations argue," said Wong. "But they're putting away their differences and coming together. The environment here is encouraging."

When ForColumbia was created, many Christians were already helping out their community, but ForColumbia was created to bring churches together and to show that they were truly "for Columbia." Now, anyone can volunteer.

"God calls on us to love and serve our neighbors," said Mayer. "It's not a requirement that you believe what I believe to want to help."

Supervising editor is Dylan Jackson

  • Spring 2019 Advanced Public Life reporter. I am a senior studying international journalism. You can reach me at (860) 576-0203 or with any tips or comments.

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