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Hundreds of teens fan out across Gulf Coast to help Katrina victims

HATTIESBURG, Miss. — Twenty-seven young volunteers from Memphis, Tenn., assembeld recently at Hattiesburg resident Edith Owens’ home.
Using a small handsaw, the volunteers took aim at one of Hurricane Katrina’s many casualties — an old, uprooted oak tree that lay across Owens’ backyard.
Asked how she felt about the work the volunteers were doing at the home where she’s lived since 1959, the 81-year-old Owens smiled.
“I feel so good about this,” she said. “I appreciate it very much.”
The volunteers were part of a larger group of 700 teenagers and adults who gathered in Hattiesburg for the Youth in Action conference at the Lake Terrace Convention Center.
During the day, volunteers split up; into smaller groups and traveled to cities across south Mississippi to perform clean-up projects for hurricane victims.
By night, the groups returned to the Hub City for worship activities at the convention center. Mitch Wilburn, pulpit minister at the Park Plaza church, Tulsa, Okla., was the keynote speaker, while Travis Eades, worship minister at the Southwest church, Jonesboro, Ark., served as worship leader.
The decision to hold the church of Christ conference in Hattiesburg marked a break in tradition for the 30th anniversary event. For 29 years, the youth gathering was held in Jonesboro, Ark.
“After Katrina, we felt like we should get the kids into the action,” Youth in Action co-director Chris Harrell said.
“This is a generation of students that love the experience of being able to help people,” said Harrell, a youth minister at the Southwest church. “They see social justice in helping others, and they see it as a great concern and a great need in the local community.”
Working with local churches, community organizations and city officials, the event organizers placed the volunteers in cities along the Gulf Coast and in the Hattiesburg area.
Twenty-nine youth groups from seven states — Arkansas, Mississippi, Texas, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Missouri and Alabama — participated.
Event sponsors included Freed-Hardeman University, Lipscomb University and the Harding University Institute for Church and Family. OpenChurches.com, associated with the Brentwood Hills church, Nashville, Tenn., helped arrange work for the students.
The groups performed cleanup projects ranging from heavy debris removal and painting to hanging sheet rock.
“I couldn’t imagine losing my family and friends because of the hurricane,” said Megan Henry, 14, from the Ross church, Memphis. “I thought this was an awesome and cool way to help build back up this area.”
Fellow church member Casey Randolph agreed.
“It’s just great to be able to help a few people,” said Randolph, 18. “I’m having fun with friends, and I get to worship God.”

Filed under: National Staff Reports

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