Mission accomplished: Youth at home due to COVID

New playground built, sand volleyball court refurbished on church property

Every year Rolling Bay Presbyterian Church’s youth take a mission trip to an area of need to help with projects, but due to COVID-19 the group decided to put its mission to use at its own congregation.

Youth director Courtney Cook coordinated over 20 middle and high schoolers to help with projects on the church’s property, including building a new playground and refurbishing the sand volleyball court. The work was completed Monday through Wednesday.

Last year, the group’s mission trip was supposed to be to Portland, OR but the pandemic canceled that. Even though COVID rates are going down and Bainbridge has the highest vaccine rate in Kitsap County, Cook said she had to plan for the event prior to that so she erred on the side of caution. The group plans to get back to its traditional youth mission trips next year somewhere in the Midwest.

“It kind of became a kernel of an idea,” Cook said about holding the mission trip at their church. “The youth have been affected so much by COVID. We’ve been doing all our youth group stuff online, and I know I’m tired of talking to them through a screen. We really wanted to find a way to get these youth together in person. I’m always impressed with how hard they work. They just dig in and get the job done without complaining.

“We have a pretty large piece of property back here,” she continued. “We have this volleyball court that has all these weeds growing in it and not really usable. Now it’s become this huge overhaul project. I hoped I got like 8-10 kids because it was so last minute. We’ve had 22 kids working this week. It’s hot, this is their first week of vacation and here they are out in the heat digging sand, digging rocks. It’s not fun, clean jobs by any means. Painting, pushing wheelbarrows full of weeds. They’ve all just jumped in with both feet and are going at it.”

Cook has been with the church for eight years and said in previous years they have gone to communities in Harrisburg, PA; San Diego; and a Native American reservation in Idaho.

“It gives our youth that need to see how much service is needed,” Cook said. “To be able to come in and walk into a community and to be able to help others with no agenda other than we’re just here to serve and to help. The kids don’t often get that around here. It’s just a nice chance for them to do that.

“I’ve had some kids, they’ve gone into low economic neighborhoods and these empty lots that have been filled with garbage with mattresses and needles. They go in and help clean those things out. We help work on community gardens. One of our groups went through a community and helped weed down a couple miles of the street for them.”

Also as a part of the mission trips, Cook said they get a chance to work with kids in each area and offer free programming such as craft projects and small bible studies. Plus, their church isn’t the only one on these trips.

“The other nice thing about these trips is that we usually do them in conjunction with other churches,” she said. “There may be four or five other churches from all over the U.S. Not only do we get to do this work for other people, we also are getting to know people from very different communities or walks of life by working side by side with them.”

Ultimately, Cook wants her youth members to support, learn and bond with communities — both where they live and beyond.

“We can create our own small community bubble here at our church but it’s really more important that this community that we’re forming as a group is able to reach out further; not to just our church community but this year our local community, which we’ve never done before,” she said. “We also try to really get to know the community we step into. We want to spend time with these people and hear their stories. I think they appreciate being heard.”