By GENNA FREED
More than 1,300 volunteers gathered Saturday for a mission trip.
But participants did not have to travel to another country, or even out of state. The annual Backyard Mission Trip started and ended in Findlay and Hancock County.
“We’ve sensed that if we as churches can go to faraway places, we ought to at least work in the shadow of the steeple,” said Backyard Mission Trip co-chairman Bill Reist, pastor of College First Church.
“This gives us a wonderful opportunity to serve both in the city and in the county,” Reist said. “We have (volunteers working) all over Hancock County, primarily in the city, but in the county as well as an opportunity to serve in the name and in the spirit of Christ.”
The annual effort to help others began at 7:30 a.m. with breakfast at the Cube, where the event’s co-chairmen, Reist and Municipal Judge Bob Fry, gathered the volunteers.
Participants then went to 214 project sites, Fry said, to assist “people in need who cannot financially, physically, emotionally keep up their properties. So we’re lending them a helping hand up so they can get some work done around their house, and we can help them out any way that we can.”
Gary Knox led a team of volunteers from East Mount Zion Church and Vanlue Christ Church who built a new wheelchair ramp with handrails for a Findlay home. For Knox, being involved isn’t optional.
“It’s just what the church is supposed to do, period,” he said. “In our prayer this morning, we said we can give money and we can give things and that’s easy. But when we give us, that’s getting involved. I love to get young people involved. I see Richard (the homeowner) and his family, and I bet he’d give anything he has to be down here doing it himself.”
The Backyard Mission Trip is a product of the Findlay Ministerial Association and therefore has substantial church participation.
“We’ve had 29 churches come on board and embrace it this year,” Fry said. “Every year keeps getting bigger and bigger. Last year we had 1,100 volunteers and we worked on 166 (projects). This year we have 1,300 volunteers and we’re working on 214 projects.”
But churches weren’t the only groups participating. Twelve University of Findlay football players, accompanied by head coach Rob Keys, also came out to work. The first project that team did was lift a shed onto cinder blocks so stone could be shoveled under the shed to level it.
When asked why he brought his players out to help, Keys was quick to say they had volunteered.
“I don’t bring them out, they choose,” he said. “I basically open it up to the team and say, ‘Hey, do you guys want to help the community?’ It’s a strictly volunteer basis. This is our fourth year and some of these guys are doing it for their fourth consecutive year.”
Keys said last year, the project the team was working on didn’t get completed in one day, so junior defensive back Harold Jones-Quartey returned to the job site the day after to continue working.
“It’s funny, somebody saw one of our players walking into the Cube today and said, ‘What are you doing here?’ and (the player) said, ‘I’m here to help my community,'” Keys said. “I don’t tell them to, they don’t have to do this. It’s great to give back.”
Keys’ thoughts were echoed by Morgan Greeno of Findlay, who was working on cleaning up debris around a house and garage as part of a city Neighborhood Enhancement and Abatement Team project.
“I believe it’s important to give back to the community if you can,” Greeno said. “There’s people who need help that can’t financially do it or can’t physically do it. I think it’s important for everyone to get involved in their community and give back if they can.”
Greeno’s partner at the project site, Ken Cobb of Findlay, agreed.
“It’s kind of nice to help when you can,” he said.
Greeno and Cobb were looking forward to meeting the homeowners later in the day to discuss what the plans are for the property, now that the debris is cleared.
At the end of the day, volunteers returned to the Cube for a meal.
“There’ll be a time of fellowship,” Fry said, involving both volunteers and homeowners who were helped.
The Backyard Mission Trip ended Saturday, but more community cleanup efforts are ahead.
The United Way of Hancock County will holds its 20th annual “Days of Caring” today through Friday.
Teams of volunteers from local companies and organizations will complete projects for nonprofit agencies in Hancock County that submitted a project request to the United Way.
Last year, 757 volunteers participated.
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