By Emily Younker
Globe Staff Writer
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Amid the weed trimmers, lawn mowers and leaf blowers tidying up two Joplin neighborhoods on Sunday morning was one small plastic blue rake.
Its operator, 3-year-old Katie Chew, was hard at work, pulling her weight against the adult volunteers working alongside her to clean fallen leaves out of a yard in north Joplin.
“She’s doing good,” said her mother, Shauna Chew, of Seneca. “She’s always a big help.”
The mother-daughter pair was among hundreds of Joplin-area residents participating Sunday in the Great Day of Service, an annual community-service event organized by College Heights Christian Church in which volunteers clean and beautify Joplin neighborhoods. This year, volunteers focused primarily on the neighborhoods around Junge Boulevard in west-central Joplin, and between First and E streets west of Main Street in north Joplin.
As Chew cleared piles of leaves with Katie, her two older children worked nearby to clean the sidewalks of leaves and debris.
“I want them to know that life isn’t all about money,” Chew said. “It’s about helping your neighbors and your fellow man. That’s the true meaning of life.”
As the number of leaf-filled trash bags around her grew, her 8-year-old older daughter, Robin, said she was having fun sweeping the sidewalk.
“I get to work with other people,” she said when asked what made her morning fun. “I know that some people actually like to help me. That’s good to know.”
Titus Neuenschwander, of Carl Junction, was one of the team leaders overseeing the 100 block of Wall Avenue, where more than a dozen volunteers were mowing, trimming yards, cutting tree limbs and doing light yardwork for residents. He said this was his fifth year to participate in the Great Day of Service.
“What I like about it is the entire community coming together to make a difference in the community of others,” he said. “I think it’s a powerful testimony to the spirit of Joplin, and what we can do together.”
Neuenschwander said he expects some feedback from residents to trickle in through the church, but the significant result of his team’s work was the result that would be visible later in the day.
“I think (what) I enjoy sometimes at the end of the day is to drive back through the neighborhoods, and you’ll see people and neighbors walking the streets, and I think that’s cool to be able to see (the results of) what took place during the day,” he said.
Northward on Wall Avenue was Annie Pickett, who was sweeping a section of sidewalk. Pickett, of Lincoln, Ill., said she was visiting friends in her first trip to Joplin and had planned to attend regular Sunday morning services with them at College Heights when they realized the church was putting on its day of service instead.
She said she had no hesitation in picking up a rake and a broom, and joining the other volunteers.
“As Christians, we’re all family,” she said. “The kingdom of God is not just a local thing.”
Travis Bolin, of Webb City, said the Great Day of Service is a different way of helping others in that it’s a step out of the ordinary.
“I’ve found out every year when we come out to the community (that) they don’t expect us to come out on a Sunday morning,” he said. “They expect us to be in church. It also gives us the opportunity to love on people in a unique way.”
Bolin brought his 7-year-old son, Grayson, with him and also was watching a friend’s 8-year-old girl. Although the children were as excited about dancing with their brooms and using a leaf blower as they were about completing the actual work, Bolin said he hoped the morning would benefit them.
“I want them to see that helping other people is what it’s all about, and this is a start here,” he said. “I want them to see the importance of this.”
Bolin said volunteers went door-to-door in the neighborhood, asking residents if there was any specific work they needed to have done. Some residents had work for them to do, and some declined their assistance, he said. But nearly all of them seemed to respond positively to the volunteer efforts, he said.
“No matter what they say, I notice they’re very excited and willing to talk and share their story,” he said. “I think meeting with them and talking with them is just as important as taking care of their lawn. Fellowship is important, too.”
The Great Day of Service began in 2002 and has grown to include more than 2,500 volunteers.