August 14, 2013 - Normally, when church groups engage in mission work, it's performed in impoverished nations in Africa, South America or Asia.
Taking a break to horse around a little are Oxford Free Methodist Youth Group members (from left) Ethan Matteson, Joel Alexander and Darren Cherniausky. Photo submitted. (click for larger version)
But the Oxford Free Methodist youth group proved you don't have to travel around the world to find someone in need.
There are plenty of folks to help right here in the United States of America.
Eleven members of the youth group, ranging from ages 11 to 17, spent some of their summer vacation helping improve a senior citizen's quality of life in the tiny town of Copperhill, Tennessee.
"Copperhill's an area that's been hard hit by a loss of industry and jobs," explained Youth Leader Jeff Cherniausky.
For years, the town relied on its copper mine and sulfuric acid plant to fuel the local economy. Today, they're both closed and the town has a population of roughly 350 people.
"They pretty much rely on tourism, which, since nobody I know has ever been to Copperhill, Tennessee, is pretty lacking as well," Cherniausky said.
The only thing the area's known for these days is whitewater rafting on the Ocoee River.
These 11 Oxford youth couldn't help turn the whole town around, but they were able to make a difference in the life of an elderly woman by fixing up her home.
In the span of just four days, they built her a wheelchair ramp, painted the entire exterior of her house, stained her deck, did miscellaneous yard work and put a new ceiling up in one of her bedrooms.
"For the most part, everybody pitched in," Cherniausky said. "Anything they were asked or told to do, they did."
"I actually saw them interacting with the homeowner quite a bit," he added. "To me, that was great because she enjoyed the kids as well."
Youth who participated in the mission included Rachel Alexander, Hannah Alexander, Joel Alexander, Hannah Farmer, Emma Farmer, Stephen Reynolds, Aaron Reynolds, Ethan Matteson, Alec Cherniausky, Darren Cherniausky and Olivia Zhang.
There's no way this woman could have done all that work on her own due to her age and physical condition and there's no way she could have paid someone else to do it.
"This woman lives on $742 per month," Cherniausky noted. "I don't know many people that can live on that much a week."
Cherniausky said the whole reason for the trip was "to touch (the kids') hearts and have them want to help others."
His favorite part of the trip was "getting to know the homeowner."
"She was a very sweet lady," Cherniausky said. "She appreciated the work that we did, but I think she appreciated the time that we spent with her more than anything. That was truly remarkable."
If Cherniausky has his way, this definitely won't be the youth group's last mission trip.
"Our hope is to do this yearly," he said.
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.