BELLEVILLE - Whether it is helping an elderly neighbor with laundry or cleaning up a public park, missions opportunities often take little more than a step out the door.
This winter, students at Belleville Mennonite School have been learning to expand their vision of service to more than just long trips to impoverished areas and Third World countries.
Every month, the students hear representatives of local community agencies present new ideas for service through the Coalition of HOPES, the Mennonite Central Committee, Shelter Services, Crossroads Pregnancy Center and more.
Sometimes teenagers do not always see the way their community works through volunteers' time and efforts, student Sammy Kauffman said.
Statistics about local poverty that Coalition of HOPES representative Allison Fisher shared surprised the students.
Kauffman said he did not realize how often victims of abuse or the homeless need places like Shelter Services and HOPES.
Student Rebekah Byler said she became more aware that what she thought of as small donations and volunteer efforts really do make a difference.
On Monday, Kelly Esh, volunteer director from Valley View Retirement Community in Belleville, presented suggestions such as reading to their elderly residents, singing or playing music for them or simply engaging them in a conversation.
"A lot just like to spend one-on-one time ... especially with the younger generation," Esh said. "Come in and share your lives with them, share your stories with them and just connect."
Some residents need help being transported to appointments at the barber shop or beauty salon within the center, she said.
Youth groups and families also could help by participating in Sunday chapel services, she said.
Belleville Mennonite requires its students to perform and document so many hours of community service throughout the year, as part of its mission statement.
The school hosts two service days every year for the junior high and high school students. In the past they have volunteered to clean up at Victory Park, work with children at a day care and assist with spring cleaning for a cancer victim.
And teens should not view volunteering as a sacrifice, Byler said. She suggested that a group of friends get together and volunteer together.
"It really makes a difference in the lives of people," Kauffman said. "It's not necessarily what you do, but how their lives are affected by it."