Helping the homeless led a group of students from hundreds of miles away get to know our hardworking local students.

 A group of teenagers from Florida and students at the Hope Public Schools Creative Action Team School have connected over paintbrushes and hammers this summer.

Fifteen teens from First United Methodist Church in Okeechobee, Fla., and five local students from CATS and Hope Academy of Public Service worked at the CATS campus and the Hope In Action Homeless Shelter through the week of July 8-12 painting classrooms and doing minor repairs.

CATS Principal Mike Radebaugh, a former member of Okeechobee FUMC, put the project together.
“This was my church in Florida; and I had children in the youth group,” Radebaugh said. “Pastor Jim Dawson and I got to talking on the phone and started working on this in October.”

Rev. Dawson said the Florida church congregation sends a youth group out each summer to learn service related to their faith.

“We came here Sunday, and usually leave on Friday, depending on what needs to be done,” he said. “We go all over doing this.”

The “Absolute Truth” program has taken OFUMC youth nationally to Arkansas, Missouri, Ohio, North Carolina, South Carolina, George, Mississippi, and Texas; and, internationally to London, England, and Mexico during the 20 years it has been conducted by the church congregation.
“We did Katrina recovery work in Mississippi,” Dawson said.

Dawson said the program builds understanding in the students who participate. “The purpose is to integrate adults and youth in doing the work of Christ by helping and giving,” he said.

Radebaugh said he wanted to involve CATS students in a summer service opportunity that would not only benefit the CATS campus but also the entire community.

“I came up with the Hope In Action program, and anything I can also do to help the CATS program grow, I try to do,” he said.

Radebaugh said there are also plans for CATS students to provide volunteer work to rehabilitate porches at some Hope Public Schools students’ homes this summer.

CATS students Maynor Castellon, Naqaazia Hunter, Parsia Gulley, Maryanna Perez, and HAPS student Ladasha Thirdgill have been involved in the painting project on campus.

Those students have worked with OFUMC students Allison Meara, Briana Hight, Annarose Hill, Kendall Harrison, Cera Elliott, Michael Achy, Madison Townsend, Dallas Miller, Morgan Townsend, Ayden Wyatt, Anthony Metcalf, Ramon Liberato, Kelsey Schoonmaker, Dalton Callahan, Rev. Dawson and chaperone Lonnie Kirsch.

One team of students has worked at the CATS campus and another at the HIA center on Highway 67 West, where Helen Byers is director of the HIA Homeless Shelter.

“We thought it was a great idea,” Byers said. “They have done a great job; and we have enjoyed their being here, and they have been great to work.”

Kendall Harrison is a senior at Okeechoobee High School who is in her fifth year with the church program.

“I feel it’s really a good way to be immersed in our faith,” Harrison said.

Her family has a long connection with OFUMC, and she appreciates the opportunity to gain public service credit at school and build scholarship opportunities.

“My sister, who is eight years older than me, has been in it with my mom,” Harrison said.

Radebaugh said the projects have been supported by grants obtained through City of Hope Parks Director Paul Henley for work at HIA and the Hope Public Schools Facilities and Transportation Department Director Maurice Henry for work at CATS.

Word of the summer project has spread after HPSD Superintendent Dr. Bobby Hart provided the Monday evening meal for all of the students at Sheba’s Family Restaurant, and the Brotherhood of Fulton, along with the Hope Kiwanis Club, stepped in to provide the Tuesday night meal at Tailgater’s Burger Co.

The Hope First United Methodist Church youth provided the Wednesday evening meal, and the FUMC women furnished the Thursday night meal. Daily lunches have been provided for all of the students through the HPSD Fuel Up summer meals program.

Eighth Judicial District Judge Randy Wright and State Representative Danny Watson have also lent personal support to the project, Radebaugh said.

Radebaugh also thanked CATS/HHS 2019 graduate Alex Hutson for acting as cookout grillmaster for the Florida students when they arrived July 7, and Hempstead County Probation Officer Leonita Muldrew for personal support, as well as Blevins painting contractor Barry Dolhaver for his work and support from his wife, Loretta, who teaches at CATS.

“It has been a community effort,” Radebaugh said.

Photo above: Students in the Absolute Truth youth program of the First United Methodist Church of Okeechobee, Fla., teamed with students from the Hope Creative Action Team School to do some classroom painting at CATS and work for Hope In Action here July 8-11. The Florida team, with sponsors Rev. James Dawson and Lonnie Kirsch, said goodbye to CATS Principal Mike Radebaugh at a supper sponsored by the Hope First United Methodist Church women Thursday night.