Most people choose to spend their summer hanging out at the beach or in the relaxing comfort of an air-conditioned building, but 11 teenagers and adults from Young Neighbors in Action decided to spend a week of their summer improving the lives of the individuals we serve at ADEC through their volunteer service.

Young Neighbors in Action is a national, faith-based organization that connects high school students with organizations that serve underrepresented members of society.

The teens and chaperones who participated at ADEC came from around Lowell, Mich., which is east of Grand Rapids. They spent part of their week as Community Connectors inside our Day Services, where they played games, chatted, danced, sang and created art with the individuals ADEC serves. They were able to see the faces, learn the names, and create friendships with the folks they would help during the week with their hands-on service.

“Last year I did manual labor [for YNIA], which was just weeding all the time,” said Carissa Mitchell, a third-year volunteer from YNIA. “But I really like this more because we got to talk to a ton of people. It was a lot different, because I’ve never been in that situation before, but it was really nice, and I had fun.”

Connor Kelley, a first-year chaperone for YNIA and the youth minister at the church Carissa attends, agreed.

“It was really nice to spend time with them the first day and be able to interact with them, to play some cards and get to know them,” he said. “To get to know their struggles but also get to share their joys and their happiness.”

During the rest of the week, the team from YNIA volunteered their time by painting the exteriors and interiors of the properties ADEC purchased from another provider in Goshen earlier this year. Armed with brushes and several gallons of white paint, the YNIA team put fresh coats of paint on porches, a fence, a stairwell and a room for individuals at ADEC’s new Goshen properties.

At the end of each day, the teens met back up as a larger group — with teens from across the country — in South Bend to discuss their volunteer work and connect it back to their Christian faith. That’s where Teresa Arredondo, the program director of YNIA in South Bend, comes in. Teresa helped the teens link their service with their faith.

“We talk a lot in our sessions that the reality of being a disciple is that you have to serve,” she said. “And so, to say that we are a follower of Jesus, to say that we love other people and we love humanity means that we are giving back.”

The new coats of paint are more than just a fresh look, though, they highlight ADEC’s dedication to making life better for the individuals we serve as well our commitment to the community.

“A freshly painted porch may not seem like much, but it brightens the day of the people who live in that home,” said Donna Belusar, president and CEO of ADEC. “How wonderful it is that these young people have taken the time to provide that joy to the individuals we serve and to transform our community into a better place.”

Though it will be next summer before YNIA returns to ADEC, the impact each has had on one another will last a lifetime.

“If you have an opportunity to volunteer at ADEC I’d definitely do it,” Connor said. “It’s really great and it brings a lot of joy; there’s a lot of happiness at ADEC.”