AKRON, Ohio - During The Big Day of Serving in Akron, it was difficult to tell who was happier-- the residents who witnessed their parks and neighborhoods getting spruced up, or the kids who volunteered to do all of the work.
About 200 kids from Ohio and Pennsylvania converged on Akron and spent hours mulching, painting and making repairs.
Many of the students gathered at Akron BMX on Massillon Road, cleared away some old bleachers and mulched the area underneath.
Brandi Marsch, 12, of Pittsburgh, said it felt good to help. "It makes a difference in the world," Marsch said.
Quinton Henley, 13, of Pittsburgh, pointed to his heart and said, "Feels good in here."
The community service was also a big deal to Michaele Flickinger, who helps operate Akron BMX.
"All of these projects that are happening today are projects that we wanted to get done, sort of like a wish list, but (we) didn't have the man or people or woman power to get it all done," Flickinger said.
Other kids spent their Saturday painting a 15-year-old gazebo at Shadyside Park in Akron's Kenmore neighborhood.
Mason Church, 16, of Bucyrus, said he loves volunteering his time to help others.
"It's not about the money. It's about helping people. We went to Lima one time and helped rebuild a daycare center," Church said.
Dick Cardarelli, who lives in the neighborhood, stopped by to say thanks and gave donuts to the kids.
"Are you kidding me? What they're doing would take Kenmore Kiwanis, our group which is mostly elderly people... they couldn't do it," Cardarelli said.
William Stuart belongs to The Connection Church in Medina, which helped organize the Christian mission. He supervised the painting of the gazebo.
"It's a good feeling. I wish that we did more of this around the community, and a lot more people would join in because it's a good thing," Stuart said.
The city of Akron gave about $5,000 in paint and other supplies to the kids, while also providing tools such as shovels, rakes and wheelbarrows.
Billy Soule, assistant to the mayor for community relations, said the mission helps cities that are struggling with upkeep, and may also inspire residents to chip in.
"This way it saves our city money, but it also gives an impetus to others to say, 'Hey, I can step forward. I can make a difference,'" Soule said.
Jeremiah Isley, youth director at Victory Life Church in Stow, said the work done by the kids provides proof that their actions count.
"We're told all the time that kids are the leaders of the future, and in this instance, they're actually the leaders of today," Isley said.
Pastor Pete Ryder, from Church of the Nazarene in Medina, worked on a similar mission with 500 kids during a clean-up of the city of Medina this past spring.
"Building better neighborhoods is a key ingredient in building an entire community that makes a difference," Ryder said.
The teens gathered Saturday afternoon at Lock 3 to share stories and celebrate their work.
The Big Day of Serving was organized by a non-profit organization. It has hosted nearly 250,000 participants and provided more than 6 million hours of volunteer service since 1977.
"I am amazed at what well-organized youth groups can accomplish in such a short period of time," said Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic. "At the end of the day, our citizens will enjoy renewed pride in their parks and neighborhoods.
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