Release Date: 12/21/2011
Each summer, members of the university's Alpha & Omega organization travel to an impoverished community in another country, to spend a week volunteering in a place where help is badly needed. But as the group's recent mini-mission trip demonstrated, one doesn't have to travel far, or even stay very long, to make a big impact in the lives of others.
As the name implies, an A&O mini-mission has the same ultimate goal as the group's summer mission trips - to spread the love of Christ while doing good works in his name. However, the mini-mission trips are much shorter in duration, lasting only one or two days.
The idea for the December trip began six years ago, when AnnaJo Terrill, a 2007 Ozarks grad, told A&O about a need at The Urban Mission, a food bank in Oklahoma City. Through her aunt, who is executive director of the mission, Terrill knew about the mission's annual "Santa Store" event, which provides toys, food, and clothing to children in need. Terrill suggested that members of A&O might volunteer to help out at this event. The members were excited to help out, and the group has made the annual trip every year since.
As soon as classes ended on the last Friday of this semester, A&O members Andrea Avalos, Kayla Casey, Eugene Downs, Kaitlyn Mendenhall, Paul Morgan, Tyra Omeir, and Micah Scroggins loaded up into a van with Dr. Rickey Casey, A&O sponsor, for the four-hour drive to Oklahoma City.
Early the next morning, the A&O van pulled up to the large warehouse which is home to The Urban Mission. Although the doors weren't set to open until 9 a.m., Casey said there was already a long line outside. The eight A&O volunteers joined the more than 100 local volunteers to help get the event underway. Some helped check paperwork and distribute name tags, while others help direct the children and their families through the different stops in the store. "A large majority of the kids were Hispanic," Casey said, "so our kids also helped with the translation."
While the parents shopped for toys, the children had their own GingerBread Mall where they were able to select gifts for parents and grandparents. Casey said he had the honor of playing Santa. "When we got there, AnnaJo's aunt said 'We don't have a Santa Claus. Would you be Santa Claus?'" Casey said. "I've never have been Santa Claus, but told her 'I guess I can.' Just to watch the little kids smiling when they would come up was pretty neat." Morgan helped take a photo of each child with Santa, and then printed a copy of the photo for the child to take.
More than 2000 children applied for the "Santa Store" event this year, and the 500 available slots were filled within only a few hours. "It's a huge, huge production to make this happen," Casey said. He added that seeing the enormity of the need brought a new realization to him this year. "It hit me when we were over there, that's what we need to do in Clarksville," he said. "So I threw out the idea to Paul, Eugene, Kayla and Kaitlyn 'Why don't we, next Christmas, do a mini-mission at the housing authority here?' We'll have food and a toy for each kid. That's something we could pattern after the Oklahoma City event. We'll still go to Oklahoma City, but it would be something we could do locally."
The last child finally made it through the store around 4 p.m. that afternoon. Thanks to The Urban Mission, and all the volunteers, Christmas will be just a little brighter for these children and their families. As event organizers locked up the mission for the night, the A&O volunteers returned to their van for the trip home. The weary, but happy, group pulled back into Clarksville around 10 p.m. on Saturday night. Final exams were set to start in less than 36 hours. "It was rough," Casey said, "because you go just before finals, but I think all the kids would tell you it is worth it."
Members of Alpha & Omega pose with "Santa" (Dr. Rickey Casey) during their mini-mission trip to The Urban Mission, in Oklahoma City.