Young people in Burke collaborate for community service blitz - JASON KOON News Herald Correspondent
Around 140 teenagers and adult leaders across Burke County capped off the summer with a three-day mission and service blitz called Burke Changers.
Held Monday, Aug. 14, through Wednesday, Aug. 16, Burke Changers was sponsored by the Catawba River Baptist Association, a cooperative network of 68 Southern Baptist Churches in Burke County. Teenagers from nine CRBA churches completed 14 home access ramps and held three neighborhood block parties during the three-day campaign. They also enjoyed an evening of pizza and skating together and culminated the three-day campaign with a worship service on Wednesday evening.
The Rev. Eddy Bunton, minister of Student Ministries and Missions for Burkemont Baptist Church and worship coordinator for Burke Changers, said the event has evolved over the last three years, particularly in the planning and training phases.

“We learned to start planning earlier in the year,” Bunton said. “It has also grown from a couple of youth pastors with some vision to growing into a team that covers all kinds of logistical challenges.”

He said the planning process for this year’s event began eight months ago when the leadership team met for the first time. From there, leaders began engaging other teams to take the lead in various areas of the project, including food, block parties, material delivery, site preparation and crew leadership.
“Instead of just a few people, it has embraced many people to the point that one of our crew chiefs comes from Florida,” Bunton said. “He served with World Changers when they were here and built relationships with us, so he and his wife changed their schedule to come be a part of this.”

This year, Bunton said it took around 60 to 70 people from more than 15 churches working behind the scenes to bring Burke Changers to life. This collaborative spirit is also being passed down to many of the student participants.
“This year, I was able to write the group devotions, and then students on the crews lead the devotions during lunch,” Bunton said. “It’s been great because the students get a chance to practice leading.”

In another change this year, the association leaned more heavily on Foothills Service Project, a Burke County faith-based non-profit that builds more than 200 free access ramps annually, to coordinate the work.
The Rev. Greg Klapp, minister of Children and Families for Burkemont Baptist Church and co-director of Burke Changers, said Foothills Service Project has been involved since the beginning. This year, however, the organization coordinated all 14 Burke Changers service projects. Klapp hopes the three-day blitz will be the genesis of lasting partnerships between local churches and Foothills.

“By doing this, it’s introducing a lot of youth ministries to Foothills,” he said. “We’re hoping this opens up people’s eyes to see ‘we can make a difference, and we don’t have to wait for a big event to take place. We can partner with the people doing this all the time.’”

As for the mission behind the event, Klapp said it remains as focused as ever — to share Jesus by loving and serving the community. He said it’s important for young people to be part of something impacting the community like Burke Changers.

“Students don’t just want to show up to show up,” he said. “They want to have an impact. They want to make a difference, and this is the perfect opportunity for them.”

Many participating group members said they appreciate the opportunity Burke Changers has given them to make an impact.
“I love that we’re able to build connections with these people who can’t always get out of the house,” said Jessica Henson, an El Bethel Baptist Church youth group member. “I’m glad I did this. It’s been cool watching and building connections with Miss Ophelia.”
Ophelia Cantrell and others on the receiving end of the work are also hearing this message loud and clear. Cantrell said she was overwhelmed with gratitude for “her angels” who built her new ramp.

“God’s doing a work for me, all around me,” said Cantrell. “I knew when I seen them, I said, ‘those are some good people,’ and God sent them to me … God is so good to me.”
She said the new ramp will make a huge difference for her.

“I’ve had so many problems with my health,” Cantrell said. “I have been limping and limping up and down these steps … I prayed, and I prayed, and now I see the effects of God’s prayers.”
Henson said she feels like getting to know Ophelia has been more of a blessing than anything she could have done in return.
“Yesterday, we were about to leave, and we prayed,” she said. “I grabbed Miss Ophelia’s hand, and it was a moment where we could feel God, and we could just share our belief in God.”