Local youths reach out to help

By Johnny Jackson and Jeffery Whitfield

Kevin Richardson speaks quietly as he presses his palms together between his knees.

“I want to get there early,” the 15-year-old said. “I like helping people. I had cancer and people helped me get through it.”

The Hampton resident said he wants to help others – and he may serve many today.

Richardson, diagnosed with cancer more than a year ago, has used the experience to reinforce a desire to help others.

He has undergone chemotherapy and radiation treatment to cope with rhadomyoscarma, a form of cancer that affected his inner sinus muscle. Richardson has not been afflicted by cancer for nine months and his health has improved. And with that, he is becoming more active.

He will travel to Atlanta today to volunteer with Hosea Feed the Hungry & Homeless, which is hosting its annual Thanksgiving Dinner at Turner Field. It will mark Richardson's first time volunteering, though as a member of the Lake Spivey Ga. Chapter of Jack and Jill of America Inc., he has aided others before.

The Clayton County chapter, which has more than 60 members, is made up of adults and children ages 2 to 19. The national organization was founded in 1938. It is a non-profit group that focuses on improving the quality of lives of children.

The Clayton County chapter performs several volunteer functions every holiday season such as distributing gift baskets, conducting caroling for senior citizens and raising money for the House of Dawn, a Jonesboro-based organization which aids teenage women and their children.

Members also volunteers at the annual Thanksgiving Dinner.

Teresa Ayala, a chapter member who is volunteering along with her 15-year-old daughter Jemiella, expects to serve more this year because of evacuees from Hurricane Katrina who now live in Atlanta.

“We'll go in the early morning at 7 a.m.,” the Jonesboro resident said. “We'll help set up or work in the serving line.”

She anticipates working in a two-hour shift at the event.

Ayala and her daughter said they enjoy volunteering because the effort allows them to aid others.

“You're constantly active. There's no time to sit around. You are either in the background or on the front line,” she said.

Ayala has volunteered at the Thanksgiving Dinner for the last two years.

Founded in 1971, Hosea Feed the Hungry & Homeless holds four annual holiday dinner events. They are held on Thanksgiving, Christmas, Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Easter Sunday. The organization also offers home deliveries to sick and elderly residents, church services, counseling and job referrals.

“We expect to serve no less than 15,000,” at the four dinners, said Shealeta Murden, an executive assistant at Hosea Feed the Hungry & Homeless.

The feeding program was the idea of Civil Rights leader Hosea Williams, the son of blind African American parents who was born in Attapulgus, Ga. on Jan. 5, 1926 and died in 2000. The project continued after his death as a tribute to his dedication to the less needy.

Residents have also aided others in Henry County for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Luther Allison took time off from work to help his 12-year-old son Ben collect and organize food products at the “Helping in His Name Ministries” food pantry in McDonough.

“My son is involved in scouts, and I do as much as I can to support him,” Allison said. “I feel like, him being a scout, it gets him involved in doing good things; it helps get him out into the community to see the needs.”

On Monday, Ben spent four hours working at the food pantry. He and friends Hunter Christian, 12, and Kelly Christian, 7, packed and stored away canned goods at the pantry.

Ben and Hunter are Boy Scouts from Troop 162 while Kelly is a Cub Scout from PAC 162, both chartered by Mt. Carmel Methodist Church in Hampton. For the past couple of weeks, the boys have been much needed help to Lori Miller, executive director of the food pantry. She said the pantry relies on young volunteer groups, community donations, and school food drives, especially around the holidays.

“The boys are working on their citizenship merit badge,” said Terri Christian, the mother of Hunter and Kelly. “They say it makes them feel good. I think it makes them realize how blessed they are.”

The boys and their parents sorted about four pallets of food products given by several local schools.

“It makes me realize how many people are in need, and it also makes me realize how many companies donate,” Hunter said.

Ben agreed. He said he didn't know there were so many people in need of food or as many people willing to help.

“We're just helping as much as we can,” Ben said. “I brought some cans today, and I hope to come back.”

Elementary students Emily Brown, D. J. Curl, and Rebekah Strawn of Bible Baptist Christian School collected money to provide meals for four needy families during the Thanksgiving season. Their act of giving has become increasingly popular in churches and schools throughout Henry County.

Throughout this holiday season, the Henry County 4-H Horse Club, a club for Henry County students ages 9 to 18, will spend time raising awareness about animals and donating time and money to the lesser celebrated in the animal kingdom.

Recently, the club made Christmas ornaments from paper mache and wood to decorate the log cabin Christmas tree at heritage park.

For Christmas, the club will donate horse products to the Georgia Equine Rescue League, said Allison Wilder, Henry County 4-H agent. About four students will ride horseback in the McDonough Christmas parade as others in the club participate on a float themed, 'Twas the Night Before Christmas, range-style. They will also volunteer at the county's animal shelter open house in December.

All of these kids' efforts were just a small sampling of kindnesses shown by students in Henry and Clayton counties this season to help those less fortunate.