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Service Over Self returning to pre-COVID form

Service Over Self, an outreach ministry of Crawford Street United Methodist Church that began 28 years ago, is returning to its regular format.

“We’re doing it time-wise just like we did before,” said Bob Moss, one of the program’s coordinators. “We’re going to house kids at Crawford Street United Methodist Church when they check in on Sunday night. They’re going to work Monday through Friday.

“We’re going to start Monday bright and early,” he said.

Service Over Self is a program designed to use volunteers to help others have a better life by having a better, safer place to live. The program is held each summer and pairs teen volunteers who work with adults to upgrade homes in the Vicksburg area.

“Every year we begin on Father’s Day and that’s what we’re doing this year,” Moss said. “We always have a group from out of town that comes. We have about 20 kids coming from Starkville (First United Methodist Church) led by Mattie Jones who is from Vicksburg, originally. She went to Mississippi State and went to work for a church up there as a youth leader.”

Service Over Self began at Crawford Street in the 1990s after Moss and Randy Stroud took 20 teenagers to Memphis, Tenn., to participate in a similar program. Crawford Street has been the program sponsor since the program began, and initially, the program involved teens from the church. Teens from other churches joined the program as it expanded.

The program operated under the same format until 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

“We did SOS in 2020 but did it differently,” Moss said. “No one was housed and all the participants met on the job site. We did our best; we were a little bit too high into the COVID pandemic protocols last year. We tried our best to maintain social distancing and wear masks.”

And while the program is returning to its pre-COVID format this year, he said, volunteers will continue some of the COVID protocols but will also be required to either have a negative COVID-19 test or be vaccinated.

Moss said this year’s Service Over Self program will involve 45 students to allow coordinators to work with smaller groups to maintain COVID protocols and restrictions.

This year, he said, Service Over Self will work on nine homes.

“I think we’ll accomplish those nine,” he said. “We have some that are more than a fix-up. We’re not doing anyone a whole roof or anything like that but mostly lots of activities on each house.”

And most of the work will be done outside the homes to reduce the possible exposure to COVID-19.

When Service Over Self was formed, Moss said, “We probably never thought a lot about this longevity. It was something you thought needed to be done; you did it a year, maybe two, three, and it caught on well. I never really thought about doing it this many years.”

He believes the attraction of the program is that the student volunteers “realize that it’s something they’re doing for their community as well as enjoy doing it. Working together, doing things that maybe they don’t see their adults letting them do.

“We have them on construction sites and we lead them with good safety protocol. But they get to do things — we kind of stretch their expertise and that makes the kids enjoy it and then the adults, the volunteers are extremely fulfilled by seeing young people doing what they do, giving of themselves.”

As a program leader, Moss said, “I get to see everything. I get to see the homeowners receive the benefits of what we’re doing, get to see the adults and kids; see volunteers working at Crawford Street preparing meals. It’s a very enjoyable operation from my viewpoint.

“You’ve got to have a benevolent heart to see the appeal.”

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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