Special to The Hays Daily News

DOWNS -- Lakeside High School in Downs will be the home site to 75 youth and adult sponsors from July 21 to 28. Heartland SERVE will host its seventh experience in the area with groups traveling from Iowa, Michigan and Ontario, Canada. Heartland SERVE is just one of several short-term mission projects hosted by churches and communities throughout the United States and Canada. SERVE is an opportunity to motivate youth each summer to impact communities in a positive way through Youth Unlimited, a youth ministry organization headquartered in Grand Rapids, Mich.

In the past six experiences, SERVE has hosted 409 youth and adults, worked on approximately 80 projects and performed more than 15,000 volunteer hours. Host team members have selected 12 sites in the Downs, Osborne, Cawker City and Glen Elder communities to work on projects such as roofing, painting, landscaping and tree-trimming. New this year, several SERVE participants will travel to Beloit to help with projects at Heart Choices Heartbeat Pregnancy Center.

During the work week, volunteers will begin their day at 6:15 a.m. with breakfast and personal devotions. Groups of six youth and a leader will head to the worksite, working from approximately 7:45 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. An hour or two is available for free time for any activity they wish, including a trip to the Downs city swimming pool. One day, volunteers will be treated to an afternoon at Wilson Lake.

Joe Skillen, a youth pastor from Wichita, will lead praise and worship each evening following supper. He will be joined by Chris Derstein and Friends, a Christian band, also from Wichita.

A community service will be at 7:30 p.m. July 22 at Lighthouse Community Church. Everyone is welcome to join in as Skillen and the band lead the worship service.

In the past, each participant has had their own prayer partner who provided daily encouragement notes, small gifts and prayers. This year, the prayer committee is providing various churches with lists of participants to pray for throughout the week.

Host team coordinator of the 2012 SERVE project is Don Koops with the help of Jodi Koops. Jodi Koops has participated in SERVE for four years, traveling to St. Thomas, Ontario, and Platte, S.D., for SERVE experiences. She has been accepted to intern for Youth Unlimited in Grand Rapids, Mich., during the fall 2012 semester.

"While interning with Youth Unlimited in Grand Rapids, Mich., I will be working alongside the executive director and the missions program director," Jodi Koops said. "My goal while I'm there is to learn more about the nonprofit sector and how the business side works.  One of my main duties while interning will be to recruit new  churches  around the United States and Canada to host a SERVE project in their community to broaden the horizons of Youth Unlimited. I am really excited about this experience as I will be able to not only see what goes on behind the scenes but also contribute to the amazing experience that Youth Unlimited has created for these teens."

Youth Unlimited is a Christ-centered ministry that supports local churches in their youth ministry efforts across the United States and Canada. Their mission commits to assist youth ministry efforts in the local church to effectively reach middle school (sixth through eighth grade) and high school (ninth through 12th grade) youth with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The participants enrich the communities they work in through hands-on, people oriented service while discovering more about who God is. Their mission is "Youth Unlimited helps churches challenge youth to commit their lives to Jesus Christ and transform their world for Him."

There will be a host team meeting for Heartland SERVE at 7 p.m. Monday at Lakeside High School, Downs. Volunteers are needed to assist with some prep work immediately following the meeting. Anyone who is interested in assisting with the weeklong project from July 21 to 28 and hosted at LHS is invited to attend.

For more information or to volunteer for the local mission effort, contact Don Koops at (785) 346-2661.