Hearts & Hands may be over for this year, but a number of Oklahoma residents are continuing to receive needed repairs and upgrades to their homes.

As YouthWorks volunteers descend upon our community this summer, Pawhuska youth are volunteering for other northeast Oklahoma communities through a similar program called Youth Force.

Youth Force is sponsored by the United Methodist Oklahoma Conference. Held the second week in June, this active, hands-on experience is considered a premier mission event for teens. These youthful volunteers tackle any number of repairs during the four-day event. Last Sunday afternoon, seven members of Pawhuska’s ECY (Ecumenical Christian Youth) headed to Owasso to join twelve other youth groups for the Owasso Youth Force. Joining the mission were Maddie Pitts, Haley Moser Surrett, Victoria Jech, Anna Schroeder, Chris Moody, Tyler Moody and Kyle Sisco. They were accompanied by Pastor Kathy Morris of the First United Methodist Church.

Thirteen "God Squads" formed the Owasso Youth Force which included 110 youth and 40 adults. Pastor Kathy was assigned to a group separate from her Pawhuska charges.

"Theme for the week-long project was ‘Beautiful Things’ by musician Michael Gungor," said Pastor Kathy. "It was a beautifully moving experience hearing the youth sing this song."

Different ministers offered devotion and communion each morning between 7:30-7:45 a.m. Strictly optional, numbers grew from a low of 20 at the beginning of the week to 75 by Wednesday.

"Once the youth understood the significance and importance of this sacrament, they really paid attention and encouraged their groups to come," said Pastor Kathy. "I offered the devotion and communion on Wednesday which was really special."

Tech Angels were provided to each God Squad. These were experienced Youth Force volunteers who offered advice on a variety of projects, such as tile or linoleum removal, minor repairs, yard work, etc. Official work began daily from 9 am to 3 pm, Monday through Thursday. Once a mission project was completed, the God Squad would move over to help other Squads complete their tasks. Members of the Owasso Methodist Church provided ‘shower homes’ so the volunteers could clean up after their daily labors. Former Pawhuskans, Rev. Richard and Carol Ann Whetsell, provided the shower home for Pastor Kathy’s God Squad. Owasso High School Principal Matt Roberts (also a former Pawhuskan) opened up OHS’s new show facility for two other God Squads. During the four-day event, the Owasso Methodist Church temporarily transformed their Sunday School classrooms into makeshift sleeping quarters.

According to Pastor Morris, Youth Force encompasses a diverse work environment. In one particular instance, the God Squad was trying to reclaim a yard. As they started cutting the thick undergrowth, they discovered two motorcycles and the bed of a pickup truck. Two years ago, a homeowner asked them to cut undergrowth from his back yard so he could get a truck out. They were surprised to discover the remains of a house buried under the thick brush.

Nightly activities included a visit to the Air & Space Museum on Monday night. Tuesday night was bowling. Wednesday night the homeowners joined the Youth Force participants for dinner. "The menu was Chicken Alfredo," said Pastor Morris. "This was a special treat as the chef actually works for the Olive Garden. We had the real stuff – not from a can. After dinner, we had our choice of three different movies. With so much activity going on, I couldn’t tell you the names of any of them."

The final night was filled with a celebration and a variety of water and yard games.

This is the second year for the Owasso Youth Force and the 21st year for Oklahoma Youth Force. Five additional Oklahoma cities will host Youth Force volunteers this summer. Last year, Pawhuska youth helped in Guymon. As the Pawhuska youth headed home, they were talking about early registration for next year.

"I was so pleased at how much these young people loved worship," said Pastor Morris. "In their excitement, they would stand up during the entire service which typically ran 1.5 to 2 hours a night."

Cost for each student to volunteer for Youth Force is $180. Pawhuska’s youth covered their expenses through a series of fundraisers.

During the school year, ECY meets each Wednesday at 6 pm. All youth are welcome to participate in the program. Currently, the ECY is comprised of Catholic, Presbyterian, Christian, Assembly of God and Methodist churches.

"ECY is a great way to meet and encourage Christian friendships throughout the community," said Pastor Morris. "They are like a family. The kids have each other’s back at school which is so important. It has really worked. It was a very good experience."