This week, more than 200 teen volunteers from three parishes in Nashville, Tennessee participated in several community service projects throughout Waveland, Bay St. Louis, and Long Beach.
The youths are participating in an observance of Servio Deo, which means, "Serving God," in Latin, group chaperone Misty Welsch said.
This is the ninth year the student volunteers –– ranging in age from 12-18 years-old –– raised money to travel to the Mississippi Gulf Coast to complete community service, Welsch said. They also boarded at St. Stanislaus dormitories.
Welsch said that the decision to come to the Bay-Waveland area was inspired by Lisa Vegors, who grew up in the area.
"After Hurricane Katrina, the mission felt called to do service here after the devastation," Welsch said.
This year, some of the volunteers teamed up with Keep Waveland Beautiful.
On Wednesday morning, several of the teenagers braved the rain to continue planting sod at the town green and beautifying the entrance to the Waveland Ground Zero Hurricane Museum.
Keep Waveland Beautiful co-chair Bernie Cullen said that more than 75 volunteers worked on beautification projects throughout the city.
"They worked Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the hot sun and rain to help," Cullen said. "The projects they completed for us are amazing!"
At the town green on Coleman Avenue, the volunteers painted the gazebo, laid sod, weeded all the gardens, and planted trees, flowers, and shrubs.
They also cleaned, weeded, pruned, planted, and mulched at the Ground Zero Museum and Gex and Bourgeois parks.
At city hall, volunteers cleaned the front and inside of the building.
They also picked up litter along the beach and planted crepe myrtle trees and ground cover on Auderer Boulevard.
Group members also installed a flower bed by the Clermont Harbor/Waveland sign on Beach Boulevard and pruned, weeded, and protected all the trees along Coleman Avenue.
"Everything looked beautiful and clean," Cullen said. "We could never have done this without them! Their work ethic, enthusiasm, and love of service is so obvious. They were a joy to work beside and we will never be able to express our gratitude. We can't wait to see them again next year. KWB also wants to thank our mayor, city clerk, aldermen, and every employee for supporting this crazy, busy week. We thank them for financing these projects and for all their support."
Cullen also thanked Lowe's and Hubbard's for their contribution of supplies and plants.
Volunteers also returned to the Hancock County Senior Center this year to provide assistance to seniors.
Senior Center Director Arlene Johnson said that they painted sheds and porches; installed floor tile; cleaned yards and removed debris; and washed the seniors' cars.
"They took the time to sit down with our seniors and made them feel special," Johnson said. "They all love Bay St. Louis."
Sean Schneider,12, said it was his first time attending the mission trip and he said he enjoyed working alongside his friends.
Jack Mills,13, said that "everyone is so grateful for what we do," and it's "awesome seeing smiles on their faces."
Nash Bostelman,14, said that he was "blessed to be able to come down and help those that are here."
Joshua Ladd,13, said this was his first time performing community service.
Since he wasn't born when Hurricane Katrina came ashore in 2005, Ladd said he first heard about it while watching The Weather Channel when he was about six years old.
"I was like, 'that's a really big storm,"' he said.
Grace Buettner,14, said she loves volunteering and connecting with God during the mission trip.
"There are programs in the morning and a band comes at night to sing," she said.
Riley Schneider,12, said it was her first time performing service work and it's been a "great experience."
Ashley Brubaker,11, said she wanted to help people.
"It's hard when you have your lives turned upside down," she said. "I want to help make it better."
Sydney Chapski,12, said she learned she is good at painting and also learned how to garden and plant grass.
"I like helping people," she said. "God gave us a gift and I have to share that. I also learned how grateful I am for everything I have."
Jordyn Sieders,13, said this was the first time she's been away from home.
"I felt like this would be a great opportunity for me," she said. "I've enjoyed the smiles I've put on people's faces."
Ainsley Howard,13, said this was her second time volunteering on the Gulf Coast.
"Everyone is nice, funny, and caring here," she said. "It's nice to have a community come together and smile. They got hurt by the hurricane and some lost family members. I want to make people smile and let them know people are there for them and that they didn't lose it all."