Service over Self: Mississippi teens changing lives

Published 8:17 pm Sunday, June 25, 2023

The home of Talisa Morris on First East Street in Vicksburg was alive with activity Thursday morning as youth and adults working with Service Over Self surrounded the house making improvements and handling some needed repairs.

Now in its 31st year, Service Over Self, Crawford Street United Methodist Church’s annual outreach community service ministry, 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 with between 60 to 100 teenagers, many of whom are members of local churches, participating.

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“I love them,” Morris said as she watched the teens work. “They’re doing an awesome job. I’m going hate to see them go; they are friendly, very friendly, and they’ve got good hospitality.”

Morris said this was the first time her house has been visited by Service Over Self.

“They didn’t give up on me,” she said. “I told them a couple of times they didn’t have to do this (pointing to an improved interior room); they ain’t stopped ’til they got me to say, ‘OK.’ They are very helpful, they say, ‘Yes, thank you, ma’am.’ I appreciate it.”

Most of the teens working at Morrison’s house were SOS veterans.

Mallory Ann Williams, a member of Starkville First United Methodist Church, has volunteered with SOS for four years.

“It’s now my favorite trip,” Williams said. “l love the people and it’s very rewarding, even though it’s hard work.”

Jase Jung of Vicksburg, Williams’ partner on a project replacing siding, is in his third year.

“I like being with my friends and the ability to help others,” Jung said.

A.K. Davis and Ryan Davidson, both from Vicksburg, are in their second and third years, respectively, with SOS.

“I liked helping people who needed it and it’s fun,” Davis said.

Davidson said his mother likes for him to participate, adding, “I think it’s fun.”

Allie Wong and Annslee Averett are also from Vicksburg and both have worked with SOS for two years.

“I love it and I love helping people,” Wong said.

Averett called SOS exciting.

“I like the idea of helping people and the fun activities,” she said.

The crew had at least one rookie, Steven Ham, a parent who was with the teens from First United Methodist in Starkville. He said two of his children were working at another site.

“Our youth director needed some additional adult chaperones and I volunteered,” he said. “I get to miss a week of work so that’s not a bad thing, plus I enjoy helping people that are less fortunate.”

And he developed an opinion about being involved with Service over Self.

“After the second day, I told my youth leader I wanted to go ahead and sign up for next year,” Ham said. “Does that tell you anything?”