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Expressing Gratitude through Service
Posted 08/16/2016 04:57PM

Mountain T.O.P. (Tennessee Outreach Project) is a voluntary summer service opportunity for anyone with a warm heart and enthusiasm. Affiliated with the United Methodist Church in Tennessee, Mountain T.O.P. has been around for 41 years. Mountain T.O.P. brings people together from all over the United States for service opportunities. The staff is comprised of college students from different states who come to Tennessee to help organize the daily course of the camp as well as other duties. Among the summer service weeks of the Mountain T.O.P. program, Neighbors Helping Neighbors is a special week that welcomes smaller churches and organizations.

This year, twenty students from St. Andrew's-Sewanee School (SAS), accompanied by physics teacher Luke Diamond, school nurse Cheryl Lankhaar, and SAS parent Robin Mainzer, participated in Neighbors Helping Neighbors, July 5 - July 9. There were 20 SAS students including middle school and 3 adults from SAS. Abby Mainzer, a 2016 graduate of SAS, was on staff at Mountain T.O.P. We were divided into groups of six or seven according to our experience doing construction work. Each day, the groups went out into the community to help the families with construction or yard work. Throughout each day, we had multiple opportunities to consider our relationship with God.

The first day of work, my group went to a house where the lady asked us to do some yard work instead of painting because the weather was not promising a dry day. The yard work was not as fun as painting, but we finished our job with patience and enthusiasm. We were quite focused on the tasks rather than opening conversations with the lady and her family. Maybe it was because the six of us in the group had not yet spent enough time together. We spent the afternoon exploring the community and bonding: we went to a pottery studio, a shaved ice shop, and Walmart.

The next day, we climbed ladders, swung hammers, and fought hornets and wasps to take off the outside wooden boards on a wall. The owner of the house joined us during lunch for a short conversation. He told us about his life, especially about the time he served in the Navy. Time had carved this man with experience. He was a man with stories to tell.

The last day, we built stairs for another family. We encountered various problems throughout the process: miscommunication, a tough situation with our materials, and the injury of one of our teammates. We experienced excitement and frustration, laughter and frowns, a tedious process and the moment of success. That was probably the most exhausting day, but it was also the most satisfying day of the week. When we hammered in the last nail everybody smiled.

Every night during free time we played card games, volleyball, and basketball We tie dyed our Mountain T.O.P. shirts. It was also a time for reflection. It was so calm that we could hear the sound of nature.

Morton Memorial Church, which is located in Monteagle, started participating in the Neighbors Helping Neighbors week four years ago. Mr. Diamond, the husband of Morton Memorial's pastor, Amanda, connected Mountain T.O.P. with SAS.

I had heard about Mountain T.O.P. two year ago through the monthly food drive at Morton Memorial. Last October, I participated in the Fall Festival at Mountain T.O.P., cooking hot dogs for the people from the communities. That was when I started to realize how important it is to help our neighbors, even when the tasks seem small or trivial. I decided I should do more community service. The experience was meaning. I met wonderful people. I learned that community service is a way to express my gratefulness for both the environment and society. Mother Earth gave me the perfect environment to grow up in, and the people around me taught me to be a better person with a thankful heart. It is so important to pay back those who nurture me, whether it is a friend who cheers me up or a stranger who shares his or her story.


Winnie Fang '18 is a boarding student from Shanghai, China. In addition to being an outstanding student and enjoying participating in community service activities, she is a member of the school's varsity cross country, basketball, and tennis teams.

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