Operation Backyard making Huntington a brighter, cleaner city

Students from various local churches help build bunk beds at the Malta House in Huntington as part of Operation Backyard on Saturday, July 17.
Students from various local churches help build bunk beds at the Malta House in Huntington as part of Operation Backyard on Saturday, July 17. Photo by Matt Murphy.

After the past weekend, Huntington residents may have noticed brighter fire hydrants, cleaner streets and improved properties as the result of a three-day youth event sponsored by several area churches.

More than 200 area youths took to the streets of Huntington on Saturday, July 17, as part of Operation Backyard, a collaborative effort of a dozen local church youth groups putting teenagers to work painting, cleaning and serving with local charities.

"Our goal is to help kids see the need here," said Rev. Roger Vezeau, youth pastor for College Park United Brethren Church in Huntington.

This is the fourth year for the project, which has significantly grown in size, from around 100 to more than 200 teens, and in stature, encompassing at least 23 individual projects, since its inception.

The concept revolves around showing young men and women that they don't have to travel far from home to see a need in a community, and to show the teens what they can do in their own back yards.

Vezeau said the project originally stemmed from weekly meetings he attends with other youth pastors in the area, adding that Operation Backyard itself is significant in the fact that it crosses denominational lines - five to be exact - along with five non-denominational churches.

Huntington University housed the 200 participants in its dorms for the weekend. Teens arrived Friday night, July 16, for fellowship time and a message by Huntington native Chris Larr, who currently works with Iglesia del Barrio in inner-city Philadelphia. Saturday consisted of a work day from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., with another message in the evening. And Sunday featured the group collecting cans for Love INC, which has been short-handed on donations.

Projects ranged from home repair for the elderly to mowing vacant lots and painting fire hydrants for the City of Huntington.

"All through the weekend, we challenge our kids to think about their experience and the impact they can have on their local community," said Vezeau. "Our churches are very encouraged by" the project.

Vezeau said he would like to see Operation Backyard expand in the future to include all of Huntington County, and added that all 12 churches from Huntington worked together. to see the project through and no one person was resp-
sible for putting Operation Backyard together.

Linda Willard, a student at College Park United Brethren, said she has been able to see the fruit of her labor during her years in the project by the reaction of the people she served.

"We cleaned up a store, and just to see the man's face afterward was pretty exciting for me," she said.

Youth came from Huntington Baptist, The Awakening, Northridge Baptist in Fort Wayne, The Well, Iglesia del Barrio in Philadelphia, Life Community, New Hope, Union, St. Peter's First Community, Faith Community, Central Christian, First Church of the Nazarene and College Park UB churches.

Also benefitting from the work performed by the teens were Love INC, the Boys and Girls Club of Huntington County, the United Way, Habitat for Humanity, the Police Athletic League, the city of Huntington, the Forks of the Wabash, Homier Field, Malta House, the Huntington City-Township Public Library and numerous elderly and shut-ins.

Complete Caption:
Students from various local churches help build bunk beds at the Malta House in Huntington as part of Operation Backyard on Saturday, July 17. They include (from left) Cameron Buzzard, Kelsey Smart, project leader Tyler Welker, Alan Poon and David Yanes.