“I believe it’s imperative for young people see their parents and other adults volunteering and helping out in the community when needs are noticed,” says Lawrence resident Rex Russell, who accompanied a Plymouth Congregational Church youth group on a recent mission trip to New Orleans.
“It’s our job to be great examples of service if we want our kids to grow up to be great people,” he says.
Russell experienced the importance of community first-hand growing up in Newton in the ’70s.
“The City Park was next to my backyard, and about 40 neighborhood kids gathered every day for touch football, baseball and other games,” he says. “We rode our bikes everywhere, and there was a great community spirit and we all helped and supported each other.”
Throughout his teens, Russell was involved in his church youth group. Serving others became a natural component of his life.
He met his wife, Barbara (a research analyst at Kansas University), at Bethel College. They moved to Lawrence in 1991 when she enrolled in graduate school. Russell became a full-time dad and did various jobs, including contract painting.
“Lawrence is the perfect place for our family,” he says. “It’s a cross between a large and small town. It has great arts and a great school system for my two kids, and people are very community-minded.”
From 2003 Russell worked full-time at Sauer-Danfoss engineering test lab until the facility closed in 2010, and during the same period volunteered as team manager, assistant coach and coach for his son’s soccer teams, the Coyotes and Dragons. He continues to volunteer where he can while he looks for full-time work.
“Our church believes we all have gifts to use and we’re encouraged to use them to serve others and build community,” he says.
Russell’s painted one of the church youth rooms, and when a scheduled chaperone withdrew from the mission trip, he stepped up.
“The youth at our church are involved in many local service projects throughout the year and do a weeklong mission trip further afield every summer,” he says. “This year we took a group of 13- to 18-years-olds to New Orleans to participate in the St. Bernard Parish Project, a nonprofit community-based organization set up to help Hurricane Katrina survivors to return to their homes and communities.”
Working with AmeriCorps members and volunteers from Texas, Georgia and South Carolina, the older members of the Plymouth group gutted three houses to stud level to remove masses of mold in preparation for re-building, and the younger group members repainted a house and planted trees.
“It was very hot and humid, and dirty, hard work for the youth,” Russell says. “We all wore dust particle respirators and gloves. The kids did work that would have exhausted grown men. They signed up to do something great for people they didn’t even know. They’re a great group of kids, and I was extremely proud of them. I think they learned a lot from the experience. I know I did. I feel privileged to have been part of it all.”