About 500 volunteers shattered Serve Jeff City's record number of participants willing to help clean, improve and beautify parts of the Capital City during Saturday's annual April event.
Serve Jeff City Committee member Sarah Schatsiek was thrilled by this year's turnout, which topped the 2016 event by roughly 100 people. After last year's service day was canceled due to rain, she said everyone was ready to make this year count.
"I think it's awesome," Schatsiek said. "Considering last year we had to cancel last minute because of the bad rain, the fact that people came out in droves this year after that happened is a huge testament to how people want to help this community as much as possible."
Serve Jefferson City began in 2012 as a partnership between the United Way of Central Missouri, Jefferson City Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department, and the Jefferson City Area YMCA. It has grown to include many more organizations, such as the Missouri Stream Team, church groups and a youth dance team. Service projects included planting trees, maintaining bike trails, painting hallways and removing litter from a creek, lake and highway.
Committee member Ken Hussey said the event was inspired by the desire to rally the community together to volunteer and tackle a bunch of projects throughout the community on one day. "A lot of people enjoy volunteering in Jefferson City and giving back," he said. "Sometimes, they may not be aware of where or how they can do that. This gives somebody an opportunity to sign up, pick a project and go give a morning of their time to make the community better."
Participants gathered for an 8 p.m. pancake breakfast at McClung Park before dispersing to their various project sites. Bethany Herd led a group of about 40 people from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to clear bush honeysuckle and underbrush from the park entrance on Chestnut Street.
"We are just looking to do service for our community today," she said.
Mariah Morrison led a Missouri Stream Team group of about 20 people to cleanup Wears Creek. She said the Stream Team collected about 17 bags of trash from .2 miles of the creek in January. She hoped to clean about a mile of the creek with her group Saturday.
"From what we did in January, (the creek) is looking a lot better," she said. "There's definitely not as much trash in this area, but given the high rain events, more stuff flushes in. It looks like the groups are moving pretty fast today, and I think they are making a big difference."
About 54 people planted 23 trees near the tennis courts at the corner of Lafayette and Dunklin to celebrate Arbor Day. Ameren donated $1,000 to purchase black gum, magnolia, red maple and dawn redwood, which were planted by city foresters and family members of Ameren-affiliated workers.
Daniel Hager, of Shade Tree Service Company, brought his wife and two daughters out to help plant trees. April Hager said they woke up at about 6:30 a.m. to drive from their home in Wellsville to participate in the event and have some family fun time away from electronics.
"We're excited, because this is our first time here," 9-year-old Matti Hager said. "(The best part) is probably getting your hands a little dirty."
Her 12-year-old sister, Kristi, added, "And probably watching Dad try to pick up the tree to put it in the ground," before they both broke into laughter.
The sisters said they look forward to planting trees again next year.
Members of the Infamous Royal Tigerettes Majorette Dance Team got their hands, clothes and sneakers a sort of dirty that's harder to wash off at the Salvation Army, painting two of the center's main hallways. Coach Tammeron Henderson painted with a brush in one hand and a paint tray in the other as she balanced on a step ladder, taking care of the top trim for the young women. Henderson said about 14 team members took part in the project so the 8- to 18-year-old dancers could learn the value of serving their community.
Three-year team member Jerica Austin, 14, loves the energetic and social aspects of being on the dance team. She said the painting experience has been new for her, but it was fun to take part in the community betterment project with her teammates.
Her mother, program director Mecca Austin, said they planned to put about 5 gallons of fresh paint on the walls as a labor of love and learning. "The coaches and I had a talk, and we decided we wanted the girls to experience giving back to the community in which we serve," she said. "We wanted them to see how it feels to work for something."