Pushing up her mask, the 7-year-old revealed a bright smile as she spoke about the crafts, songs and games which made up her afternoon with the participants of YouthWorks. "It's fun," she said with an emphatic nod, bringing the mask back over her face.
Pushing it back she added: "I like ping-pong."
Alicia is participating in Kids Club, just one portion of the YouthWorks program brought to New Madrid County to give a jumpstart to Community Operation Restart. YouthWorks participants are also providing the labor to renovate houses for the elderly and disabled in New Madrid as well as North Lilbourn, Howardville and Lilbourn.
The first week brought some 45 young people ranging in age from 12 to 19 to New Madrid along with 15 adults to take part in the mission program.
YouthWorks and Community Operations Restart are a good match, according to Maltbia, both are designed to serve. Community Operation Restart began earlier this year as a way to partner with the community, to provide opportunities for young people and to develop needed programs.
As for YouthWorks, according to Heather Jahnke, the site director for the organization, its goal is to provide life-changing, Christ-centered youth mission opportunities. "Youthworks concentrates on building relationships," she said, explaining while the groups change, YouthWorks will be part of the local community through Aug. 9. "The goal of the organization is to have a positive and relational presence in the community for the entire summer," she said.
Jahnke and the local YouthWorks staff coordinate the program and activities. Drawing participants from across the United States, the organization also crosses denominations bringing in participants from a variety of churches.
Each week a new group stays at the United Methodist Church in New Madrid, using the shower facilities at New Madrid County Central High School.
Amanda Hale arrived with her church youth group from Bettendorf, Iowa, for the inaugural week of YouthWorks in New Madrid. The 16-year-old had played games, made crafts and talked with youngsters about "God and Jesus.
"I think it is cool to tell other people about God and reach out to these kids," Hale said. "And it gives me a better appreciation of my life to know that throughout this summer these kids will be getting more excited about Jesus."
Equally excited to take part in the first week of YouthWorks, Randal Lee, 15, of Meridian, Miss., said he had expected to work in city or a larger town and was surprised to find New Madrid so small. But kids are the same everywhere, he noted, "they are all ready to be hugged."
Both agreed the experience is positive and they would encouraged others to come.
More will be coming. And while the experience can be an eye-opener for participants, "it helps them have a better idea of what goes on in the world and although we may all be different we are all united in Christ's love," Jahnke said. "We want our youth to experience the ability to serve someone else and to share Christ's love."
Maltbia said the community is overwhelmed by the outreach of the YouthWorks participants. "They are showing so much love and caring. People have stopped me to tell me how awesome it is."
Maltbia noted when YouthWorks first began their Kids Club there were 12 local youngsters signed up. In three days attendance had almost quadrupled, and now in its third week there are 80 taking part from the county.
There is lots for them to do. Following lunch, the Kids Club offers crafts, games, Bible study and other activities from 1 to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. Some of the older local young people have joined in the work crews, volunteering their time, too.
"The kids are excited," noted Maltbia, adding grown-ups are as well. Each evening he has fielded phone calls inquiring about what is going on.
"And we want to get more people involved," he said. He encourages those who know of projects for the YouthWorks' participants to contact him at 573
Surveying a room that minutes before had local youngsters and those from across the country singing and playing together while others were busy working to improve his home county, Maltbia observed: "God has blessed us."