Urban Cross campers have big hearts for the East Side

Urban Cross volunteers paint an East Sider’s house on a sunny afternoon. Urban Cross is a youth mission camp that was started by Mounds Park United Methodist Church five years ago. Volunteers through the camp have spend a week doing volunteer work to fix up East Siders’ homes. (Patrick Larkin/Review)

Urban Cross volunteers painted the shed of a single homeowner named Jodi, who, due to chronic pain, can no longer keep up with yardwork. (Patrick Larkin/Review)

Urban Cross volunteers did yardwork for a homeowner whose yard had gone into disrepair. They mowed, weeded, and trimmed bushes and trees. (Patrick Larkin/Review)

Five years ago, Erick Buck, youth leader at Mounds Park United Methodist Church, came across a brilliantly simple idea: rather than spend loads sending the church’s youth on cross-country mission trips, why not put them to work in their own neighborhood?

“It’s very expensive to do a mission trip,” he said, and meanwhile, “we have a lot of need right here in our own backyard.”

So the church started Urban Cross, a week-long mission camp on the East Side.

It started small, with most of the projects being for other members of the church.

But in its fifth year, the group has managed to do 42 different projects for homeowners, many of whom are simply East Siders with no formal affiliation to the church -- crews of volunteers take care of everything from mowing lawns to repairing decks, painting houses, cleaning out gutters and more.

In addition to the group of teens from the Mounds Park church, teens from other Methodist churches come to take part in the projects and to work alongside the East Side kids.

“The kids were very excited about having other youth groups coming and being a part of this,” Buck said.

This year’s crew brought kids from central Minnesota -- Glenwood, Morris, Appleton, Bellingham, as well as some from south Minneapolis.

The group, this year numbering about 30, spent the week of June 9 to 13 working on service projects, staying overnight in the basement of another church, getting up bright and early and putting in full days working on projects for homeowners.

Buck noted the congregation is not exactly humongous -- “We are a very small, aging congreation,” he said. “This is something that we really should not be able to do.”

But nonetheless, they’ve pulled it off through partnering with other churches and community groups -- donations came from East Side businesses like the East Side YMCA, Kendall’s Ace Hardware, the East Side Dairy Queen, Magnolia’s Restaurant and more.

The program also works due to donations from Thrivent Financial, Grace Lutheran Church, and a grant from a Minnesota-based United Methodist Church organization, Buck said.

Erin Brown, who helped get the program running, and helps coordinate with homeowners, describes Urban Cross as “very homegrown.”

She said many of the people they’ve helped have come through word of mouth, and have helped the church plug into the community.

“We’re working to become much more a part of the community,” she said.

Catching up on yard work

The terms of who’s eligible for an Urban Cross project are pretty loosely decided.

Some of the people they end up helping are simply single homeowners with nobody else around -- “It’s nice to have someone at their place making some noise,” Buck explained.

“The ones that we’re more likely to serve are the ones who cannot do the work themselves.”

At one East Side home, a group of youngsters spent a sunny morning at a busy family’s house -- they’d fallen behind on yard work and needed some help.

“These folks have done a hell of a lot of good,” said the homeowner, East Sider Ricky Schweigart.

A crew of kids, some from the East Side and some from outstate, spent the morning re-landscaping his front yard, trimming some bushes that had begun to encroach on electrical wiring, mowed his lawn, and pulled out a couple of dead trees.

Work for fun?

Austin Wollenzien, 18, an East Sider from the church, said he came back to Urban Cross for a second year for the fun of it.

He said he’s had the chance to meet kids from across the state. And with many of the outstate volunteers coming back from last year, there are a lot of familiar faces, he said, which makes the project feel pretty tight-knit.

Anna Haus, 14, from Glenwood, Minnesota, said she came back for a second year of Urban Cross.

“I had a lot of fun last year,” she explained.

Trenton Nelson, 16, another small-town Minnesotan from Morris, said he came to work on the East Side project because of the fun and camaraderie. He proudly recalled a project he worked on last year where they dug out around the entire foundation of a house in order to cover the foundation with a vapor seal.

He said he was looking forward to the end of the day when all the kids would hang out and play card games.


Jodi, a 51-year old homeowner, watched as another crew from Urban Cross cleaned up her yard, painted her shed and cleaned out her gutters.

“This house has been let go,” she said. “I used to do all the upkeep, but now I can’t.”

With chronic back pain and a number of other health problems, she’s had to step back from her yardwork hobbies. As a result, the yard got overgrown and routine maintenance got away from her.

She said she felt lucky to have the kids at Urban Cross helping.

“I am so totally grateful and appreciative,” she said. “It just means so much to me, it’s so heartwarming.”

For more information about Urban Cross, visit http://www.moundsparkumc.org/urbancross.html.

Contact Patrick Larkin at 651-748-7816 or at eastside@lillienews.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ESRPatrickLark.


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