Building Character

Wyatt CooperJanuary 16, 2019Reality and PerceptionAwesome Moments

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” —Margaret Mead

How do you typically spend your weekend? Do you and your family shop? Do you go to the movies? Do you attend sporting events? These are all normal leisure activities that many people, including myself, take for granted. But Mrs. Smith* from Flemingsburg, Kentucky, could not participate in these activities. Mrs. Smith spent the majority of her time taking care of her daughter, Anna*, who was 24 years old. Anna was born with Aicardi Syndrome, so she was unable to walk and required a wheelchair for mobility. With no way of feasibly getting her daughter to the car safely, Mrs. Smith had to carry her daughter down the front steps of their home to the car. This made even the simplest errand a daunting task for her. My involvement in local mission work exposed me to the reality of Mrs. Smith’s situation.

I got involved with local mission work about four years ago, when I was finally old enough to go to Kentucky Changers for the first time. Kentucky Changers is an organization that provides home repair and maintenance to those in need. I was about 12 years old and was very excited to finally be a part of this great opportunity. Most of the youth in my church participate in this organization after completing the seventh grade and all, like myself, find it to be an amazing experience. The year I started Kentucky Changers, the job my crew and I received was to paint a house for an older lady who was taking care of her adult son, who was confined to a wheelchair. In the following years, with each new project, I accrued new talents. I learned to pour concrete, construct wheelchair ramps and decks, and install siding for people who were in need. As I was building my own carpentry skills, I was also building other invaluable skills I needed to help others. One of the most important is empathy; empathy is an indispensable skill that enables you to see someone’s situation from their point of view or “put yourself in their shoes.” What I saw is that some of the things that I took for granted were next to impossible for others.

From Kentucky Changers was born Generation Changers, a group led by Brother Tony Leiss, pastor of First Baptist Church of Maysville, along with his family and other teens from the area, that carries out additional local mission projects. When I was fourteen years old, I was on a crew with Generation Changers to build a ramp for Mrs. Smith so that she would no longer have to struggle down stairs to carry her daughter to the car. It was unexpectedly cold the day we started to build the ramp for Mrs. Smith. I vividly recall that my hands and feet turned white from the damp cold. The terrible conditions that day would have caused many to give up and come back another day when the weather served them better. But our crew of adults, myself, and some other teenagers persevered. Fortunately, we all stuck with the task, and we completed Mrs. Smith’s ramp to her house in just one day. It made me proud to see what we did even through the horrid conditions.

When Mrs. Smith saw the ramp, her eyes lit up like this construction of wood had suddenly changed everything for her and her daughter, which made all our work worthwhile. In that moment, I wished I had a pause button to capture the feeling you get when you serve someone who cannot repay you. It is an indescribable sensation that is impossible to recreate in any other way than to serve others, but those are just the short-term effects. In the long term, you get a sense of joy and hope that sticks with you and never fades. That is what makes me want to take time out of every summer to do this type of work.

Mrs. Smith then guided Anna to the porch in her wheelchair, but this time, instead of struggling to pick her up, she easily wheeled her down her brand-new wheelchair ramp.

Before I became a part of Kentucky Changers, I really didn’t have a deep sense of what my neighbors went through to perform the simple tasks in life that I took for granted. Being a part of this team has caused me to be more apt to help the people near me, no matter how big or small the problem is, and has helped me understand that we all build the world we want for ourselves and for our neighbors.

Everyone has their own unique story. This is mine. Mother Teresa said, “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” Not only has my experience changed the world for Mrs. Smith, it changed my perception of the world as well. It has given me the desire to want to continue to build a better world — one person at a time.

*Denotes that names have been changed.

Wyatt Cooper is a 15-year-old sophomore from Robertson County, Kentucky. He enjoys baseball, basketball, archery, shooting sports, and hunting. Wyatt is active in his church and involved in Kentucky Changers, a local mission organization.