CJ Buchan had a simple message for young people about to fan out in Columbus to commit random acts of kindness at food pantries and nursing homes, through block parties and free car washes.

"Our mission is not to do things for people, but to do things with people," the pastor of student ministry at Christian Community Church told 108 students gathered June 8 for the fifth annual Serve the City program at Christian Assembly Church in the Northland area. "We have the opportunity ... to go out and make friends. We want to empower people being served. We want to do everything to help them live well.

"At the end of the day, we want everybody we meet to feel that their lives are better."

Serve the City ran from June 7-12 this year. It was started five years ago by Buchan and Christian Assembly Life Pastor Jeremy Gligora after seeing similar programs in other areas. It involves students in grades six through 12 from Christian Community, Christian Assembly, Redeemers on Courtright Church and Overcomers Christian Church of Mount Vernon.

The young people, along with about 40 adult supervisors, eat and sleep at Christian Assembly on Karl Road during the Serve the City program. Gligora said they would break into teams of 10 to 12 and go to different parts of Columbus to perform outreach.

"It gets me out there," said Winston Linville, a Serve the City participant from Christian Assembly. "It's a good way of getting me out of my comfort zone, a good way of showing my love for Christ."

The goal is to conduct more than 70 outreaches -- from spontaneous block parties with inflatables and a dunk tank, to events at the Ronald McDonald House and the YWCA -- over three days, Gligora said.

"Most of the teams at one point during the week will serve in a food bank," he said.

Another outreach is taking gift cards, toys and sports equipment to different neighborhoods and handing them out randomly.

"It makes you realize how fortunate you are and you see what you can do for others," said Amryn Dover, a Serve the City student.

One of Gligora's favorite outreaches is the reverse car wash. Teens set up a car wash as if for a fundraiser, but then give the driver $1 once their vehicle is cleaned.

"That always makes for interesting reactions," Gligora said. "We have such a diverse group, which is one of the things I love about it. Some kids, it's exposure to what life is all about for other people. For others, it's a chance to experience what it's like to give.

"It's an empowering thing, I think, for some of them."

"It's great to see that people need help and you can actually help," said A.J. Vasek of Christian Assembly.

"It's not us and them, ever," Buchan said in his instructions on the opening day of Serve the City. "We are the same. We are the same people at the end of the day."

kparks@thisweeknews.com

@KevinParksTW1