NORMAN — Like most young people, Cassie Duncan looks forward to summer. There are only a few weeks left for the recent Norman High School graduate to catch her breath before she heads off to Oklahoma State University next month, but there is much more than relaxation on her agenda.
With about 100 other youths between the ages of 11 and 18, Duncan is a member of this year’s Youth Force Cleveland County. Multiple Youth Force missions are held in various parts of Oklahoma throughout the summer. Duncan’s church, Goodrich Memorial United Methodist, is hosting one of the events in Norman.
Youth Force kids, along with adult volunteers, came from six United Methodist churches in Oklahoma and one from Texas.
For the past week, teams — called God Squads — have been building ramps, free of charge, at the homes of eight people who are elderly or have disabilities that make using stairs difficult or unsafe.
The work is hard, especially in the heat, but Duncan says her faith pushes her to keep going. She likens the experience to her daily jogs.
“I force myself to get up at 6 a.m.,” she said. “In the middle of the run, I’m thinking, ‘why do I do this?’ But by the end, I’m sprinting. The sun is just coming up and I can watch it rise, and I think, ‘this is why.’ At the end of the week in Youth Force, when I see how happy the people we’ve gotten to help are, that’s the most important thing.”
Duncan has participated in Youth Force every year since seventh grade. The volunteers choose a different project every year. It can be anything from building walls inside a house, to retiling roofs, or working on floors to stabilize the home.
One of the youngest Youth Force participants, AJ Laizure, of Norman, is 12 and will be in seventh grade at Longfellow Middle School in the fall. It is his first time in Youth Force, and he plans on doing it again next year.
“The daughter of the woman we made the ramp for said she really loved it,” AJ said. “I want to keep helping like that. And I made a lot of friends this week, too.”
Youth Force Cleveland County is overseen by Melissa Duncan, Cassie Duncan’s mother. Melissa Duncan has been involved with the program since 2005 and has been director of Youth Force at Goodrich Memorial since 2011. She says the one-week camp has a tremendous impact on the volunteers and the people they help.
“One of the things we like to think is that, yes, we’re building part of their home, but if we’ve done our job, we’ve formed a relationship with the homeowner, and we’ve built something more than a ramp,” Melissa Duncan said. “It’s so much more than physical. It’s the spiritual we want to build.”
Many of the homeowners Youth Force reached out to were not only in need of a ramp, said Melissa Duncan, but might not have had the resources to pay to have a ramp installed. Youth Force and the churches cover the cost of building materials, and the volunteers contribute their time.
Duncan is quick to spread the credit for Youth Force’s success to the community. For example, Forest Building Materials in Norman gave a discount on wood for the ramps, and Hillsdale Free Will Baptist College opened its dorms to the church group for the week, also at a low cost.
“It’s a wonderful experience when it happens,” she said, adding with a laugh, “but it does take an army.”