If you’ve gone through the Starbucks drive-thru, you’ve probably seen them. A group of students in Bradford committing kind acts and aiming to encourage community members each day.
The group is part of the SOS (Summer of Service) program with the Bradford Community Church. Hired through the province's Youth Employment and Skills Strategy Program, the SOS members are made up of high school and university students.
On any given day they could be handing out uplifting messages, washing cars, or collecting garbage to help keep Bradford clean.
With the program in just its second year, the community is already taking notice of their hard work.
"They are truly an inspirational group of young people making a difference in our community,” said Jennifer Bahinski of the Clothes Line.
The program initially began when the church was unable to attain a grant to run its summer camp and Pastor Cory Kostyra came up with an alternative plan to keep students in the community involved.
“The pastor who ran the summer camp moved away and when Pastor Cory couldn’t get a grant for the summer camp, he got one for hours for students,” said Nolan Barrie, director of SOS. “That’s when we created SOS.”
Over an eight-week period (for the grant) the students work Monday to Friday for about 35 hours per week, the team members have come from different churches in the area to get involved.
“After working at the summer camp for two years, I got involved in this, but the (Bradford Community) church has a music team and there’s about 10 of them who are a core group of SOS,” Barrie explained. “We have a couple people from the Innisfil and Tottenham church too.”
With four teams of five students, the goal every day is to get involved and provide help in the community where it’s needed.
“They go out each day and there are different events to get involved in,” said Barrie. “Our basic objective is to serve the community any way we can, and it’s been going really well.”
Not every day, or week, is the same for the members of the SOS program, but one thing is for certain, they’re always doing something to help.
“Each morning we meet at the church and each team has a team lead and the team lead is in charge of their team and project,” said Barrie. “There are ongoing projects but also projects they come up with. One team has been working on a trailer project where WOW Living is installing trailers on the church property for affordable housing. We had another team at the Tottenham church running Vacation Bible School (VBS) and another team running VBS at the Bradford church. We also had a team at Starbucks—we do this every Friday or sometime more than that—set up in the drive-thru with garbage bags and we take garbage and give them little notes and we sing, dance, and hangout there for the day.”
Despite the program being in its infancy, SOS has quickly become an initiative that community members aren’t shy about voicing their support for.
“Everything is positive, it’s always so positive,” said Barrie. “One of our members did a presentation for the mayor, and the biggest thing they took out of it was the impact it’s having on the community by teaching them that sometimes you can give without expecting anything in return and that it doesn’t take a lot to change someone’s day or life. Even just a little note you get going through the drive-thru can be the reason you’re smiling today.”
When the program first started, Barrie, says the group was smaller and it was tougher to find things to do, but in its second year they’ve expanded and are far busier.
“It’s just great to see the outpouring of support and seeing the positive impact it has on the community,” he added. “A couple weeks ago we were in the drive-thru and I went to give a lady who was driving through a card, and she said she still had her card from last year and she told me she reads it every day. It’s little things like that, there’s no job you’re going to find as a student where you’re feeling like you’re actually making an impact on your community.”
"I love giving back to the community," said one of the team leads Nathan Harris.
Darren Leung, another team leads says he loves being able to put smiles on people's faces. His favourite activities so far have included singing to customers at Starbucks and washing cars at the church parking lot.
"To do it without gaining anything, It's a pretty good feeling," he said.
Fellow team lead Isabella Pascoe joined the group this summer and is enjoying the work so far.
"Our whole job, we are lucky to have it, is to help people," she said.
To request a service from the SOS team, or learn more about sponsorship funding, please get in touch with Bradford Community Church Pastor Kostyra at [email protected]
The group will be hosting a free Funky Fest Thursday Aug. 18 at the church from 5 to 9 p.m. with a BBQ, fashion show, vendors and more. All are welcome to attend.
-with files from Natasha Philpott