July 28, 2020

In Australia, Community Service Initiative Reinvents Itself During the Pandemic

Maryellen Fairfax, Adventist Record, and Adventist Review

Recently, students of Avondale School in Cooranbong, New South Wales, Australia, participated in Service to Others Really Matters Company (STORMCo), the youth initiative of the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s South Pacific Division, with the town of Cobar for the 22nd year. This time, however, the initiative for young people to serve their communities was accomplished differently.

With COVID-19 restrictions meaning a trip to Cobar (pop. 4,000) would not be possible in July 2020, students from this year’s team helped put together a “Virtual STORMCo,” so that their positive relationship with the community could continue.

Under the guidance of Avondale School’s STORMCo coordinator, Jonathan Christian, the team met and brainstormed ways to deliver STORMCo in the pandemic. This meeting resulted in three pre-recorded programs that would run during the first week of the NSW school holidays.

“We underestimated the amount of time it would take to video and edit three complete programs, and we ran close to the deadline to finish in time, but the students were amazing,” Christian said. “They gave up their lunchtimes and stayed back after school to film the various parts of the program.”

Each of the programs consisted of all the usual elements expected in a STORMCo Kids Club program: music, craft, drama, and puppets. Three Year 11 students, Olivia Morton, Ben Lindsay, and Liam Curson, composed the lyrics and music for a theme song, “God Is My Rock.”

Students also wrote a drama based on the popular tale of the Three Little Pigs, which — linking to the third little pig’s house of bricks — strongly reflected the program’s theme. Year 12 student Zoe Cochrane wrote a themed story that she read in interactive sessions with puppets, one for each day. Other students worked on blacklight puppetry and presenting the craft sessions. Every student had a role to play.

The students also incorporated a guest appearance by North New South Wales Conference Children’s Ministries director Darron Pratt, who participated in some ballooning. At the same time, teacher Tiani Page created two sand art performances for the programs.

The student team raised funds to create 110 craft packs, including armbands, pet rocks, and laser-cut model planes, to deliver to the children in Cobar.

A week before the school holidays, Christian drove the 680 km (420 miles) to Cobar to deliver the craft bags and STORMCo shirts to the community team members. He also dropped off beanies and rugs to the local aged-care facilities — made by the Cooranbong knitting club and some Avondale students.

Avondale School teacher Jane Murphy coordinated the Cobar visit. The local team set up in a park area to distribute craft supplies, while Christian created balloon art for the children. Nearly 80 craft bags were handed out on the day, with the remainder handed out later. The STORMCo team also sent out care packs to some of Cobar’s most dedicated local STORMCo supporters, including Lillian Brady. Brady has been mayor of Cobar for all of the 22 years that Avondale School has been running STORMCo.

On the first Monday of the school holidays, the STORMCo students met to watch the first Kid’s Club of the week. Two people from the Cobar community drove to Cooranbong to show their appreciation.

Although students and teachers from Avondale School were disappointed not to be able to visit Cobar this year, the restrictions provided an opportunity to think outside the box and find a solution to a problem that nobody could have anticipated.

According to its website, the mission of STORMCo is to send teams of trained young people to work for, learn from, and encourage individual communities, sharing God’s love by building bridges to all peoples through an adventure in service to others. This grassroots ministry has served communities across Australia for more than a quarter of a century.

The original version of this story was posted by Adventist Record.