“One of the main directors of WFAA, Channel 8 News in Dallas died, and in his memory they started doing Family First meetings,” said Jim Pledger, pastor of First United Methodist Church in Sherman and one of the founders of Sherman’s Great Days of Service.
“They would go out into an area of the community, usually in the Dallas area, and find out what they needed,” Pledger said. “It was a really good thing. One of my members said, ‘Hey, they have never done one outside of Dallas. Why not have them come to Sherman?’”
Members of the First United Methodist Church wrote to WFAA, and a Family First episode was scheduled in Sherman.
“We reserved the Municipal Ballroom and allowed anyone to come in and say something,” Pledger said. “One guy, we never got his name, said, ‘We need something to bring us together as a community.’”
Pledger discussed what should be done with the pastor of First Baptist Church of Sherman.
“At the time, the city was very divided, east side and west side,” said Pledger. “Highway 75 was the dividing line. Either you lived on the east side of it or west side of it. We needed something to rally around. That was how Great Days of Service was born.”
Great Days of Service and Service Academy for Youth completed their 16th year of community service Friday.
Great Days of Service began with just members of the First United Methodist Church and First Baptist Church. Now more than eight churches have come together to be a part of the events annually held the last week of June.
“I am one of the directors,” said Sandy Garbacik who has been a part of Great Days of Service for 15 years. “Toni Nunn is the residential director who oversees the seventh through 12th graders. Anna Parker is the day camp director and she oversees the fifth and sixth graders.”
Day campers do daytime activities like Meals on Wheels. They return home that afternoon. Residential campers do daytime activities like neighborhood home improvement. In the afternoon, they attend classes about everything from sensitivity training to how to roof a house. Then they have recreational time and do community building. As part of the community building this year, campers attended a Texas Rangers baseball game.
“I joined Service Academy because it is a lot of fun and it is a good way to help the community,” said Lourden Bell, 13, a second-year camper. “The Ranger game was my favorite part this year. It is fun even though it was so hot.”
Everything for the 150 campers is free.
“My parents lived through the Great Depression,” said Pledger. “One day I looked at my father and said, ‘That must have been the worst time in history.’ He said, ‘No son, it was probably the best time in this country.’”
According to Pledger it was the greatest time because everyone was at the same place in his or her life. They were just trying to survive.
Pledger said that is why it was important for Service Academy for Youth to be free for anyone wanting to participate.
He said, “Your father can be the CEO of a bank or he can be the janitor at the bank. It does not matter. We want everyone on the same level for those three days. They cannot pay for anything. We will not take it. We even encourage parents to not send them with money.”
Jordan Jaska, 17, has been a part of Service Academy for two years.
“My favorite part is going around neighborhoods like this and helping people,” said Jaska. “Sometimes the people that live in these houses are older, disabled, or sick and I just enjoy the feeling of going and doing the work for them. I like making sure that they have been taken care of.”
Jaska said the program has taught him leadership, discipline, and how to help others.
“That is the only reason I joined Service Academy,” he said. “The friends and the Rangers games are nice, but I joined Service Academy to help people. This is what I love to do.”
Helping people is why Scott Murray, 25, has been a part of Service Academy for about 12 years.
“Community service and the kids are the reason I want to keep coming back.” he said. “It is a lot of fun. The people we are helping are great. A lot of the people that I met here I have been friends with all my life. Sandy and Dr. Pledger have really been mentors for me as well. Now I am kind of a mentor myself.”
Pledger shared his greatest memory with Great Days of Service.
“It came few years ago,” Pledger said. “There was a wonderful older man who lived near Austin College. Someone came to me and said, ‘this man is a little bit confused.’ I went to him. He was in his late 80s and he had tears in his eyes.
According to Pledger, the young people from Service Academy were cleaning up his yard, which was overgrown. They were also scraping his house so that later it could be painted.
“He wanted to help, but he was too sick,” Pledger continued. “I asked him if I could do anything or if there was something wrong. He said, ‘Who are these people? I do not know anyone here.’”
Pledger told him that they were just people from the community. The man asked to help them.
“I said, ‘No, let them do it. They want to do it. Let them,’” said Pledger a little choked up. “He said, ‘I don’t know what to say.’ I told him that he did not have to say anything. I told him to just sit back and enjoy the work the children were doing. They are getting so much pleasure and enjoyment out of doing it, and so are the adults.”
The man said that was the greatest thing ever.
“It has always stayed with me because these kids have the opportunity to do the best thing that an 80 year old man has ever had done for him,” Pledger reminisced. “I will always remember that man’s gratitude.”