On April 21, student youth group members from New Canaan churches and Christian organizations joined together to form the Better Together Big Day of Service. The students gathered at Carwin Park in Stamford to clean, paint and rebuff the park. A few weeks earlier, on March 28, a group of student leaders and their youth group leaders met at the site to assess the scope of work and set a vision for the event.

After intensive planning amongst the youth group and church leaders, more than 100 students arrived at St. Marks church in New Canaan on the day of the event, ready to serve. Director of Children and Youth Ministries, Josh Hill, welcomed the group and helped to set the tone for the day. As a pump-up, they played a quick game, listened to devotions and testimonies about service and sang two songs.

The youth groups included Youth Ministry Grace, St. Michael's, St. Aloysius Parish, First Presbyterian Church of New Canaan, FOCUS, St. Mark's Episcopal Youth Community, Congregational Church of New Canaan, Young Life and the United Methodist Church of New Canaan. The youth groups were joined by local Stamford kids as well, all ready to put in their best effort to clean up Carwin Park. The kids brought unpotted flowers, shovels, paint and wooden beams. They formed groups to tackle different tasks, each wearing matching purple shirts with `Better Together' printed across the back.

Separate groups carried out a multitude of tasks to revamp the park. New mulch was spread, weeds were pulled, all of the benches were repainted, trash was picked up, the play house was cleaned and wooden beams blocking off the grass were unearthed and replaced.

Teenagers from different churches and schools worked together from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. to make a difference in the park.

"It's really cool that we can get together with all the other youth groups in New Canaan to help a town park right by our home town," Annie Conover said. "It's really helping the community and bringing us together as a community at the same time."

Ada Brown, a Stamford resident and president of the "Take Back Carwin Park" initiative, has been working to restore Carwin Park with friends for years.

"We wanted to take back Carwin Park. I remember when it was really [bad] I wouldn't sit out here," she said. "It's 100 percent [better] now, and a better place for children. [We've been working] for about 4 or 5 years. The kids have helped us make a lot of progress today."

By the end of the day the volunteers were exhausted and proud. One high school volunteer, Will Hennessy, reflected on the experience.

"It's really fun to get to work with all the other churches in New Canaan, and lots of different kids from New Canaan High School. It's a nice way to get to get everyone together," he said.

The park cleanup ended with a community BBQ. Volunteers lunched on hamburgers, hot dogs and fruit roll ups while chatting and reflecting on all that they had accomplished that day. The decision to embark on another combined youth group volunteer day was made; the date and task are yet to be determined.

"It just goes to show that service opportunities are everywhere, even in our back yard. Our work is never done," New Canaan High School junior Jack Ludtke said.

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