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Mats for the Homeless: Celebration Church youth help lead effort to provide warm place to sleep

Alana Newsome of Celebration Church in LaPlace said Christians have a responsibility to carry what they learn in church out into the community, spreading the Gospel through actions that brighten lives.

She’s part of Girl Power Life Group, a Celebration youth ministry working with the ladies’ Blessed Girls Life Group to crochet sleeping mats for the homeless population of New Orleans.

“This project is teaching us at a young age to be active in our roles of not only helping in our community, but showing people the love of Christ,” Alana said. “If we say we love God but don’t do anything, we’re just hearers of the Word. If we’re not ‘doers,’ we’re deceiving ourselves.”

Each sleeping mat is carefully cut, tied and crocheted from 500 to 700 repurposed plastic bags. Project coordinator Stephanie Gardner learned of the plastic mat project from a group in St. Charles Parish but did not have the opportunity to participate at the time.

Arianah Newsome, Rebecca Tsegaye, Nevaeh Armstrong and Joan Arceneaux prepare to crochet a mat.

After reading L’OBSERVATEUR’s May 23 story about ESJH junior A’Zirea Alexander’s wish to feed and supply the homeless for her 16th birthday, Gardner was inspired to bring the sleeping mat project to life.

According to Gardner, Celebration Church has partnered with A’Zirea’s family and the New Orleans Mission to join in the August donation distribution.

Community members are invited to join the effort, starting at 11:45 a.m. Aug. 4 at 1134 Baronne St. in New Orleans. Participants are required to register for A’Zirea’s Sweet 16 on neworleansmission.org, using the Volunteer Today tab. Minors must present a parental consent form.

Gardner said the St. John the Baptist Parish community can donate supplies or stop by to help crochet mats. No prior experience required.

Charlotte Guarino, right, teaches granddaughter Aleenah Alleman how to crochet.

Plastic bags can be dropped of at Celebration Church, 3400 U.S. 51 in LaPlace, at 9 a.m., 10:45 a.m. or 6 p.m. on Sunday or at 7 p.m. on Wednesday.

Toiletry donations including soap, toothpaste, deodorant and feminine hygiene products should be directed to Angel Alexander at 504-346-2445.

From noon to 2 p.m. each Thursday in July, the Mission Groups are meeting at Celebration Church to crochet sleeping mats.

Alana said she and her peers have learned to crochet from the women in the group, adding the experience has strengthened camaraderie.

“We all knew each other before doing this, but it’s brought us closer as a family,” Alana said.

According to Gardner, the plastic mat project teaches patience, goodwill and a spirit of excellence.

Gelila Tilahun, left, and Alana Newsome, far right, show off projects the Girls Power Life Group has worked on, which include placing spiritual messages on pencil giveaways and writing testimonies in a study booklet. Ariel and Mercedes Davis, middle, stand by a sleeping mat for charity, the group’s current project.

“We are learning how to love our neighbors as ourselves,” Gardner said.

“We know God has created a spot in us that only He can fill. As that love overflows, it flows to others.”

In meeting with the New Orleans Mission, Gardner learned most homeless individuals do not embark on a journey of self-improvement until their basic needs are met through others who care.

Girl Power member Mercedes Davis said she hopes the sleeping mats provide a simple comfort that changes lives for the better.

According to Ariel Davis and Gelila Tilahun, other group projects involve spreading the Gospel through small-item giveaways and workbook exercises.