Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Coming soon to a theater near you...

KIDS THESE DAYS:A dramatic retelling of helping
By Steve Smith

Unless you were there, you may not believe what you are about to read.That’s not because you doubt my credibility, but because the tale is so outrageous, it would take a Hollywood movie to do it justice.

I’ve been thinking about that movie since that Sunday 10 days ago. The movie is set in a nice town, but like every other town in the country, there are issues and challenges.

In the plot of this movie, one of the town’s two local high schools, an up and coming institution that is beginning, finally, to realize its full potential, is looking a bit shabby. The physical appearance does not match the new, optimistic mood of the faculty, administration, students and parents.

So the principal of the school mentions something to a leader in a local church, who mentions something to someone else, who mentions something to another mover and shaker.

And while on the screen we’re watching test scores and pride rise, we’re also aware of the levers being pulled and arms being twisted behind the scenes to accomplish a great feat.

Then the movie reveals the heart of its story: A one-day makeover of the entire school by a thousand members of the church. At 8:30 a.m., they arrive, organized in teams to carry out their mission: complete their refurbishing tasks by noon, then assemble in the gym for a celebration.

Not content to empty out their garages with rudimentary hand tools, they arranged for delivery of skid steer loaders to move massive piles of dirt and manure, and scissor lifts to paint the highest parts of two-story buildings.

Fifteen people work on placing new greenery in a large planter by the gym. That team is multiplied by a dozen more working in other planters.

Over by the basketball courts, 40 more people are repainting every line on every court and restoring chain nets to every hoop.

In a hallway, brand new decals with the school mascot, an eagle, are being placed on freshly painted vending machine alcoves.

New ceramic tile is cut near the main office to replace missing and damaged pieces. There is more fresh dirt being used than is held in any nursery, more paint than in any hardware store and more cleaning supplies than the largest janitorial service company has.

The screen would show what would appear to be total chaos, with the thousand people running everywhere, then panic as the midday deadline approached.

Theatergoers would start to tense up and wonder whether the goal of this gargantuan task was really achievable. At noon, it is done.

The workers meet in the gym and have their meeting — one that reminds themselves and everyone else what is really important in life. There are smiles everywhere. Then, before the credits role, there is one line: “Based on a true story.”

On Sept. 21, that story was told on the campus of Estancia High School when 1,000 members of The Crossing church spent most of their day painting, cleaning, planting and polishing the high school in Costa Mesa.

I got to the school at 10 a.m. and for the next 30 minutes, wandered around the campus as stunned as I may ever be. The scene was so incredible, I had to call my wife, who was at a meeting in St. Louis, and tell her what I was witnessing. Then I called my son and told him to get ready to be picked up so he could see what was happening.

Lead Pastor Tim Celek found out that I was a parent at the school and asked me to say a few words at the noon meeting. When it was my turn, all I could do was be honest. I told the crowd that I am never at a loss for words, but at that moment, I was speechless. All I could do was thank them very much for what they had done.

There is no Frank Capra movie that could capture that spirit of The Crossing congregation that day, no “Extreme Makeover: School Edition” that would have the impact on the community the way that army did that Sunday. The city of Costa Mesa is beyond fortunate in having a community partner like The Crossing, which is celebrating its 20th year.

If you live in Costa Mesa, you benefited from their work. All that’s left is for Robert Downey, Jr. to be cast as the principal in the film version.

STEVE SMITH is a Costa Mesa resident and a freelance writer for the Daily Pilot.