SPRING HILL — When Richard Patrie, 72, was caring for his invalid wife, he didn't have time for normal household or outdoor chores.
"She was very ill for almost 30-some years with multiple sclerosis, and it had progressively gotten worse," Patrie said about his wife, Gina, who died in March. "In the last five years, she was basically bed bound."
Patrie's church, Northcliffe Baptist, stepped in to help.
"Basically, it was the youth group and the adult leaders of the youth group that came to my house," Patrie said. "Also some adults came over the years."
The youth spent hours raking and cleaning gutters. Men cut the lawn. Women cleaned his house from top to bottom.
"I would try to do it myself, but sometimes it was overwhelming," Patrie said. "They were very nice, and I was appreciative when they would come."
Being a caregiver 24 hours a day, seven days a week is hard in many ways, Patrie said, and hearing from the volunteers was encouraging.
"It kind of brings down your spirit," he said. "They would call and ask me if they could come over. It gave me a lift in my spirit."
Jeff Dye, minister of students at the church, said in past years the students had Outreach Saturdays once a month and served in various ways, from doing yard work to cleaning houses, serving members of the church.
"It was a ministry primarily done by teenagers with the help of student ministry volunteers," Dye said.
Meanwhile, adults from the church were busy helping people in need, too. Their efforts were more directed into the community.
"We've been helping people over the years, working with Christian Contractors and through church campaigns," said Steve Celinski, minister of outreach for the church. "The adults were going out, but not as an organized unit."
In 2010, the ministries decided to merge.
"We decided to maximize our effectiveness, and we now serve as a church family with our Love in Action outreach projects that Steve Celinski organized for our church," Dye said.
"I now promote and encourage students and families to serve together with these opportunities."
Celinski said becoming organized has allowed the outreach ministry to grow and the volunteers to do more.
"We are willing to do anything our resources will allow as far as service," he said. "We want to build relationships in the community."
Many ministries participate under the Love in Action banner. The youth go into the community every Saturday to help with various needs. They also serve the Florida Baptist Children's Home in Lakeland and have an international mission trip each summer.
The church's College and Career group helps with projects as well.
Recently, some of the adult men went into the woods looking for homeless people they could help.
Another facet of the ministry is the church's food pantry, a weekly feeding program and holiday food baskets.
Past combined efforts of the groups included trash pickups at local parks and cleaning carpets, windows and doing yard work at Oak Hill Hospital Partners Club.
Every few months, the church sponsors a Community Outreach Saturday.
The next one will be Sept. 17, and Celinski has planned for the volunteers, including Dye's students, to work on the grounds at Spring Hill Elementary School.
"We'll also be helping those who have homes and are unable to physically do the yard work," Celinski said.
In addition, they will feed the homeless, provide clothing and give out bottled water.
Faculty members at Spring Hill Elementary have nothing but praise for the work done at their school in the past.
"The ministry has helped our school where needed, pulling weeds, working in classrooms, the library and on our campus," said kindergarten and first-grade teacher Beth Hurt.
The school's science lab teacher, Barbara Spivey, said she has appreciated the hard work and dedication of the volunteers.
"Our school pond was in disrepair — weeds taking over, water full of algae," she said. "The volunteers climbed into the pond and cleaned it out. The students were so excited to be able to go out to the pond and see the fish."
Spivey said the volunteers also planted shrubs and flowers.
"Children perform better and are happier to attend school when they have a sense of pride, belonging and peacefulness," said assistant principal Terri Dewey. "All these feelings are brought about by pleasant surroundings and well-maintained educational habitats. The hard work of Northcliffe Baptist members contributes significantly to our school having a functional outside classroom, nicely groomed flower beds, and safe, clean playgrounds."
Both Dye and Celinski say they have gotten positive feedback for the ministry's efforts, from within and without.
"Students have a deep desire to help and give of themselves to others," Dye said. "For many, they realize that the struggles they are facing are not as big as they thought, because they see the crisis someone else is going through."
Celinski said the community is seeing that the church really does care.
"If you try to tell people about the love of Christ before you show them, it doesn't work well," he said. "Our ultimate goal is to send our church family out to partner with the community, growing in our involvement, building relationships and showing them the love of Christ by what we do and what we say."