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Teens offer a weeklong blitz of kindness

By SUZANNAH GONZALES, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 23, 2003

Sick of all the bad news? How about something good for a change?

That's what teens from Citrus County churches hope to provide this week, when they try to distribute around the county 10,000 cans of soda and bottled water, wash hundreds of cars and clean a thousand windshields -- all for free and just to be nice.

"No strings attached," said Spring Break Blitz coordinator and Calvary Christian Center youth pastor Ottis Barnett.

"We're not looking for money. We're just blessing the community," he said.

The activities kick off Monday with a praise-and-worship rally from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. on the steps of the Historic Courthouse to show that "we love God and we love Citrus County," Barnett said.

Tuesday, during that same time period, the teens will give away drinks in parking lots. They will head to gas stations on Wednesday to wash cars and Thursday, they will do all windshields.

Before going out into the community, the teens will gather each morning for worship and prayer.

The teens will close their week of do-gooding Friday with a free public party with food, games, face painting and prizes from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the First United Methodist Church of Inverness.

"We're not evangelizing," Barnett said. "We're letting our deeds do the talking."

And this time, they plan to avoid what happened last year, when Inverness police officers told them they would be arrested if they didn't stop handing out sodas to drivers along Main Street.

To avoid problems this time, event organizers met with officials from the Inverness Police Department and the Citrus County Sheriff's Office to discuss their plans for the week.

Inverness police Chief Lee Alexander said state Department of Transportation guidelines were reviewed during the meeting, including one rule that says free distribution of any merchandise, goods, property or services is prohibited in rights of way.

Like last year, Alexander said, police officials suggested that participants contact local business owners and use their parking lots.

At traffic lights, the teens' actions unintentionally could startle people and it's against the law, Alexander said. He said in parking lots, "their actions won't impede traffic."

"That way, you eliminate the safety hazard."

This year, Alexander does not anticipate any problems, and he said event organizers are willing to cooperate and follow the guidelines.

The Inverness Police Department wished them luck.

"It's a good thing what they're trying to do," Alexander said. "They just needed to get a little advice on how best to approach it."

-- Suzannah Gonzales can be reached at 860-7312 or sgonzales@sptimes.com.

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