Spencer Stevenson

Spencer Stevenson, 18, a senior at Bexley High School, poses for a portrait during a volunteer shift on Sunday, June 28, 2020 at New Life Community Outreach Center in Columbus, Ohio. Joshua A. Bickel | Columbus Dispatch

Spencer Stevenson

Spencer Stevenson arrived at New Life Community Outreach at 5:30 a.m. with his father in tow. The 17-year-old from Bexley and his father wake up early each Sunday to be at the center because the teen believes in living a life of service and giving back to others.

New Life Community outreach is a nonprofit ministry based in the Short North Church of Columbus at 25 W. Fifth Ave. There, volunteers provide food, clothing and health care to people in need. Stevenson has volunteered with the ministry for two years, working in the clothing room and the kitchen and developing relationships with the people who come seeking resources. 

Stevenson said that volunteering at New Life Community outreach is one of the key pillars in his life.

When Stevenson was in the 10th grade, he won an essay contest for the 2019 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Art, Essay and Multimedia contest—a state contest for Ohio students in grades 6 to 12. He wrote that he makes a promise to himself every Sunday when he wakes up to go to New Life.

He continues to uphold that promise—to ease people’s suffering and help them forget about past injustices they may have suffered. He wrote that he and they are one community, one family, and they are all neighbors.

“There’s a lot of things I learned there that you can’t really learn in other situations,” Stevenson said. 

He learned how to be reliable, put his best foot forward and how to listen to people’s stories—like the homeless veterans who’ve inspired him to join the Air Force after high school and continue a life of service in the military.

“I really want to go into the military, and I’ve gotten the chance to talk to a lot of homeless veterans and [notice] the way their eyes light up when they talk about the brave things that they’ve done in their experiences in the military,” Stevenson said.

Spencer Stevenson, 18, a senior at Bexley High School, prepares breakfast meals for the homeless during a volunteer shift on Sunday, June 28, 2020 at New Life Community Outreach Center in Columbus, Ohio. [Joshua A. Bickel/Dispatch]

The Rev. Wendy Hansen-Smith, director of New Life Community Outreach, said that Stevenson is always willing to help by taking on a new task.

Hansen-Smith said that during the Thanksgiving holiday, Stevenson and his dad made pumpkin pies; for Easter, he filled plastic Easter eggs with candy; and on Valentine’s Day, he made Valentine hearts with a positive message written inside each one.

“He’s someone who goes above and beyond and just thinks of creative ways to help bring sunshine to people’s lives,” Hansen-Smith said.

At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the Mid-Ohio Foodbank needed volunteers, and Stevenson signed up. His mom, Renee Stevenson, said she was worried because she feared that he would contract the virus, but she knew that Stevenson was drawn to help others and felt the strong need to go.

He volunteered at Mid-Ohio Foodbank for more than 60 hours and said he was fortunate to volunteer at two of the branches.

“You didn’t really get the personal connection you got at New Life Community Outreach, but you knew you were helping people and it was really nice,” Stevenson said.

Stevenson said his passion for service comes from his parents, who taught him at a young age that helping others was one of the best ways to lead a life.

Both of his parents are teachers, and among the many things they have taught him, his mom instilled compassion and his father showed him how to lead a life of service.

However, his mother said that Stevenson has always been kind since birth.

She recalled a community Easter egg hunt when a girl with cerebral palsy, a disorder that affects a person’s mobility, didn’t find many eggs.

“When Spencer saw that there were no eggs for that little girl’s basket, he just kind of quietly went over and dumped his basket in hers and then walked away. And so, I think what makes him a hero to me is his ability to see a need for others and feel like it’s his responsibility to help fix it,” Mrs. Stevenson said.