George Duke III, 21, has spent the past six Fridays providing barbecued hot dogs, lemonade and cookies to those in need at the Oakhurst Community Park. Recently returning home after a missionary trip to Africa, Duke, a Sierra Pines Church missionary, said what he is doing is much more than giving away hot dogs.
"Although there is a very real need to feed the hungry in communities across the country, I'm not here to just give handouts to the homeless," Duke said. "This is not about the hunger for food I'm addressing the hunger to be loved, to be accepted, to be family, and to have purpose. My desire is to start off with something simple, like a park barbecue, and start a movement of community involvement."
Duke said he feels everyone in the community is part of a large family, and we should not turn our backs on family.
"I think we should be focusing on the issues head on including homelessness and drug and alcohol addiction," Duke said.
"Although I would not encourage anyone to be confrontational, people should feel it is okay to tell people they should not be smoking weed or drinking in the park," Duke said. "I do that all the time and those individuals have been respectful to me and responsive."
Duke said his goal is to break the perception that many of the people that hang-out around the park are dangerous.
"They are primarily people that have made bad decisions and hopefully with some help, guidance, and love from the community they can start continuously making good decisions that are beneficial for them."
Duke said he and members of a number of area churches offer a drug free, alcohol free, and for the most part tobacco free environment at the barbecues.
"We are offering prayer, and scripture readings to those that want to hear about and accept Christ in their lives. And for those who don't, there are always free hot dogs," he said.
Duke has not always led a Christian life. Coming from a broken family and having struggled with drug addiction and depression, and being homeless, he was also a devout atheist.
"My first two years in high school I attended youth group meetings at Sierra Pines Church because I was dating a girl who was a member of the group," Duke said. "I would always argue with Michel Musacchio, the youth pastor, and all of the kids at youth group," Duke said. "In time, I was able to find a home at Sierra Pines Church thanks to Michel's persistence to help turn my life around and get me out of dark places while I was still in high school."
After moving out of the area to Virginia when he was 17, Duke lived in a number of places before moving to Oakland in 2012.
"I hit rock bottom at that time in Oakland that's when I decided to move back to Oakhurst," Duke said. "I was sleeping on the floor at friends houses and in my truck. My father offered me a place to stay but it was too far away."
That's when Becky Jacob, a member of Sierra Pines Church, reached out and asked Duke to attend church with her.
"For some reason, I agreed to go with her and my life was never been the same after choosing God for the first time in my life," Duke said.
"George has always had a great heart, but ever since he returned from Kenya he has had a heavy heart for community development in the mountains," Musacchio said. "Just like the Friends of the Park, he wanted to make the park a true community park. He often sacrificed his own money while he's trying to raise funds for his next missionary trip."
Performing outreach work is not new to Duke, who went on his first four-month missionary trip in early May to Kenya with the Los Angeles chapter of Youth With a Mission, an interdenominational, non-profit Christian missionary organization.
"A lot of these people in Kenya have no opportunities in their lives due to poverty and civil disruption," duke said. "They don't even have a governmental structure. These people are slaves to their circumstances and do not have the option of going to school. The small percentage of children that get to go to school are from families with the financial means to do so. The majority of the children have little food, play in raw sewage and mountains of trash. Malaria and HIV is rampant in the area."
While in Kenya, Duke and his fellow missionaries, meet an elderly window, who was half-blind and could not bend over, raising six children between the ages of three-months and 17 years old. Her eldest son, who was a fisherman, was killed by a hippopotamus while fishing.
"We helped build a little sustainable garden for her and her family and taught them how to maintain it," Duke said.
Duke is currently raising funds to pay for a multi-year missionary trip overseas in September, 2014, where he hopes to help establish hostels for missionaries in every country between Thailand and Eastern Europe.
He will be travelling through 10 countries to seek out buildings in areas of need, to help establish mission bases.
"I want to help people rise raise above their circumstances, by volunteering in orphanages, helping windows, and being a servant of the people."
"My travels are financed by supporters that believe in people having a chance to dream," Duke said. "I encourage those to live vicariously through me as I tackle things like poverty, sex slavery, and sickness in developing countries and developed countries."
Duke said he wants his life to express his Christianity.
"I'm trying to live my live in the reflection of Jesus," Duke said.
Duke said he will enter an intensive biblical studies program before he dedicates his life to the long term overseas mission and here at home.
Duke leaves Oakhurst Saturday, Sept. 14 for his mission training program in Los Angeles with Youth With a Mission. Those wishing to contribute can send funds to YWAM, 11141 Osborne Street, Lake View Terrace, Calif., 91342, or contribute online at ywamla.org/donate in the name of George Duke.
"Support is more than money," Duke said. "Support is encouragement, prayer, and advice. I want people to know that financial support is not for me, but for the children and the widows and to provide for those who can not provide for themselves."