Ministry adds kindness to free home repair
UNIONTOWN, Pa. (AP) — “You don’t have to be given anything,” Kiara Perez, 16, said while she and four others took a break from repairing a home on Searight Avenue in Uniontown. “Just giving back is enough.”
Perez, 16, of St. Charles, Minn., was one of 343 teenagers across nine different states to travel last month to Laurel Highlands High School, their home base while they broke off into small groups to provide free home repair for elderly, low-income and disabled homeowners in the Uniontown area.
The program was a partnership between Group Mission Trips, a Colorado-based nonprofit mission ministry, and the Neighborhood Partnership Program through Fayette County Community Action Agency.
Teenagers sign up for work camps through Group Mission Trips, typically participating in fundraisers to pay for the chance to serve community residents in need through home repair, basic construction, and painting.
Traveling with their respective church organizations, teenagers age 14 and up served Uniontown area homeowners with typically one adult supervisor and fellow teens from other church organizations that they had never met, a deliberate arrangement designed to build new relationships and learning opportunities. They arrived July 22 and left six days later.
“It’s strangers helping strangers,” said Ray Cerrone, an adult who came with a group of 56 from Shenendehowa United Methodist Church in Clifton Park, N.Y.
Cerrone was the adult supervisor working along with Perez and three other teens from Minnesota, Connecticut and Ohio on the Searight Avenue home of Isabelle Taylor, 76, who was grateful for the free work they provided, including new front step construction, a repainted kitchen and living room repainting, carport repair and tree pruning.
“I’m really truly blessed and grateful,” Taylor said, noting that as a fixed-income resident, she didn’t have enough savings for some home repair efforts.
Cerrone and others recalled staying in places on mission trips during the hottest months of the year that didn’t have air conditioning, although they were thankful that Laurel Highlands High School wasn’t one of them.
Instead of keeping their summer to themselves, the nearly 350 teens on the mission trip indicated their skill levels in four areas — painting, drywall, carpentry and roofing — and applied those skills accordingly throughout 48 homes within a three-mile radius of Laurel Highlands High School. That scope of geographic eligibility was determined after Laurel Highlands agreed to host the mission trip members, who slept in classrooms and showered in locker rooms.
“It’s totally worth it,” said Christina Hart, 17 of Glastonbury, Conn., as she, Perez, Cerrone and two others wrapped up work at Taylor’s home for the day on July 24.
“Every time I do it, I feel a sense of achievement,” said Jacob Espinosa, 17, of Leverington Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, recalling having traveled to Cedar Grove, W.Va., for last year’s trip.
Espinosa was a member of a double crew working on the Coolspring Street home of Norman Hall in North Union Township.
Hall, 80, lives alone, and a tornado that swept through the area in February damaged his home. The mission group painted multiple rooms and reconstructed several parts of his home, with members of the Bruderhof’s New Meadow Run community finishing work that the group could not squeeze in during their stay.
“I could never get to all that,” Hall said.
Hall noted that the kids worked and played well with each other upon meeting one another for the first time, doing cartwheels and making a human pyramid in his backyard during work breaks.
“They’re a good bunch,” Hall said.
Marlene Kolosky, a project manager for FCCAA who oversaw the partnership between the Neighborhood Partnership Program and Group Mission Trips, noted that the program meant more than just home repair to homeowners.
“It’s outreach, too,” Kolosky said. “It’s knowing someone cares about you.”
Kolosky said that one resident was so thankful that he gave one of the mission workers an electric guitar.
Nelda Henderson of Uniontown appreciated the work that the mission members did on her Whiteman Avenue home.
“The group is wonderful,” Henderson said, recalling the affection group members had shown her dog Alethia. ” . Words cannot describe these kids.”
The gratitude works both ways.
In his fourth year of participating in the group’s mission trips, J.P. Brown of Pennington, N.J. appreciates that the program, based in the Christian faith, unites members from across the country with the single purpose of helping people.
Toward the end of a mission work session at her home, Taylor rejoined the mission members outside and indicated again that she was grateful.
“They’ve been such a blessing,” Taylor said.
“Thank you,” Cerrone replied. “And so have you.”
Information from: Herald-Standard, http://www.heraldstandard.com/