A helping mission to Maine builds inspiration, too

August 09, 1994|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Staff Writer

When Courtney Withrow shops for back-to-school clothes, she will remember a family she met this summer in Farmington, Maine.

"They had four children, who each only had two sets of clothes," said the 13-year-old Sykesville resident. "I learned I am a lot better off than I ever thought I was. I'll think twice before I ask mom for $50 jeans," she said.

"Those kids only had one meal a day, too," said Jason Bodine, 14.

Seven teen-agers and four adults from Springfield Presbyterian Church in Sykesville traveled to Maine last month. They spotted a few moose and managed a little sightseeing, but they spent most of their 10-day trip doing renovations for needy homeowners.

"We learned how to build," said Courtney.

"We all did something special for people who need help," said her 14-year-old sister, Adriane.

All summer long, visiting groups go north, where Mission at Eastward, an ecumenical coalition of 13 churches in central Maine, assigns them construction tasks.

The concept fit what the Sykesville church was seeking in a mission project.

"As Christians, we are called to serve others," said the Rev. Jamie Dale, pastor. "We wanted a mission trip so the kids would have the opportunity to do something for others."

The mission surveys the sites, draws plans and provides supplies -- with money donated from the congregations. The volunteers receive their assignments upon arrival.

The Carroll County visitors replaced a deck and stairs for an elderly couple and built an addition to a two-bedroom trailer, home to the family of six. Neither task was too complicated for the amateur remodelers.

"We had a real feel for what we were getting into," said Tim Hastings, whom the teen-agers dubbed "Tim the Toolman" for his expertise with construction gear. "I have done several decks, and Don Vasbinder just finished an addition on his home here."

After a year of preparing, the younger volunteers fell right into step with the more experienced adults.

"I helped build a deck and I didn't know a thing about tools," said Adriane. "Now, I can use a circular saw."

Many found tearing down was easier than building up.

"The steps to the deck were so rotted that the owner fell through them," said Adriane. "We only needed to yank them with a crowbar to get them up."

As the crew tackled the trailer addition, Jason learned to follow building plans, install windows and stud walls.

"We built a 12- by 32-foot addition and gave the family a lot more living space," said Jason. "The family was really grateful."

He also learned to deal with "kids from all over the place offering to help us."

Including the residents in the projects follows the Mission at Eastward philosophy: "the willing and able should help."

"It is much more difficult to work with, rather than for people, whom you are helping," said Mr. Dale. "It requires that you establish a relationship with them. It took a few days for all of us to learn the subtleties of working together."

To prepare for the trip, the group participated in seminars with hammers, nails and saws and rented "how-to" tapes, said Mr. Hastings.

The church building benefited from the learning process -- the students practiced their new painting and repair techniques on the aging building.

They also joined Light Street Ministries and helped restore a Baltimore rowhouse for a homeless family.

The church had flea markets and bake sales to finance the trip and the teen-agers "sold stock in ourselves," said a smiling Adriane.

The teen-agers said they had thought of Maine as a resort area and were surprised at the many abandoned homes and factories. They were unprepared for the poverty they encountered.

"You would see a beautiful house next to a run-down trailer," said Adriane.

Mr. Dale said he hoped the experience helped the teens grasp issues of social justice and "learn what kind of world God expects us to build."

"Many of the people they met had little choices for their lives," he said.

Working together sowed the seeds of "some grand ideas and memories, which will stay with them," he added.

The pastor said he hopes the experience will serve as a catalyst for projects closer to home.

"There are similar housing issues in Carroll County," he said. "I hope this sparks interest in what we can do around here."

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