Some teens spend their summer working to earn money. But members of the senior youth group at Faith Lutheran Church in Eldersburg used part of theirs paying for the privilege of working.
The members used their money -- and later their labor -- to repair the homes of the elderly and disadvantaged people in "Servant Event in Appalachia," a nationwide youth development and service program sponsored by the Lutheran Church's Missouri Synod.
"We were helping other people, but that wasn't all. We had Bible study every night, and we talked and we had fun and played games and things," said Maria Taylor, 17. "We helped the people there, but the people who worked together helped each other, too."
Projects like this help destroy stereotypes about today's teens as being unfocused and having little regard for others, said the Rev. James "Jim" G. Stoltenberg, the church pastor.
"You keep hearing so much about youth of today, that they're 'Generation X' and how they are all going down the tubes," Mr. Stoltenberg said. "But just the idea that 1,000 teens from all over the country each year come out and do this is just an awesome thing."
For 15 years, Lutheran churches nationwide send representatives to Nora, Va., and Asheville, N.C. each summer. This year, Faith's members were joined by volunteers from Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Olney as well as ones from churches in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.
Ten members of Faith Lutheran Church, including Mr. Stoltenberg and Eileen and John Vogelpohl, returned late last month after working for a week to 10 days on the project.
"It is a way for kids to show that they work together for a common goal," said Mr. Stoltenberg. "It shows them that they can do things to make people's lives better."
But first they had to, as the pastor put it, "raise $200 each for the privilege of working."
Although working at the church's snowball stand provided some of the money, the youth group, headed by Elaine and Todd Wells, decided on a novel fund-raising method -- flamingos.
The Wells and youth-group members constructed plywood flamingos, painted them bright pink with yellow legs and bizarre facial expressions, then sold "insurance" against infestation by the pink birds to members of the congregation.
Church-goers who purchased the $20 flamingo insurance were safe. But youth group "hit squads" brought the birds to "infest" the lawns of those who did not buy insurance . For $30, the birds were removed. By giving a $50 donation, families that were "infested" got to choose the next noninsured family to be "hit."
"It was flat out extortion, but since the kids did it, we could get away with it," said Mr. Stoltenberg, laughing at the good-natured scheme that raised nearly $2,000.
With the money raised by youth groups, $3,500 donated from the Lutheran World Relief and other contributions, the volunteers performed work at 10 homes in the Appalachian region.
Mr. Stoltenberg said many of the homes had no running water or indoor plumbing.
"Some of these people were waiting for repairs on their homes for two years," Mr. Stoltenberg said.
Mr. and Mrs. Vogelpohl, their son Joe, Maria and youth group member Andrew Parlette worked in Asheville as part of a 33-member group.
The group divided and went to separate work sites where they worked for about seven hours each day. They slept on army cots in Sunday school rooms of churches and showered at the YWCA.
Maria and Joe had to dig a hole and a drain field for a septic tank hole at one home.
"We hit granite and we had to move [the hole] over 3 feet," said Joe, who was on his first servant retreat. "I was working near a beehive. I got stung about seven times."
Mr. Stoltenberg, Lisa Woodall and three other Eldersburg teens were discovering other challenges in Nora, where they worked as part of a 26-member team.
Lisa, 16, helped rebuild a porch and put in a closet for a woman whose house had a cracked foundation. Everything in the home tilted.
"There wasn't anything in the house that was level," she said. "We'd cut out the wood for the closet and it wouldn't fit. The bed was so slanted that it looked like if you tried to sleep in it you would roll out."
Lisa described the site she worked on in Nora. The woman of the house was disabled and her husband, a retired coal miner, suffered from black lung.
"We were way up a mountain road. This lady was very poor," said Lisa. "She didn't have running water, and there were buckets lined along the porch to catch water falling from the drainpipes. "
The teens said there was more to the experience than rebuilding houses.
"You do a lot of work, but it is a lot of fun, too," said Lisa , a second-time participant. "It was a real small group so I knew a lot of the people already."
Although the recipients of the repairs and services could not pay for the work, they offered their thanks in the form of corn bread, homemade cookies, blackberries, dumplings and fresh beans, they said.
"Everyone had a garden," Joe Vogelpohl, 15, said. "And there wasn't a weed in them."