Youths find home repair job revitalizing Severna Park teens spend week on W.Va. work crew

July 18, 1996|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

When Tony Sciantarelli agreed to spend a week of his summer painting and repairing homes in Elizabeth, W.Va., he was doing it for selfish reasons.

"I wanted to go on vacation," the 17-year-old senior at Archbishop Spalding High School admitted. "I didn't expect to have nearly as much fun as I did. It turned out to be more fun than work."

Tony and six other teen-agers from St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church in Severna Park joined more than 400 youths and adults from about 50 churches around the country to rehabilitate homes and schools in North Carolina, Ohio and West Virginia.

The program is sponsored by Group Workcamps, a Colorado-based organization that pairs Christian youths with rural locales that need manual labor.

This is the second year that St. John has joined the program, said Milton Finch, an adult coordinator who accompanied the teens to Elizabeth. Last year, two teen-agers and five adults worked for a week in Canton, Ohio.

"My intent in getting them to go was to get them to experience the love of God in their lives by providing service to others who need it, developing friendships with people they never met before and living the lessons they learned," Finch said. "All those three things came together that week."

The teen-agers were divided into work crews of six and were not allowed to work with members of their churches. So the only time the St. John's participants got to see each other was during dinner and before lights out.

"But that's the best part of it," Tony said. "We're completely strangers, and I didn't know anyone there. I made some friends who I want to keep in touch with forever."

Many of the youths said they had signed up for the program because their high schools require 28 hours of volunteer service before they can graduate.

But all said they began to look at the job as more than just labor after they rebuilt, repaired and repainted 63 homes and the local high school and befriended many of the 2,000 residents of Elizabeth.

Jennifer Pierre, a senior at St. Mary High School in Annapolis, said many of the people supplied Popsicles and ice water for the crews working in the heat.

"They were really cool," Jennifer said. "They were just really into it, and that got me into it. You couldn't help but get close to them."

Kristen Farrell, a sophomore at St. Mary High School, said a 16-year-old boy asked her if he could help when he saw her crew was working on a neighbor's home.

She said she was saddened by the number of residents living in dilapidated trailers but still denied any assistance.

"They were too proud to ask," the 16-year-old girl said. "I hope that now that they saw us down there helping people, they'll have more courage to ask for help."

The experience was troubling at times, the teens said.

Some residents did not have running water or electricity, while others had only a grade-school education.

"I learned how lucky I was to have what I have," Kristen said. "I didn't stereotype them, but I didn't get to know them until later, and they're not very different from us."

To participate in the program, the teen-agers raised $215 each through craft fairs and doughnut sales and paid another $100 out of their own pockets. Most of the money was used to buy the supplies to repair the homes.

But the chance to help was much more important than the expense of the program.

"We may not have gotten a reward monetarily, but we got a reward anyway," Tony said.

Pub Date: 7/18/96

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