Hands-on mission work

Changers: High school students who came to town to help needy homeowners learned more than home repair.

July 16, 1999|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

They're not professional construction workers. Some of them have never picked up a power tool. But despite their inexperience, more than 350 high school students from around the nation converged on the Baltimore area this week to repair homes for people in need.

The World Changers high school construction program brought the students from a number of Southern Baptist church youth groups to Baltimore city and county. It is the first time the Georgia-based program has come to the Baltimore area to repair 26 homes for people who are elderly, disabled or have low incomes.

"They're reaching out and really changing someone's world," project spokeswoman Stephanie Lim said. "We think that this kind of hands-on mission work is a chance for their lives to be changed."

About a dozen students spent the week repairing Dorothy McManus' two-story home in East Towson. They replaced shingles, put in a new kitchen floor, built a small backyard deck and replaced doors.

"It's so much. I'm so grateful and thankful," McManus said. "There's no way in the world I could have paid for this work."

The homeowners were se- lected based on need after they submitted an application for the repair work to the county's Office of Community Conservation, county spokeswoman LaWanda Edwards said.

Georgia Tredway, 17, said the project allowed her to be a public servant. As she worked on homes such as McManus', she said she learned not to take anything for granted.

"It's an experience that I think our youth need to understand, that not everything here is [available to] everyone," said Tredway, from Humansville, Mo.

Robert Davis, project supervisor for McManus' home, said some of the students came to the site with little or no construction experience. He said he taught his crew to use power tools and the most efficient way to put things together.

"We're teaching as we go," said Davis, of Owensboro, Ky. "They're just willing. They catch on very quickly."

World Changers

The World Changers program began in 1990 in Briceville, Tenn., under the auspices of the Southern Baptist Convention. It is now part of the North American Mission Board and based in Alpharetta, Ga., where it has grown to 15,000 people working this summer on 47 projects in the United States and three in Puerto Rico.

The students travel with their church youth groups to the sites, but they have to pay for their own transportation along with $225 for lodging and food. They stayed at Perry Hall High School, sleeping in cots or on air mattresses and eating cafeteria food.

The students said they didn't mind paying the money or enduring the somewhat uncomfortable housing because they're doing the work to share their love of God with others.

"This is the least that I can do to repay Jesus," said Brian Stevens, 18, of Wendell, N.C.

Support from businesses

Local companies, including Black & Decker Corp., Childs Express and Keene Dodge in Jarrettsville, donated money or supplies to the program.

Project leaders and the students said World Changers gives young people a positive image, especially because the students are working for selfless reasons.

"I think it is about the most positive thing that you see going on," said David Childs, owner and president of Childs Express, who helped bring World Changers to Baltimore. "Unfortunately, after the shootings in Colorado, you hear so much negative about youth, and this is one good thing that these kids are doing."

Lim, the project spokeswoman, said the communities and the young people both benefit: Homeowners get their houses repaired, and students get valuable life experiences as they meet new people, develop leadership skills and donate their time to people in need.

"Each project only lasts a week," she said. "But the spirit behind it is something we want them to take home with them."

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