WELCOME HOME TO Milt Griffin, John Gartrell, Nick DiGiaconantonio, Judy Blair and Susan Smith-Taylor, members of Union Bridge United Methodist Church who returned from a Volunteers in Mission project on the island of Vieques last week.
The five church members spent 10 days working with residents to repair a health clinic and build a kindergarten classroom.
Both structures are part of the United Methodist Church complex on the island, which is part of Puerto Rico.
The Union Bridge parishioners teamed with members of Thurmont United Methodist Church for this leg of the mission.
Other teams will follow to carry out the project, which will take several years to complete.
To get a sense of the group's mission and experience, I talked with Gartrell, who was so enthusiastic about the trip -- his first -- that he plans to join another such mission.
"I hadn't thought about joining a mission until it was presented to me," he said. "But I had the time and could take the opportunity."
Gartrell restored his Victorian home in Union Bridge, so he knew his skills would be useful for the hands-on mission.
"We did a little bit of everything," he said. "We hung doors to the shower stalls in the clinic and did general maintenance, we did all the plumbing and installed a 600-gallon water tank for the clinic, and we built scaffolding for the kindergarten classroom. The people were very appreciative."
The cultural exchange and the opportunity to worship alongside other Methodists also offered rewards.
"Everything was different," said Gartrell. "We were there to help, so we did things their way -- even though we thought we might have a better way. Manual labor is still used, and we didn't see many power tools -- we even mixed cement by hand. And somehow we got by on our 10 words of Spanish and gesturing.
"And [on the spiritual side] it was exciting to see people excited about their faith. The church had about 10 members just a few years ago, and now 120 people try to squeeze in the church for worship. We worshiped with them, using Bibles that had both English and Spanish, and sang hymns to the same tunes. They sang in Spanish, and we sang in English."
The group had some fun, too.
In the evening, they enjoyed the Caribbean waters.
"You could stand in water shoulder-deep, and look down and see your toes," said Gartrell, who snorkeled.
A highlight of the trip was taking a charter boat to Bayou Luminescence Bay, where tiny underwater organisms glow like neon lights.
"We were invited to jump into the water, and we did," Gartrell said. "When we waved our arms, it looked like angels out there."
Middle school and manners
If Linda Selby and her pupils at Northwest Middle School have their way, the folks in Taneytown will be as inundated with reminders to use good manners as they are inundated to behave badly through media advertisements, television shows and movies.
Selby, an assistant principal at Northwest Middle, and Northwest teachers Cathy Berry and Joe Smolko made manners the theme of this year's leadership camp at the school, geared for pupils who show leadership potential.
Pupils are recommended by their teachers to attend the camp.
"We were trying to think of ways to get kids to use good manners," said Selby, who got the idea when she noticed a lack of good manners in the cafeteria line.
She, Berry and Smolko asked the leadership campers to devise catchy slogans and then shape them into signs generated on the computer.
They came up with sayings such as "Just Say Please," "Best Manners in Town" and "Smile -- it means more than happy."
The next step is for the kids to distribute the signs to businesses around town and encourage them to display the courtesy reminders in shop windows.
One local business is so supportive of the idea that the pupils will be making a courtesy stamp designed for use on product boxes.
"Hopefully, people will be seeing these signs all over town," said Selby.
Judy Reilly's Northwest neighborhood column appears each Thursday in the Carroll County edition of The Sun.
Pub Date: 7/29/99