Thursday, July 14, 2005

Youths give up a week of summer to help those hit hard by flood
By Kathleen Ganster

Corey Harris likes to sleep in during summer vacation, but the 13-year-old was up early Monday, hanging drywall in a Millvale home.

Harris is among 150 young people who descended on the region this week to help flood victims.

While the flood of September 2004 may be a distant memory for many people, hundreds are still trying to repair the damage left behind. That is where Harris and his fellow teens come in. They are here on a mission project to work on flood-damaged homes in Millvale, Etna, Sharpsburg, Carnegie and Tarentum. Next week, a second team of 150 to 180 youths will come to help some more.

The young men and women are part of a project under the auspices of Pennsylvania Christian Endeavor, or PACE, a youth ministry that offers summer mission camps.

Western Pennsylvania was chosen as a mission site after an evaluation process by the ministry staff, said the Rev. Sam Yeager, director of the ministry.

"We review places in Pennsylvania that need assistance that are impoverished or have been struck by a natural disaster. We look at a couple of options, then choose from there," he said. The ministry then mails information to churches all over the state and sections of neighboring states to recruit youth to serve on the mission trip.

The youth are from churches throughout Pennsylvania and parts of Ohio, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware and New York.

"People ask us if the youth get paid, but they actually pay their own way," Yeager said. "They also provide their own transportation."

He estimates the cost to participate in the program at $265 per person plus transportation. Yeager, who lives near the ministry's headquarters in Gilbertsville, Montgomery County, is supervising this mission.

The youth of Colemanville United Methodist Church in Conestoga, Lancaster County, raised the money through fund-raisers such as car washes, said Lois Geyer, an adult leader. Her church brought 10 youth members and five adult leaders. They tore up carpeting, scrubbed walls and disinfected a deserted building on Grant Street in Millvale, then boarded it up to prevent it from becoming a health hazard.

"It is so nice to see everyone get happy and excited over what we do," said Geyer's daughter, Olivia, 16, who came on the mission along with her sister, Margaret. "It just feels good."

Harris and his co-workers are also from the Colemanville church. Kevin Keeport, one of the adult leaders, is a carpenter and led five boys as they installed drywall throughout a house around the corner from the other group. Keeport took a week of vacation to lead the youth from his church. "Why not? These people need us," he said.

This was Harris' first mission trip, but some of the older church members had worked with the ministry last year in West Virginia. "I helped drywall my basement at home," Harris said. "So this is fun. Some of it is kind of hard, but it is OK."

The youth and some adults stayed at Mount Alvernia in Millvale, a convent and school run by the Sisters of St. Francis. "The sisters have been very kind to us. They donated the housing," Yeager said.

Material for the repairs comes from a variety of sources, including the churches involved with the project as well as local organizations and churches, the families themselves, federal funds and donations, according to Yeager. "Part of the money the kids raise goes for material," he said.

Locally, North Hills Community Outreach and its satellite in Millvale have been involved in the project as well as the Millvale Assistance Team, Etna Team for Neighborhood Assistance, Carnegie Long-Term Recovery Team, Hosanna Industries and Adventist Community Services.

Outreach staff worked with the ministry staff to assess the skills of the youth to match them to the repair tasks.

"Many of these [flood victims] helped themselves and worked with other volunteers, but they have gone as far as they can in their repairs and still need help," said Don Breitbarth, a flood relief caseworker for North Hills Community Outreach. "We had the youth do a skill assessment -- some of them have been doing this for a couple of years. Then we match them up to the work that needs done."

Another group of youths worked at the home of Rosemary Haberman in Etna. "I had to move out for four months while my son and son-in-law made my house livable again," she said. Although she is back in her house, the youngsters did yard work and seeded her back yard, which was destroyed in the flood.

Sisters Morgan and Chynna McComsey were part of the Etna work team. Chynna, 14, worked on Haberman's yard, while Morgan, 16, helped haul old appliances out of another home. Members of Florin Church of the Brethren in Lancaster, the girls gave up work for a week to help.

"We are doing something good here," Morgan McComsey said. "We have the whole summer. This is only one week, and we can do a lot of good in a week."

(Kathleen Ganster is a freelance writer.)

Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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