September 23, 2017
School & Youth
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  • Students from Severna Park United Methodist Church repaired homes in Appalachia from June 24 to July 1.
    Rev. Ron Foster
    Students from Severna Park United Methodist Church repaired homes in Appalachia from June 24 to July 1.
  • While in Harts, West Virginia, students from Severna Park United Methodist Church had their eyes opened to the needs in neighboring areas.
    Rev. Ron Foster
    While in Harts, West Virginia, students from Severna Park United Methodist Church had their eyes opened to the needs in neighboring areas.
  • WoodsWork team members collectively worked on five sites during their stay in Kittanning, Pennsylvania.
    WoodsWork team members collectively worked on five sites during their stay in Kittanning, Pennsylvania.
  • WoodsWork team members collectively worked on five sites during their stay in Kittanning, Pennsylvania.
    WoodsWork team members collectively worked on five sites during their stay in Kittanning, Pennsylvania.
  • WoodsWork team members collectively worked on five sites during their stay in Kittanning, Pennsylvania.
    WoodsWork team members collectively worked on five sites during their stay in Kittanning, Pennsylvania.
  • WoodsWork team members collectively worked on five sites during their stay in Kittanning, Pennsylvania.
    WoodsWork team members collectively worked on five sites during their stay in Kittanning, Pennsylvania.

Severna Park Youth Build Houses For Those In Need

Gracie Fairfax
Gracie Fairfax's picture
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August 9, 2017

Equipped with work tools, sleeping bags and a willingness to serve, two local church groups recently departed to nearby states to help those in need.

Severna Park United Methodist Church

For 37 years, Severna Park United Methodist Church has repaired homes with the Appalachia Service Project. This year’s group – made up of high school students, college students and adult leaders – went to Harts, West Virginia, from June 24 to July 1. During their stay, they shared their time with Linden Linthicum United Methodist Church.

The Rev. Lee Ferrell, minister of Christian education & youth, has been participating in the trips for 35 years.

“If our group is big enough, we’ll just go by ourselves,” Ferrell said, “but this time there was room for a different church, so it was good working with other people – meeting new people that way.”

During their stay in West Virginia, the group set up camp at a local middle school where they slept on air mattresses and sleeping bags. Locals provided food, which both kept the group well fed and provided jobs for the community members.

The larger team was divided into 10 work crews of about six people to tend to numerous homes needing repair. At the work sites, the crews each helped Appalachian families whose homes had been damaged by weather or age. Tasks assigned included any home repair project within the group’s skill level – ranging from below the house to on top of the roof. Through their hard work, students learned useful home repair skills they can use beyond the trip, such as how to use power tools, how to spackle a wall and how to put shingles on a roof.

One memory that stuck with Ferrell was from time spent sitting with a woman on a porch built last year by a group from Severna Park United Methodist. The woman mentioned how much it meant to her that her floor isn’t going to fall out from under her.

Beyond interacting with the residents of Harts, Ferrell especially enjoyed observing how the trip affected her students.

“I like seeing the change in our kids. They learn so much about themselves and it’s good for them to see a whole different culture than Severna Park,” Ferrell said. “Their eyes are really opened. They really start appreciating what they have, and they grow in their faith, which is, of course, important to us here in the church.”

While the trip is focused on building projects, the interactions the students have with the families is particularly memorable.

“For all the work they do, and they love that, it’s the people that they love meeting – the families,” Ferrell said. “[They love] playing with their kids, talking to these people and learning their life stories – how their relatives came out of the mines and why they want to stay there. … The people are very interesting and fun and I think that’s what our kids like the best – relating to these families.”

Woods Memorial Presbyterian Church

Each summer for the past 33 years, Woods Memorial Presbyterian Church has taken a large group of high school students and adult leaders to a needy area in the East Coast region on a trip called WoodsWork. This year, from June 22 to June 30, a group of about 150 people went to Kittanning, Pennsylvania, one of the most impoverished areas of the state.

Many of the students from Woods invite friends to attend – some who have never attended church. Participants come from a variety of schools including Severna Park, Broadneck, Severn and Archbishop Spalding high schools.

While in Kittanning, WoodsWork team members stayed and cooked their own meals at a new local high school, which was graciously offered to WoodsWork as a home base, and partnered with the Armstrong County Habitat for Humanity chapter to build houses for those in need. They broke up into teams of four to five people accompanied by an adult leader who rotated through different groups.

In addition to working together on home builds, many of the students were involved in the planning process of the trip, headed up by adult chair Victor Marone and youth chair Emma Cooley. The committee members were divided up into subcommittees to arrange aspects of the trip such as housing for the WoodsWork group.

Under Habitat for Humanity regulations, students under 16 are not allowed to work on full worksites, so WoodsWork team members spent the first couple of days building wall panels offsite.

Emma Cooley, the youth chair for WoodsWork, reflected on how her building skills had improved throughout her years participating in WoodsWork.

“My first year, I spent an entire day building one wall panel because we had to take it apart so many times because you get so many different things wrong,” Cooley said. “You get to your junior and senior year, and your work group is busting out five wall panels before lunch.”

Given the large size of the team, the WoodsWork groups are able to make significant strides in the building projects. They worked on five total sites, some of which were full builds and others that were rehabs.

Once on the sites of the full builds, the pre-assembled wall panels went up rapidly. “That’s the day that you really want to be on the worksite because that’s when it’s crazy to see everything is coming up around you at once,” Cooley said.

This year, the group worked with an architect to build energy-efficient homes to cut down on heating and cooling costs — something new to WoodsWork from previous years.

The group members felt warmly welcomed by the community as they participated in construction projects, ate together, played with the children in the community and attended church on Sunday. Two of the churches offered to provide meals for the WoodsWorkers.

Each night, a worship service was held at the high school where they stayed. On the last day, they held a worship service at one of the homes they worked on. WoodsWork members invited the family whose home it was and blessed the home. The group has a tradition of signing the home and allowed Kelsey, one of the children of the family, to sign her name with pencil on the wall.

“Immediately, she writes her name and then she draws a cross and then writes ‘love house,’ and that’s just what it’s about,” Cooley said.

Marone enjoys seeing the way the students mature over their time with WoodsWork.

“Building a house and doing a refurbishment on a house is almost secondary to the youth meeting the people who are going to live in this house, talking with them and developing a relationship with them,” Marone said. “Seeing the youth grow in their faith and seeing them grow in their appreciation for the needs of others is just a very rewarding experience.”

Despite sleeping on air mattresses in a high school, getting covered in dirt and working long eight-hour days in the sun, the students who attend typically return year after year largely because of the unique relationships they build.

“Once you do it, you will never regret it, Cooley said.


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