Teens come together for home repair projects

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 26, 2012

ROCKWELL — Revonda Hooks was ready for her 12 worker bees.
She had set a big jug of ice water and a cooler full of soft drinks under the shade tree in her front yard. If they like chocolate cake, Hooks said, she planned to give the teenagers a recipe to take home.
One by one Monday, members of the Group Workcamp introduced themselves to Hooks.
They were teens (and two adults) from Florida, Maryland, North Carolina, Louisiana, Illinois, Arkansas and Wisconsin. Over five days this week, they are scraping, repairing and painting Hooks’ mobile home off Cross Street, where she has lived the past 21 years.
After her husband’s massive stroke forced him into a nursing home, Hooks has lived alone and maintenance to her metal home with a wooden porch out front has been neglected.
“I really thank God for these kids,” Hooks said. “They have paid for the privilege to be here and work.”
This week in Rowan County and Kannapolis, 69 Workcamp crews are performing extensive repairs and improvements to 58 homes.
In all, roughly 410 teenagers and adult leaders are involved, using South Rowan High School as their base.
Think of the Workcamp as a home repair youth mission trip. Hooks says you read all the time about kids making mistakes, not about helping others.
“How many really want to give up their time and do this?” an appreciative Hooks said. “In my mind, this is where charity should start — in the United States. I’m one of those people who believes charity begins at home.”
China Grove’s Mount Zion United Church of Christ, whose youth have participated in the Group Workcamps for almost 25 years, is the host this year for participants from 11 different states.
Kim Hodges, youth director for Mount Zion, says her church has been preparing for the camp for 18 months.
More than a coatof paint
At Monday’s morning assembly in the South Rowan High gymnasium before the crews left for work sites, Hodges told the teens, “You’re doing more for them (homeowners) than putting on a coat of paint.”
Mount Zion member Billy Bullard served as safety officer for the day. He told the kids to stay hydrated, look out for ticks and, if they saw any black snakes, to just shoo them away.
“Don’t ‘waller’ in the grass,” Bullard recommended, bringing quizzical looks from some of the out-of-state kids.
In Rockwell, the team at Hooks’ house couldn’t wait to get started.
“It’s going to look real good,” said Kara Stone, who came from Maryland and led her crew in a prayer with Hooks before the work started. “We’re like Extreme Home Makeover, Mobile Edition.”
At 14, the youngest age allowed for a workcamp participant, Mia Sienko of New Berlin, Wisc., described herself as “kind of nervous, kind of excited.”
Forming newfriendships
The crews purposely are comprised of teens who have never met each other. The week forms new, sometimes lasting friendships, as the youth sweat, laugh and serve side by side.
The week also gives participants opportunities back at the high school to spend time with the friends they came with.
“I’m kind of looking forward to bonding with my youth group, and meeting these new people,” said Matthew Martin, a rising junior at Carson High and a member of Mount Zion.
He’s the only North Carolinian working on Hooks’ house.
Kelly Schwemmer of Annapolis, Md., also is attending her first workcamp. She started out Monday morning wearing a mask and goggles and scraping the back side of Hooks’ trailer.
“I really didn’t know what to expect,” Schwemmer said. “I think I’ll be a lot more skilled.”
Lauren Torsch of New Orleans, La., attended a Group Workcamp two years ago in Kingstree, S.C., where she remembers doing a lot of scraping and caulking as part of her jobs.
One of the adults on the team, 22-year-old Olivia McConkie of Arkansas, is participating in her ninth workcamp but her first as a chaperone with her church’s youth group.
Previous home repair mission trips have taken her to Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, Tennessee, and Mississippi — to name just some of the states she can think of quickly.
Her toughest job was digging trenches after Hurricane Katrina, she recalled.
Her fellow adult supervisor at the Hooks home is Ford Dieth, youth leader at Munholland United Methodist Church in New Orleans. It’s his fourth workcamp, but he describes himself as anything but skilled.
“My wife would say I’m not the handiest,” said Dieth, who brought 11 kids with him from his church.
The service and Christian aspects of the week are important to the teenagers.
By the time she goes home Saturday, Claudia Cammack of Greenfield, Wisc., said she hopes she is closer to God and more appreciative of how good she has things in her own life.
Since 1977 through Group Workcamps, nearly 300,000 teenagers have helped more than 50,000 families in North America.
A typical day has the kids waking up and showering between 5 and 7 a.m.; going to breakfast; gathering their tools, filling water jugs and packing coolers with lunches until 8 a.m.; meeting in the South Rowan High gymnasium for a brief program of prayer, music and instruction; then taking off in some kid of church van, minibus or charter bus for their work sites.
They work until returning to the school at 3:30 p.m. and hitting the showers.
The evenings are filled with dinner, programs, youth group devotions and entertainment. Lights have to be out by 11 p.m.
The week’s one-word theme — promoted on all the white T-shirts worn by the crews — is “Made,” as in Revelation 21’s message about making all things new again through God.
Some homeowners, when a crew of complete strangers descend on their houses, are a bit stand-offish at first, even shy.
But not Revonda Hooks. She loved the company.
“Here, honey, let me show you how to do it,” Hooks said Monday morning, helping one of the kids with a scraper.
Hooks had other advice: “Make sure you drink plenty of water now,” she insisted.
“Guys, too, with anything, start at the top and go to the bottom.”
On first meeting with Hooks Monday morning, Dieth said he hoped he wasn’t being presumptuous to invite her to have lunch and prayer with the group later under the shade tree.
“I would be hurt if you didn’t,” Hooks said.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or mwineka@ salisburypost.com.