What would Jesus build? Apparently, if he were in the Moshannon Valley this week, it would be some porches, a wheelchair ramp, maybe even a roof.
A group of teens from all over the world have come to Philipsburg remembering that Jesus was a carpenter and following those footsteps.
About 200 senior high students from 10 states — plus Tokyo — are sleeping in the classrooms at Philipsburg-Osceola Area High School by night and spending their days swinging hammers and wielding paintbrushes at the homes of residents in need.
“I’ve been on these before,” said Jaclyn Munsinger, 16, of Long Island, N.Y., as she carefully taped off the glass on Kathy and Russ McGuire’s front door on Port Matilda Highway in Rush Township. “I love helping other people. I have so much joy by the end of the week.”
The teens come from youth groups that spend $400 per participant to spend their summer vacation working with local sponsors, in this case Central Pennsylvania Community Action.
Camp director Kevra Finkelstein said sponsors raise $24,000 on their part to pay for things like wood and paint and other materials for the projects.
This is the fourth time Group Mission Trips has come to Philipsburg, using the school as a base to send six-person teams of campers off to homes from Irvona to Clearfield, Osceola Mills to Karthaus. The teams are mixed, putting kids from different youth groups together to meet new people while they learn new skills.
Avery Neaves, 14, of Reston, Va., is on his second trip.
“I had a great experience last time. Life changing,” he said as he wielded a post-hole digger in the backyard at the McGuire house. He and Alex Palmer, of Freeport, N.Y., were hard at work replacing the steps they had just torn off of the house with something sturdier for the elderly couple who had applied for help.
Palmer, 17, was flat on the ground, head buried in a hole he was digging as he tried to loosen stones. But getting dirty isn’t new to him. For six years, the Eagle Scout has done work camps on spring break at home. This is his first time on the road, but he will be back in central Pennsylvania soon when he moves to Williamsport to start Lycoming College in the fall.
“I like helping the homeowners,” he said.
The homeowners appreciate it, too. They qualify for the projects by meeting income or disability needs. For this week of work, 31 homeowners signed up for help.
“The place looks better than ever before,” said Jimmy Earnest as the campers at his Osceola Mills home trimmed hedges and painted his basement floor.
“It’s fun. We’re already becoming really fast friends,” said Riley Kay, of New Hope. In fact, it is that blend of people that makes the experience special for her.
The faith aspect is another important factor for the week. Campers attended Sunday services at Grace United Methodist, and have daily morning and evening worship sessions. For many — campers and staff — it is what drives them to spend their summers working instead of playing.
“It combines a couple things that are really important to me: Christian ministry, working with youth and home repair,” said Kelly Bandman, of St. Paul, Minn.
Bandman, a Luther College student, is one of the few paid staff members of the group, organizing the daily excursions and keeping track of campers and volunteers from their home base in the P-O school library. Her carefully coordinated map of the area, with pins for each of the 32 work groups, looks like a general’s battle plan.
Finkelstein, a teacher during the school year, has been watching kids have this experience and come back for it year after year, even with her own children.
“My daughter still sends Christmas gifts to one of her residents,” she said. “My son still gets cards from one of his. It’s more than just a week. The relationships that get built, they really last.”