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Community volunteers aim to heal divided country through service

The Rev. Dean Lindsey, senior pastor at State College Presbyterian Church, installs a new light Friday at the Stormbreak shelter.
The Rev. Dean Lindsey, senior pastor at State College Presbyterian Church, installs a new light Friday at the Stormbreak shelter. For the CDT

Abraham Lincoln said a house divided against itself cannot stand, but 200 or so local people showed there’s hope for us yet — by standing up for a house.

Regardless of their votes in a divisive presidential election, a small army of State College Presbyterian Church members came together the past two days to pull off a remarkable project. For about 20 hours, working in four-hour shifts, they transformed the downtown Stormbreak shelter for adolescent girls like a real-life home remodeling show.

Floors were installed. Walls were painted, windows washed, a bathroom renovated. Curtains were sewn and hung. Out went the old — mattresses, bedding and furniture — replaced with the new.

“Our home is an old house that needs a lot of nurturing, and boy, is it getting a lot of nurturing! It’s really beyond words,” said Theresa Kieffer, Stormbreak’s program director.

By the time the church served a celebratory lunch for everyone Saturday, Stormbreak had gone from a worn residential shelter to a warm and inviting residence for about a half-dozen girls.

“The object was to have it be more of a home for them,” said the Rev. Dean Lindsey, the church’s senior pastor.

Rick Bryant, the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts executive director, was among the volunteers who started at 8 a.m. Friday, worked until midnight, returned early Saturday morning and ranged from elementary school children to senior citizens.

“I think a lot of people do believe that charity begins at home, and Stormbreak is literally around the corner from our church,” Bryant said. “We in the church like to get together to do this stuff, so it’s sort of like the perfect storm. It’s a great team-building exercise for a great cause.”

The $25,000 project came about this summer while the church looked for its next large charitable undertaking on the order of past efforts such as building a Habitat for Humanity house. Drawing on long ties with the Centre County Youth Service Bureau, which runs the shelter, church leaders inquired if the agency needed help.

Why, yes, thanks for asking.

While not falling down, Stormbreak needed support of another kind. Painting. Fixing. Cleaning. Rewiring. Donated bicycles were sitting unused, in need of tune-ups and repairs.

“They just didn’t have the money to do these things,” organizer Phil Spangler said.

He and other lead organizers, such as Associate Pastor Mike Ozaki and member Sharon Ambrose, began drawing up the plans and marshaling the troops. There was a lot to cover. A local flooring company, contracted at a steep discount, installed new laminate floors prior to this weekend, clearing the way for the rest of the magic.

Friday morning, after the girls left school, volunteers removed carefully packed-up possessions and hauled out furniture, mattresses, anything no longer wanted. A truck drove salvageable items to local charities.

Then came the full makeover: fresh wall paint, new silverware and plates, a spotless kitchen, updated light fixtures and radiator covers, refurbished stair handrails, cleaned windows, replaced furniture. At The Makery, a downtown arts and crafts studio owned by church member Amy Frank, volunteers sewed curtains and children made decorative artwork to brighten rooms. Other people brought snacks to busy workers.

But with everything happening, people filling every room late into the night, what were the girls going to do? The project had that covered also — dinner and a sleepover party at the church, with breakfast in the morning.

“It’s really wonderful that our girls can be part of such a positive experience,” Kieffer said. “They don’t have a lot of positivity in their lives.”

Maybe that positivity, the chance to work together to help youth trying to right their lives and return to families and foster care, appealed to volunteers as well. In the final days of a long, often ugly election, sign-ups nearly tripled.

“People are aching to do projects like this,” Spangler said. “People are aching to do good.”

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It’s the spirit that will carry a divided America forward, our best selves instead of our worst, united for the less fortunate, politics rendered moot. Everybody wins. Thank you, State College Presbyterian Church, for showing that to troubled girls — and to us.

“It’s a feel-good thing,” Spangler said. “After this election, that’s not a bad thing.”

Chris Rosenblum writes about local people, events and issues. Send story ideas to chrisrosenblum@comcast.net.

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