600 youth serving those in need
by Emily McLain

SYLACAUGA – Nearly 600 youth are visiting Sylacauga during the next two weeks to work on strangers’ homes, shower in outdoor trailers and sleep on the floor – all in the name of Christian service.

Reach Workcamps, a weeklong missions camp, kicked off Monday as 197 youth and adults from five states headed out to 21 worksites across Alpine, Childersburg, Sycamore and Sylacauga to repair homes at no cost to the homeowner.

Under the supervision of contractors, campers will complete jobs including roofing, painting, and construction of porches, steps and wheelchair ramps for individuals who otherwise could not afford the work. However, there is more to their mission.

“We’re not just here for home repairs and then we leave,” said Annie Hummel, Reach Workcamps director of marketing and promotions. “Reach is definitely a way to show God’s love to those who maybe haven’t gotten to see that love in action, and for the kids to learn about Christ’s love for them too.”

During the camp, which set up a home base at Nichols-Lawson Middle School, youth attend nightly worship services and also hold on-site devotionals, inviting the homeowners, or ‘neighbors’ as Reach calls them, to join in.

“It’s an awesome thing that they do,” said Sylacauga First United Methodist Church youth pastor Chuck Terrell. “I see people’s hearts change – students, adults, neighbors. And I see neighbors overwhelmed that people are taking a week of their summer and spending $400 to come work on their house.”

The home repairs are funded in part by camp dues, as well as through donations of time and materials from Sylacauga Home Depot, City Schools, Walmart, Coosa Valley Medical Center, Farr Construction and various other volunteers. Hummel said people are willing to participate in Reach, despite the hard work and sacrifices required, out of a heart of service.

“We’re a Christian organization and really feel called to serve God in that way,” she said. “Students are able to not only learn how to do these projects, but to serve the community and serve God, and then take it back to their home and continue the same thing there.”

Particularly for Sylacauga campers, Reach is proof that you can serve your hometown in a big way, Terrell said. FUMC youth have attended Reach Workcamps around the country for about eight years, and the church, in partnership with SAFE Family Services Center, has spent the past three years advocating to bring Reach to Sylacauga.

The city is hoping to form a lasting relationship with Reach, a nondenominational nonprofit started in 1992, and is already scheduled to host the camp again next summer.

“The downturn of the economy fueled by the loss of Avondale Mills created a real need in Sylacauga that I really was not aware of until we started doing site visits for the projects,” Terrell said. “From that point forward, God put it on my heart that we really do need Reach here, and we want our youth to know after everyone leaves that we can go out and help people.”

The community obviously recognizes and is thankful for the help offered by these teens, who have traveled from Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Alabama and South and North Carolina. Signs at businesses around town welcome them here, and Terrell said new volunteers are showing up all the time. “There were literally 30 people here at 6:30 this morning to volunteer to feed kids, and then they stayed to clean bathroom and sweep floors,” he said. “It’s been phenomenal. We are truly overwhelmed.” Mayor Doug Murphree said it is “a wonderful thing that young people are willing to volunteer their time to help our community.”

By Friday, area residents will be enjoying improved homes and many lives will have been changed for the better, just in time for a group of nearly 400 campers to arrive and do it all again next week.

Contact Emily Adams at eadams@dailyhome.com.

© 2013