The sounds of paint scraping, power washing and hand drills filled the steamy afternoon air in mid-June outside Tonya Ervins’ house in Fort Wayne, and she couldn’t have been happier.
Ervins, 60, had called several offices and organizations seeking assistance with needed work on her older home, but she had no success. Then help arrived through the Teen Service Week organized by the St. Vincent de Paul Society’s Fort Wayne district office. The event brought together about 30 teens and 15 adult volunteers from the society’s Carpenter’s Sons ministry to work on home repair or improvement projects at five sites in Fort Wayne.
“I’m just really pleased,” Ervins said. “This place gives you back faith in people because you didn’t know there are people out there who will help.”
This is the second year the St. Vincent de Paul Society’s Fort Wayne district has hosted a Teen Service Week, said Lara Schreck, District Executive Director. Participation was free to both the teens and the people they helped.
The idea for the service week came from the youth mission trips many parishes sponsor, Schreck said.
“I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great for teens to have that opportunity in their own hometown?’” she explained.
This year, participation was open to 30 young people, from those entering ninth grade this fall through those who just graduated from high school, Schreck said. They accepted 20 teens the first year. Limiting the number of young people involved ensures they all have plenty of work to do, she noted.
This year’s projects included building and installing a wheelchair ramp, repairing rotting outdoor decks, painting and other work, Schreck said. Her organization learned of some of the needs through St. Vincent de Paul Society groups at area parishes. Other project sites resulted from the Carpenter’s Sons’ collaboration with NeighborLink, a nonprofit organization that helps match people who need assistance with home projects with neighbors who can aid them.
Teens worked from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. from June 13-16, with an orientation session the first morning and a wrap-up meeting the final morning before they headed out to complete their projects. At each of the project sites, Carpenter’s Sons members coached teens through the home improvement work or repairs. The men and women in the Carpenter’s Sons group meet each Tuesday to work on home repairs for people who aren’t able to do the work themselves.
“I hope the kids who do it will tell their friends, ‘Hey, this was great,’ and it will continue to grow,” Schreck said of Teen Service Week.
About half of the teens who participated last year signed up to do it again this year, she noted.
“It was really fun,” said Belle Tippmann, 17, who is home schooled. Last year, Belle and friend Jerry Grable, 14, who is also home schooled, assisted with installing a deck, did some power washing and cleaned up a shed for a homeowner.
This year, Belle and Jerry joined other teens in assembling and installing a wheelchair ramp for a mobile home resident.
At Ervins’ house, the work included painting and repairing her backyard fence.
She’s always worked, she said, but money is tight and she hasn’t been able to keep up with maintenance on the house.
“It’s hard, and you get knocked down and you get used to it,” she said.
The work completed by the teens and Carpenter’s Sons members is a huge help, she said.
Teens enjoyed the hands-on aspect of the service projects.
“I feel like, with building things, it feels like you are doing more,” said Brian Anderson, 16, who worked with his friend and fellow Carroll High School junior Caleb Hamm, 16, on building and installing the wheelchair ramp.
However, the teens overwhelmingly said they volunteered because they want to help others.
“I wanted to help out the community,” said Sophie Somsavath, 14, who will be a freshman at Bishop Dwenger High School in the fall. She was joined by her brother, Jayden, 15, a Bishop Dwenger sophomore.
“I like the community and the energy everyone has,” Jayden said.
Schreck hopes Teen Service Week will make young people more aware of the community services provided by the St. Vincent de Paul Society and the impact they can have through volunteering. She also hopes their Teen Service Week experiences instill in them a love of community service and a love of helping others.
“To me,” she added, “that means you are growing in your faith to be making this type of impact and helping your neighbor.”
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