Teenage volunteers make most of A-K Valley's Week of Hope

| Sunday, Aug. 3, 2014, 1:06 a.m.

More than 100 volunteers with Week of Hope left the Alle-Kiski Valley in a little better shape than they found it last week — making church improvements, entertaining the elderly and helping many in need.

The group was the seventh and final crew with the non-profit organization Group Cares, which runs the Week of Hope. The mission program brings volunteers from across the country to work together in areas of need.

It began in June with new volunteers coming in every Sunday and leaving each Friday. The last group arrived July 27 and left Friday.

The teen volunteers were hosted by The River — A Community Church in New Kensington. The church made improvements to allow the volunteers to stay there, building a kitchen and sleeping area. Volunteers served at places such as Belair Health & Rehabilitation Center, area churches, food banks and Habitat for Humanity.

“It's been great,” said Chris Dericks, coordinator with Group Cares. “They've been such a good host here at The River.”

Real-life experience

For many, volunteering was a way to express their faith and help others.

Shannon Robinson, from Pasadena, Md., volunteered at the Belair nursing home in Lower Burrell, where she talked with residents, served doughnuts and played bingo.

“I love meeting new people,” said Robinson, 17. “I just like serving people and showing them what I see in this.”

Cynthia Fabian, 65, is a Belair patient. She said she looked forward to having the volunteers visit.

“I think it's nice that the kids want to come and help,” she said. “They're very polite and very helpful.”

Another patient, Fay Miller, agreed.

“It helps the day go faster,” said Miller, 75. “I enjoy it.”

A well-rounded trip

David Lectka, program leader, has worked with Week of Hope for five years. He leads the groups during a morning and night devotional time. He said the summer went well and enjoyed seeing the transition in first-time volunteers.

“By the end of the week, they don't want to leave,” he said. “It's been cool to see.”

The goal of the mission trips is to bring together two aspects of volunteering.

“We want to focus on a relational aspect, but also doing work experience,” Lectka said.

That's why locations are chosen where the volunteers get to have interaction with residents while doing some manual labor.

Jacob Cricks, from Canton, Ohio, had never participated in a mission trip like this.

“It's different,” said Cricks, 13. “I wanted to do this just to serve the Lord.”

Sue Squires, 43, volunteer and youth leader with her group, said it's important to do these trips to put life into perspective.

“Sometimes you get caught up in your own life and world,” said Squires, from Pasadena, Md. “You have to remember we're here to serve others.”

Happy to have volunteers

The Rev. Dean Ward, pastor at The River, was overjoyed to be hosting the volunteers for the first time.

“What they do lines up with our mission as a church to serve our community and make a difference in the region,” he said. “We could not be more thrilled with all that's happening.”

Aside from getting out in the community, volunteers have been putting in hours to improve the church as well, specifically its “Kids Closet,” which is stocked with items for a clothing exchange.

“They gave hours of help,” he said.

Olivia Merrow from West Branch, Mich., is one of those who helped with the closet.

“I like that we're doing stuff for people who need help and wouldn't have the time to do this,” said Merrow, 15.

She painted furniture and sorted clothes.

Help appreciated

The work hasn't gone unappreciated by the organizations the volunteers helped out.

Jessica Levine, manager of the Habitat for Humanity ReStore in New Kensington, said the volunteers provided a lot of help getting the store put together since it moved to its new location in May.

Volunteers helped organize items in the store, painted murals on the outside and went to Habitat sites to do home improvements.

“It's been really great getting to know all these kids,” she said.

Jordan Bell, from West Branch, Mich., said she enjoyed seeing Levine's reaction to the store's improvements.

“I really liked how happy she was to see the difference in her store,” said Bell, 15.

Krista Davis, from Pasadena, Md., said she is happy to be sending the clothes to those in need.

“I honestly think that the people who receive these are going to be totally blessed,” said Davis, 19.

Emily Balser is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-7710 or ebalser@tribweb.com.

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