Youth reach out to Brownsville homeowners in need

The Brownsville, Pennsylvania area is living in hard times because of diminished industry, diminishing population, and diminished incomes. What follows is an increasing number of decaying homes, with residents wishing for help and hope.

And there is hope. Through the auspices of Reach Mission Trips of Colorado, working in conjunction with Reach Workcamps of St. Peter’s Anglican Church in Uniontown, approximately 350-400 work campers will take up residence at Brownsville Area High School to serve 70 of Brownsville’s homeowners whose homes are in need of vital improvements.

Reach Mission Trips sponsors 6-8 work camps each year, involving church youth group students from 6th grade through high school and adults.

Judith Taylor, coordinator of Reach Workcamps of St. Peter’s Anglican Church, says of the program “It’s almost a rite of passage at church for kids to go to Reach. It’s a way to learn to serve,” which fulfills Reach’s goal of developing youth into “transformed servants of Jesus,” according to their web site.

Homeowners in need are pleased to discover there is no cost to them for the student teams who work to make their home “warmer, safer, and dryer” – the main goals of the home improvements according to Taylor.

“What’s the catch?” homeowners wonder, but there is no catch, as Taylor explains “funds come from youth group fundraisers. Each student usually pays $400 – $425 (to participate). This money funds the needed materials. These kids do fundraisers to raise money to pay for the privilege of sleeping on a classroom floor all week, eating cafeteria food. It’s character building.” Workdays of six hours for junior high, and seven hours for seniors, adds to the week long character building process.

Taylor, an 18 year volunteer, has taken generations of kids to Reach, which helps them learn skills in working with tools, roofing, and painting, while learning work ethics such as getting up for work at 6:30 a.m. every day during the week.

Taylor’s own family is a multi-general participant in Reach, with her daughter, Maggie Taylor, and granddaughter, Bailey Burkett helping out during camps. It’s not unusual for this program to bring in new generations, as Taylor said “A lot of students have come back as adults to continue work. Reach needs staff and now this is their college summer job.”

To qualify for help through Reach, the home must be owned by the resident, have financial need, and be within half hour travel distance from Brownsville Area High School.

In December, a Reach representative will visit homeowners who have completed applications.

All of the work done is overseen by a “troubleshooter” who had been a contractor in the past. All adults are screened including a background check and a letter from their own church’s pastor, Taylor said.

Homeowners benefit in a tangible way from the efforts of Reach work campers, not only in their everyday lives, but in the creation of a positive perception of modern youth. Taylor relates a project in southern West Virginia, where a homeowner “had stairs and handicap ramp so rotted she couldn’t safely leave the house. After being able to go down the steps and view her new porch on the house, she said ‘My porch looks like it belongs on the front of Southern Living Magazine!’”

Homeowners are pleased with the hard work and good attitudes of the campers, and have said “I didn’t think there were any good kids left in the world,” Taylor recounts, adding “the kids lead prayers at lunch time. It changes peoples’ perceptions of youth. I think that’s worthwhile because of too much negativity for young people.”

Taylor invites local community members and churches to participate with donations of bottled water, ice for lunch coolers, donations in kind, or financial donations. Local church youth who wish to participate will not commute, but will stay with other work campers at the high school, as Taylor said, because it provides church youth with a complete work camper experience.

Taylor is available to visit churches and youth groups to explain the camp, and also said “It’s not too early to be looking for homes which need help.”

For questions, information, work the group can do, or offers to help via food, donations, and more, contact Judith Taylor at mumimp@hotmail.com, or call 724-812-1597.

Story by Keren Lee Dreyer for Pennsylvania Bridges