DANVILLE — For the past four summers, First Presbyterian Church of Danville youth group members have traveled to various towns across the country to help rehab homes for elderly, low-income and disabled residents through the national Group Cares organization.
Now Pastor Jimmy Hopper, the church's minister, and Bob Turley, Group Care's manager, are working on bringing one of the organization's "workcamps" to Danville in the summer of 2014.
"It's just a really neat experience for the youth volunteers and the community," said Hopper, who, along with Turley, will present an overview of the program to Danville school board members on Wednesday. "It's hands-on mission work and spiritual growth."
Hopper is requesting permission to use a school for a week that summer to lodge the youth volunteers, chaperones and Group Cares staff who will direct the citywide rehab. Group Cares would reimburse the district for all costs related to the stay, including meals and work done by cooks and custodians.
Superintendent Mark Denman has researched the program and talked with Hopper, Turley and representatives from other communities that have hosted rehabs. He plans to recommend that the organization be allowed to use the high school, which has the most room and amenities including separate boys and girls' sleeping areas, shower and restroom facilities, a cafeteria and the auditorium and field house for activities.
"We will have summer school going on, but we hope we can work it out," Denman said. "We would like to have the opportunity for the people in the community to have their homes repaired."
The Danville school board will meet at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Jackson Building, 516 N. Jackson St., Danville. A copy of the agenda is available online at http://bit.ly/X0bpy3.
Established in 1977, the Loveland, Colo.-based organization — formerly called the Group Workcamps Foundation — is a nonprofit volunteer-service home repair organization and Christian youth ministry that aims to help residents do much-needed projects that they can't afford or aren't physically able to do themselves.
Since it started, the organization has held rehabs in hundreds of communities in the U.S., Canada, Mexico and Puerto Rico, including areas that have been hit hard by natural disasters. In 2012, it co-sponsored 43 rehabs involving 20,000 volunteers.
Group Cares recruits between 250 and 400 youth volunteers and chaperones for a weeklong camp. Volunteers and chaperones, or their church sponsor, must pay their $400 or so sign-up fee.
After selecting the 50 to 70 homes and deciding what work will be done, the organization also works with local businesses to obtain materials and supplies and provides a seasoned project manager and trained staff to oversee all aspects of the workcamp.
Hopper said between 10 and 12 members of First Presbyterian's youth group and chaperones have volunteered at rehabs each summer since 2009. They've traveled to Tecumseh, Mich.; Lexington, N.C.; Mount Vernon; Red Lake, Minn.; and are returning to Mount Vernon this summer.
Once at the site, youth are divided up into work crews based on their skills, and each youth is given a specific responsibility on his or her crew.
"It's quite an operation," Hopper said, adding though kids arrive with their group, they work alongside peers from all over the country. "They do everything from painting houses to building porches and wheelchair ramps to dry walling to landscaping."
Hopper said each day, the organization holds worship services and Bible studies for youth. At the end of the week, residents of the homes that are repaired are invited to join a large worship service.
Hopper said the projects have restored entire neighborhoods, revitalized and pumped thousands of dollars into local communities and done much more.
"It's just letting people know that God loves them, and the best example of God's love is through hands-on ministry," he said.