Teens will tackle 45 rehab projects in Danville

Teens will tackle 45 rehab projects in Danville

DANVILLE — As preparations for a large-scale housing-rehab project in the Danville area enter the homestretch, local organizers are feeling more at ease.

Monday was a different matter.

They needed about 90 donated ladders for the rehab, which runs July 7-12, but had rounded up only 35 or so.

But by Friday, after a last-minute plea, they had picked up 94, and labeled and stored them in the First Presbyterian Church of Danville's gym.

"We should know by (next) Monday if we need any more," said Kolby Riggle, the project's "ladder leader," who assured that all ladders will be returned to the owners after the rehab is over.

Typical equipment for a project that calls for renovating 45 properties of elderly, handicapped and low-income homeowners — all at no cost to the owners.

What isn't typical: Most of the people using the ladders are volunteers between the ages of 12 and 18.

"We're so excited to bring this to Danville," the Rev. Jimmy Hopper, First Presbyterian's pastor, said of the Group Mission Trips "work camp" that's bringing — at last count — 286 young people and their adult chaperones to town.

"It's been a lot of work involving a lot of people," Hopper continued. "But in true Danville fashion, we've had so many people in the community — from the church I serve to other churches, the school district, the city of Danville, Lowe's and other businesses ... and individuals — step up to make this happen. We're really pleased with the way things are coming together."

Formerly the Group Workcamps Foundation, Group Mission Trips is a non-profit, volunteer-service home-repair organization and Christian youth ministry that aims to help residents do projects that they can't afford or physically manage themselves.

Since launching in 1977, the Loveland, Colo.-based group has held rehabs in hundreds of communities in the United States, Canada, Mexico and Puerto Rico, including areas hit hard by natural disasters. Hopper and members of his church's youth group have participated in rehabs in Illinois, Minnesota, Michigan and North Carolina the past five summers.

Volunteers pay a registration fee of more than $400. The money goes to cover materials and supplies and reimburse local entities for other work camp-related expenses.

The ladders were the only tools that needed to be rounded up locally.

"That wasn't something the kids could pack in their backpack," organizer Jim Anderson said.

It was nearly two years ago that Hopper applied to make Danville one of the 40 to 50 work camps that will be held this summer.

Early in 2013, the pastor gave one of the organization's leaders a tour of the community. He then brought the city, school district and others on board as partners.

The school district agreed to house and feed the volunteers at Danville High School. All of the expenses will be reimbursed by the organization.

And the city, along with other organizations, agreed to help identify eligible homeowners and use $15,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds to help with materials.

Starting last fall, organizers began working with the city, neighborhood groups and social service organizations to publicize the opportunity and encourage people to apply, Anderson said. They received more than 100 applications and after several screenings, settled on 45 that met the organization and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's criteria.

Then site survey reports were sent to the organization to determine what materials would be needed. Anderson said materials and supplies were purchased from Lowe's in Danville, which helps the local economy.

Anderson said projects will include interior and exterior painting, weatherization, porch repairs or replacement, landscaping and building two or three wheelchair ramps, among other things.

"Some properties just need a general clean-up inside and outside," Anderson said. "They're the kind of projects that a lot of the recipients are either unable to do, or when you look at their financial situation, this would not be at the top of their list, but it still certainly needs to be done."

Volunteers will work during the day — except on Wednesday afternoon, when they're free to catch a movie, skate, explore Kickapoo or Kennekuk parks, tour the Walldogs murals and attend a cookout at Ellsworth Park.

Meanwhile, school officials met to determine what space at the high school would be needed, buildings and grounds director Ron Henton said. After school let out in June, his staff began clearing out and cleaning rooms as part of their routine summer scrub-down and making sure things like locker-room showers were in working order.

Henton said participants will bunk down in about 20 classrooms, mainly on the first floor; eat breakfast and dinner in the basement cafeteria; and hold evening programs in the gym.

The group will also have access to the locker rooms, dance studio and auditorium, if needed. And the adults will use the teachers' lounge as a meeting room and be able to use a photocopier in the mail room.

Kitchen and custodial staff will be at the school throughout the work camp week.

"When you have these young people coming in to work on homes in your community, the least we can do is provide the lodging and meals," Henton said.

Next week, organizers will be taking care of last-minute preparations, including a walk-through of the school. Project manager Leesa Rawls will arrive on July 5, and the volunteers and 17 professional staffers from Colorado are set to check in the next afternoon.

"It's an extraordinary experience for the young people and, perhaps, even more so for the recipients of the rehab projects," Anderson said. "There's an awful lot of friendships that are formed ... and bonding that takes place."

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