Workers come to Danville to help out

DANVILLE — It was 82 degrees and muggy by late Monday morning.

The heat didn't stop a small crew working in the front yard of a house on Hinkley Street, determined to get a good start digging a dozen holes 18 inches deep and setting wooden posts. But a tangle of tree roots, some several inches thick, tried to.

"The first one went pretty smoothly," Danville's Matt Smiley said of the first hole.

But while digging the next three, the workers ran into the roots only a couple of inches from the ground's surface. Undaunted, they used a reciprocating saw to cut through them.

The group of four teens and two adults — including Smiley and Wendy Ley, of Naperville — is on a mission to build a wheelchair ramp for Howard and Christina Webb. The project is being done as part of a Group Mission Trips work camp, which started Monday and ends Friday.

Since 1977, the non-profit, volunteer-service home-repair organization and Christian youth ministry has helped residents with projects they can't afford or physically do themselves in hundreds of communities in the U.S., Canada, Mexico and Puerto Rico. Brought to town by the First Presbyterian Church in Danville, this work camp brought 264 volunteers — most ages 12 to 18 — and 15 staffers to repair 45 properties of elderly, handicapped and low-income owners.

Camp Director Leesa Rawls said $38,000 in materials and supplies will be invested into the community. Half came from the organization; the rest from local sponsors, including the city of Danville, First Midwest Bank and Central Christian Church.

"Any leftover stays in the community for other projects," Rawls said.

Participants descended on Danville Sunday afternoon, and held their first program that night at Danville High School, their home-base for the week.

"This is the fourth camp I've been to, and the energy level is the highest I've seen," said crew manager Jack Hayes, of New Jersey, one of four college students who are leading the camp. "They're ready to be here, and they're ready to work."

Most of the projects call for scraping and repainting the interior and exterior of houses, weatherizing them and making small repairs. A few projects involve building or repairing a porch, stairs and railings and building a wheelchair ramp.

After an early-morning breakfast and worship program on Monday, crews left for their work sites. They spent some time introducing themselves to the homeowners, then got to work.

Following the blueprints, Ley's group got to work digging holes, cutting roots and setting posts while chatting easily with each other.

"We have a good crew. We all kind of gelled last night," Emily Diecks, 16, of Naperville, said of her group, which also includes Cameron Little, 16, of Verona, Va.; Riley Swanson, 14, of Nashville; and 14-year-old Dajoin Williams, of Danville.

While this is Williams' first work camp, the others have returned a second, third or fourth time.

"I like meeting people," said Little, who still keeps in touch with people he's met at previous camps.

"I like helping people and growing closer to God," Diecks added, explaining she has a chance to do that through the worship programs, evening youth group devotions and work-site devotions with fellow crew members.

Howard Webb said their work is appreciated.

"I think what they're doing is great," he said, as he surveyed the work from his front porch, which stands a few feet from the ground.

He explained the ramp is for his wife.

"She's had to walk with a walker for 10 years," he said. "Now, when I take her to doctor appointments, I have to get her in a wheelchair. It's going to be a lot easier with a ramp."

By the numbers

45: Group Mission Trips work sites in the Danville area

264: Campers (plus another 15 staff members)

9: States the youth volunteers represent

400: Gallons of paint sent to the work sites

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