Caring for a community
While many of Minnesota's towns become congested over the summer with out-of-state travelers in search of sandy beaches and warm weather, the 340 kids that invaded Brandon on June 17 weren't there to lie on the beach; they were there to work.
"We don't really look at what we do as work, we are just giving to others who are in need of help," Lauren Roush from Castle Rock, Colorado, noted.
The 340 high school volunteers, comprised of 14 different youth groups around the Midwest, were part of Group Cares, a nationwide program that does home improvement projects and whose mission is to do God's work through servant-hood.
Because the majority of the kids came from cities, this program allowed them to see the poverty that many people live in that they would not see otherwise.
"Working and helping these people helps the kids to see Jesus in their lives," said Group Cares director, Amy Kroll. "Most of the time the kids come to give, but most often they get much more out of it."
From June 17 to 23, Group Cares worked on about 50 sites throughout Douglas County and as far out as Parkers Prairie and Starbuck. The sites were mostly houses, but one crew also worked at the Runestone Museum in Alexandria.
"We are here to help people who are in need of help, but we also want to carry out God's message," said Devin Gregory from Lake Forest, Illinois.
A NORMAL DAY
Waking up at 6:45 a.m., the kids worked at their sites from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The rest of their day included daily devotions, inspiration and interactive worship programs and free time.
Each worksite had a crew of about five or six kids who did all the improvements that were needed to be done at the site that week. Some of the improvements included painting, landscaping and fixing porch railings.
While at the site, each student was given a pivotal role in the program, whether that was ordering supplies, making meals or divvying out the work for the day.
"We want to promote leadership, so we have them make the decisions about the projects they are working on," Kroll noted. "During the week, kids transform because of the leadership we place on them."
BUILDING A BOND
Aside from work, the kids were also encouraged to build relationships with each other and the residents of the house where they were working.
"The past two days my crew has been repainting the entire interior of a house in Alexandria. We had some free time after we were done working one day, so we brought the owners of the house juice and doughnuts and we had some really good conversations," Roush recalled. "The program isn't just about work; it's about building relationships."
Because the program strives for new relationships to be formed, one resident from the household had to be present during the renovation week.
"The residents have been great. They help the kids and sometimes bring them lunch, too," Kroll said. "It's amazing the relationships that can form between people that were strangers a few days before."
A COMMUNITY THAT CARES
Along with helping the kids, the community also donated cookies, watermelons, ices and much more to the group.
Businesses also took part by adopting work sites, checking up on the crew and bringing them food, supplies and money.
"I've never seen this before in all of the years I have been a part of this program," Kroll said. "But it is really special and generous of them to do."
LIVING IN A SCHOOL
During the week, the Group Cares volunteers slept and ate their meals at Brandon School.
While many youth groups slept in science rooms and band rooms, Roush and the rest of the 25 girls in her youth group slept in the school's kindergarten room.
"The air mattresses cover every spot on the floor, so we have to end up walking on each other's beds," Roush said.
Nonetheless, the kids had fun and made lasting relationships over the week.
"We have been brought together and met people that we wouldn't have ever met if it wasn't for this program," Roush noted.