On July 12-16, high schoolers from across the country completed home repairs for 16 separate families in Douglas County through Group Missions and West Central Minnesota Communities Action, Inc (WCMCA).

Group Missions is a non-profit mission ministry serving communities across the U.S. and the world since 1990. Its mission is to spread the love of Jesus by serving communities across the country.

“We run programs for the kids in the morning before we go to work and in the evening after the work is done to look at the Bible and read what God says about them, other people and help them figure out what God’s purpose is for them,” said Kevin Mahafey, a Group Missions emcee from San Francisco, California.

“Transformation seems to be the real theme of these trips. We see homes transformed, families transformed and lives transformed through acts of kindness,” said Mahafey, “And we get to see the campers transformed through the whole process.”

Jessica Thompson of Alexandria, who had work done on her house, says she feels extremely thankful and blessed for the experience. Thompson originally received a letter from WCMCA about their weatherization program with a form to fill out if she felt interested in receiving assistance.

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“After filling out the form, the process was super easy,” said Thompson, “West Central Minnesota Communities Action pretty much took care of everything.”

Some of the volunteers laughed, played, and chased Thompson’s kids in between their work duties.

“One of the coolest dynamics I see is the connection between each volunteer and the residents they are helping,” said Mahafey, “By the end of the week, the kids have made new friends and got to know the family they are helping.”

Volunteers from Group Mission Trips pose with family from Alexandria after home repairs were completed. (Contributed photo)
Volunteers from Group Mission Trips pose with family from Alexandria after home repairs were completed. (Contributed photo)

Thompson and her husband have both done mission trips themselves and said their kids really enjoyed getting to know and play with the mission group. “It has been so good for my kids to experience this and learn the importance of serving others,” she said.

The volunteers come from youth groups and churches across the country and literally paid their way to serve residents in Douglas County.

“These kids fundraise their own money to serve communities across the U.S.,” said Gene Wythenback, weatherization coordinator at WCMCA.

Group Missions work camp volunteer supervisor Justin Livingston helps paint a house for a family from Alexandria. (Thalen Zimmerman / Echo Press)
Group Missions work camp volunteer supervisor Justin Livingston helps paint a house for a family from Alexandria. (Thalen Zimmerman / Echo Press)

The money needed to raise depends on the type of work camp and where they are going. The participants in this work camp each had to raise $486. The money is used to cover food costs, pay for lodging, project supplies, building materials, liability insurance, and any other costs needed to make the mission trip possible.

“Some of these kids have never even put a screw into a board. So they are also learning a lot,” said Justin Livingston, one of the adult supervisors from First Christian Church in Burlington, Iowa. “It is a truly humbling experience.”

“I was originally forced into it by my step-mom, but I ended up enjoying it so much that I have been back every year since,” said Taylor Holan, a third-year work camp participant from Burlington, who was part of the Alexandria mission.

Taylor says she volunteers because she likes to impact people’s lives while seeing new places and exploring different cultures. And she will always recommend this work to a friend. This year, Taylor was able to convince her friend, Piper Cole, to participate.

“I didn’t have anything else going on, and I figured it would be a lot of fun since I like helping people out,” said Cole, “I have gained a lot of new friends, and it has shown me how kind people can be to others they do not know. I would recommend this to anyone. It is a great way to help out the community.”

Group Mission Trips' volunteers come up with a game plan for painting the house of an Alexandria family. (Thalen Zimmerman /  Echo Press)
Group Mission Trips' volunteers come up with a game plan for painting the house of an Alexandria family. (Thalen Zimmerman / Echo Press)

Group Missions does more than just home repairs. They run Vacation Bible Schools, serve the homeless and donate thousands of pounds worth of food to food shelves in the communities they are helping.

The workcamp served 16 different homes, mostly in Douglas County and the surrounding area. Families in Ashby, Brandon, Glenwood, Osakis, Starbuck, and Alexandria were helped.

The projects consist of mostly exterior work, from building porches and decks, to providing wheelchair ramps, doorsteps and painting. Projects are operated within a 35-mile radius from their community “home base,” in this case, Discovery Middle school. They will be staying at Discovery for the whole week they are here.

Local co-sponsors and coordinators select work locations from the community. To qualify, individuals must have a need they can not meet on their own. Typically, it is the elderly, disabled or victims of financial and social hardships.

“We honestly couldn’t do it without West Central Communities Action and the local sponsors,” said Susan Burton, director at Group Mission Trips, from Loveland, Colorado. “They are the real heroes.”

This summer alone, almost 6,000 volunteers are participating in over 50 mission trips across the U.S.. Pre-COVID, there would have been closer to 15,000, according to Mahafey.

To get involved, call 1-844-258-9616, or go to www.groupmissiontrips.com.

“God brings all people from different backgrounds together for good.” Kobe Reyes, a sixth-year work camp participant from Burlington.