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Needham Teens Rebuild Homes on the Gulf Coast

Group from The Congregational Church of Needham spent a week in Mississippi.

By Christine Edmonds

On one of the first days of summer vacation, 33 high school students and seven chaperones from boarded an airplane and flew down to Mississippi to spend five days rebuilding homes that were damaged in hurricane Katrina. 

On Sunday, July 31, the church's worship service focused on this trip and the group provided a recap of the work that was done and the valuable lessons learned. 

The church’s youth minister, the Rev. Jamie Green, organized the trip. 

“We learned that even though it has been six years since the storm, 17,000 families still need homes and there is still much work to be done," Green said. "Many people from other parts of the country don’t realize the need that still exists in this area.”

The youth and chaperones worked on five houses in hot and steamy weather. They built a chain link fence, painted the interior and exterior of a home, did lead paint abatement which required wearing hazmat suits, built braces for columns that held up a home, learned many renovating and home repair techniques and much more. 

At one home, the youth met the owner, named Bathsheba. She described how she lived in a trailer outside her home for three years waiting for the funds to get her house fixed. Eventually she had to move back into her unrepaired home with barely working electricity, no kitchen and molding cement floors. The youth group worked on her home which is nearing completion and she is incredibly thankful that she and her mother and sister have a safe place to live again.

The youth group stayed at Camp Victor in Ocean Springs, MS, an air-conditioned dorm and cafeteria facility built by volunteers to give Hurricane Katrina volunteers a comfortable place to stay while working in the area. More than 60,000 volunteers have stayed at Camp Victor since 2005. In addition to working on the homes, the group toured Biloxi and New Orleans and saw that much hurricane damage is still visible six years later. In New Orleans, they viewed block after block of empty foundations with steps leading to nowhere and severely damaged, boarded up homes.

At their nightly meetings, the youth were asked what they had learned so far. Green was happy to hear that the youth were learning some valuable life lessons. Here are just a few of the things they said: help however you can, sometimes things don’t go as planned, take risks, you get what you get, don’t get upset, consider the positive effects of actions, and it’s more important to be with people who are welcoming than to try to be with people who are cool.

Many people were helped during the trip and many lessons were learned by the youth and adult chaperones making the experience a win-win situation. The Senior High Youth Group at The Congregational Church meets weekly throughout the school year on Sunday evenings. Youth do not need to be members of the church to attend youth group meetings. For more information, visit the church’s Web site at needhamucc.org.

Know of a great Needham kid doing great things? Nominate him or her (or a team or group) for Needham Patch's weekly Whiz Kid feature. Send Becca.Manning@patch.com. Be sure to include the kid's name and age, school and accomplishment and provide a photo if possible.

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