For a week last month, more than 30 local teenagers gave up the comforts of home, braving 100-degree temperatures and 10-hour workdays to clean up and repair houses -- all in the name of charity.
The youths, members of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Olney, traveled to Georgetown, S.C., to help people still suffering the effects of Hurricane Hugo. The devastating storm ripped through South Carolina in September, wreaking mass destruction by snapping trees, smashing windows, ripping off roofs and crushing human spirits. Many people, especially those who did not have insurance, are still trying to clean up the damage.
The 32 local students, who came from Olney, Hyattsville and Frederick, were part of a program called Appalachian Servant Event run by the Olney church and aided by youths from other Lutheran churches in Florida, Georgia and Illinois. In their busy week, they ripped down and replaced four water-damaged ceilings, painted five houses, and rebuilt a roof, several bathrooms and four sets of stairs.
"It was really hot and dirty work," recalled 15-year-old Jason Sutphin, a sophomore at Sherwood High School in Wheaton and a participant in the June 16-23 adventure. He added, however, that the program was "definitely worth doing again" because "I think it really would bring you closer to other people and give a real feeling of achievement at the end."
Sutphin said that he remembered the hurricane victims whose house he helped rebuild. Among them were a woman in her late forties, a boy 2 or 3 years old and a woman in her twenties in a wheelchair, according to Sutphin.
Meg McPeek, a 16-year-old participant in the program who will be a junior at Magruder High School in Rockville in the fall, said, "The work's hard, but it's fun. You really get to see how other people live." She added that "all you have to do is give your time."
The pastor of Good Shepherd Church, the Rev. Donald Shaffer, said that the young people, ages 15 to 18, worked hard to help others "because they really want to do this" and because many of the people in South Carolina and around the country have "honest needs" that someone must address.
"It's been the most profound youth ministry that I've ever been involved in," said Shaffer of the Appalachian Servant Event.
The group uses funds from the national Lutheran Church to purchase materials to rebuild the houses.
In addition to the volunteer work, each young person gives $75 to the program, according to Shaffer. "It helps them begin to understand what the Christian faith is all about," he added.