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Vacationing teens help fix north country homes

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THERESA — School’s out for summer, and while some teens are getting summer jobs, going to the beach, camping or hanging out with friends, a youth group from Rockaway, N.J., decided to come to the north country with tools in hand to help with home repairs for elderly and disabled homeowners.

“It’s a really good way to kick off the summer,” Joanna G. Sunderman said. “Well, at least I think so.”

Joanna, 18, a youth group member from Rockaway First Presbyterian Church, said that for the past five years she has gone on several mission trip with her youth group to do home improvement projects in different parts of the Northeast. On this trip, she and other group members were installing a new metal roof on a home in Theresa.

On their first day of work Monday, they installed boards on the existing roof, and on Tuesday they started to install the metal sheets. Youth leader Christopher S. Harrington said the roof had several soft spots with loose and missing tiles.

Mr. Harrington said he was also on a learning curve with the youths.

“This is my first metal roof, and I’ve been doing this for 12 years,” Mr. Harrington said. He said after the roof’s foundation of boards is spaced out and secured, the metal sheets go together like Legos to build a roof that won’t have to be replaced for a long time.

“Good carpentry skills are good for wherever they go in life,” Mr. Harrington said. “Jesus was a carpenter, and as disciples of Jesus we’re helping the less fortunate have a necessity of a working roof.”

Another five youths from the Rockaway group worked at another Theresa residence, installing insulation and reskirting the house.

Mr. Harrington, like other youth leaders, started off as a youth group member, going through the same program. Youth leader Mark C. Kuschke said his congregation has been doing constructive mission trips for more than 40 years.

Cynthia H. Coleman, coordinator for the Ministries in the North Country, said the Rockaway group is the first of three youth groups expected to do household maintenance projects for north country residents this summer. Two groups from churches in Pennsylvania will visit later this summer.

“MINC has been doing this for over 20 years. Youth groups primarily from bigger Presbyterian churches with more resources apply, and we do our best to match them with people who need help,” Ms. Coleman said.

She said MINC accepts applications from homeowners who either are elderly or disabled and no longer able to perform maintenance on their homes.

“They can do anything from roofing to building handicapped ramps, replacing windows and doors, installing insulation and other household maintenance,” Ms. Coleman said.

Homeowners who benefit from youths’ the work have come to Ms. Coleman with a lot of gratitude.

“Usually what we hear from homeowners is, ‘I can’t believe total strangers would come to help me,’” Ms. Coleman said. “They’re surprised but very grateful.”

Ms. Coleman said MINC purchases the equipment and materials needed for each project from funds provided by the visiting groups.

Stone Presbyterian Church in Watertown is hosting the Rockaway youths, and members of the congregation have brought them food since they arrived.

Each of the 13 youths raised money through the year toward the $6,500 in travel and maintenance expenses by having car washes and soup sales, and doing jobs for members of the congregation. Each youth contributed $350 to participate in the working trip. Youth group leader Kathryn L. Smith said the teens either paid in full or earned points by participating in fundraisers; one point amounted to $30.

“Two of our girls didn’t pay a thing to go; some paid a little, and a few paid in full,” Mrs. Smith said.

The youths arrived in Watertown on Saturday and began working at the job sites Monday. Mrs. Smith said they will keep working on whatever projects are asked of them until they leave Sunday, with a day off on July 4.

“This is our first time in Watertown, but we do this every year, going to different places affiliated with the Presbyterian Church,” Mrs. Smith said.

Most of the skills are learned on the job she said.

“They learn it completely here. It’s a lot of carpentry, which is pretty straightforward,” Mrs. Smith said. She said the youths are thrown right into the work and also are expected to do chores wherever they stay.

“Some of the kids show up and they don’t even know how to paint a wall,” Mrs. Smith said.

Joanna said over the last five years she has acquired a lot of skills that would make her mother nervous. When she first joined the group, her first task was to tear down a wall, and since then she has done a variety of projects.

“I’ve gotten pretty good at spackling, and last summer I got to use five different kinds of power saws,” she said. “I like using the power tools.”

Mrs. Smith said in a generation of video games and touch screens, projects where youths learn carpentry skills first-hand are a good life lesson.

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