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Amish gather with hammers and nails to show their gratitude

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BIGELOW — Jeffrey M. Stinson’s eyes teared up as he watched more than 30 Amish teens and men pound nails and cut lumber while building him a new garage beside his 365 County Route 20 home.

“It’s just amazing. It’s just awesome,” Mr. Stinson said as he gazed out at the busy scene Friday morning. “They’re just like a bunch of ants. They all know what they have to do.”

A July 8 blaze destroyed his garage and all the tools inside, and he hadn’t yet decided on a rebuilding plan. Now he doesn’t have to figure out how to replace the garage.

Traveling by horse and buggy, groups of Amish started arriving shortly after sunrise ready to construct a symbol of their gratitude to Mr. Stinson and his wife, Pamela L.

“The first buggy was here by 7 and they’ve been coming ever since. We brought them out black coffee, and they instantly started working,” Mrs. Stinson said. “I’m overwhelmed. I don’t know how else to describe it.”

The Amish wore matching straw hats, their traditional blue clothing and tool belts as they worked as a group to construct the 35-foot-by-35-foot structure. The sound of a gas-powered engine mixed with the pounding of hammers.

Under a bright blue sky, the mood was festive as Amish interacted with each other and with a few non-Amish people who joined the building project. At lunchtime they joined together at long tables to eat pork loin, ham, salad and other foods provided by members of the Richville United Church.

When two young Amish girls showed up at their doorstep Aug. 14, Mr. and Mrs. Stinson said they knew immediately they were the two Heuvelton sisters who had been kidnapped from their roadside vegetable stand the previous evening. The girls allegedly were sexually assaulted by two people charged in their abduction, Stephen M. Howells II, 39, and Nicole F. Vaisey, 25, both of 1380 County Route 21, Hermon.

Instead of contacting police, the couple fed the girls watermelon and drove them back to their farmhouse at the corner of Mount Alone Road and Route 812 in Heuvelton.

“I just wanted to get them home,” Mr. Stinson said. “They were so hungry and thirsty and so dirty. The younger one was shaking uncontrollably.”

Mose J. and Barbara Miller, parents of the kidnapped girls, traveled to the Stinsons’ home, eager to show appreciation for having the girls returned to their family. They were joined by five of their 13 children, including their 7- and 12-year-old daughters.

“He had a hardship too. I said we have to help him back,” Mr. Miller said. “It’s just a good day to come together. We let our people know about it and a lot of them wanted to come.”

Mr. Stinson said the satisfaction of returning the girls home was enough reward, but the Amish community was determined to show its gratitude.

“They insisted,” Mr. Stinson said. “They sat me in a big room and said, ‘We want to build your garage for what you did for us.’”

Joined by her daughters, Mrs. Miller sat nearby sewing a maroon dress.

“We appreciate that they brought the kids home,” she said. “I brought along some homemade pineapple pies.”

Levi Shelter, a white-bearded 62-year-old Amish man from Gouverneur, said although Amish often are hired to build structures for non-Amish, this project was unusual because all of the workers volunteered as a way to say thank you.

“This is kind of strange. I don’t ever remember something like this,” he said. “He deserves the good help.”

An Amish woman, Melinda Miller, Heuvelton, traveled two hours by buggy from her home with her husband, John, and son Joni, 17.

“I like the idea that they’re building a garage for them. It was just devastating that something like this had to happen,” Mrs. Miller said. “This is one way to show everyone’s appreciation.”

Patrick J. Bellinger, a non-Amish friend of Mr. Stinson’s from Gouverneur, said the garage building project showed that something positive can result from a bad situation like the kidnapping.

“God took two bad things, a fire and an abduction, and he turned it upside down and made a good thing,” he said.

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