Wrightsville group brings 183 youths on mission trip to local community, fixing homes

Sharon Flickinger knew she needed home repairs, but that was easier said than done.

She moved to her Lower Windsor Township trailer home in 2002, and her husband died three years later — and her arthritis made it hard to get around.

Jake Smith, 13, of Wrightsville, affixes a flag pole mount to the porch of a home in Windsor Township Tuesday, June 19, 2018. He was a member of a Group Mission Trip that was spending the week in York County working on various improvement projects. Bill Kalina photo

She could not keep up with routine maintenance, not to mention more-involved projects such as replacing rotting wood on her porch deck and shed or the skirting of the trailer, which was punched with holes from the weed whacker.

But then she heard from Zion United Methodist Church of East Prospect about a mission trip coming to the Wrightsville area.

More:'Santa D' living on Wrightsville bridge this week for charity

The Eastern York Workcamp Initiative planned to bring 183 high school-aged youths from across the country to York County June 17-23 to complete home improvement projects for those in need.

After receiving about 100 applications from residents, the initiative narrowed it down to 24 homes, focusing on poverty, aging adults and handicapped individuals who might not have been able to continue living independently without home improvements.

The idea was, "What can we do to keep them in their home longer?" said Seth Nolt, one of the group's organizers.

A godsend: For Flickinger, the group was "a godsend."

On Tuesday, June 21, a double crew of 10 youths and two adults gathered at her home.

They were there for the week to replace rotted out decking boards in the front porch and a portion of the back of the shed, then give them a fresh coat of paint. They will also replace the vinyl trailer skirting and built new shed doors.

Adult leader Celina Hutchins of Ashburn, Va., and Hailey Stephenson, 17, of Rockford, Oh., bottom, measure moldings for a shed they were refurbishing at a home in Windsor Township Tuesday, June 19, 2018. The two were members of a Group Mission Trip that was spending the week in York County working on various improvement projects. Bill Kalina photo

"These guys have all been such a blessing," Flickinger said, because she didn't know where else to turn.

Her adult stepsons were not available to help — one is deployed in the Middle East (with six months to go), and another is based in Baltimore and travels with a carnival, she said.

Her son-in-law works 12-hour to 16-hour shifts as a guard at York County Prison, and her daughter Erin Joyner, 35 — who lives with her — also has arthritis and fibromyalgia and cares for her two sons, Jeremiah, 8, and Isaiah, 7, who has Level 1 autism.

"I've got nobody else I could have asked to do any of this," Flickinger said. 

More:PHOTOS: Community kickball raises money at Lincoln Charter

A community effort: The initiative planned the trip through a nondenominational Christian nonprofit mission ministry based out of Colorado.

Group Mission Trips works with local groups to bring trips to their areas, but unlike most, which are associated with one nonprofit or youth group, EYWI brought people together from different churches and areas in the community.

"Some of us didn't even know each other," Nolt said.

Nolt helps lead an area youth group, taking kids on trips to Tennessee, upstate New York and Massachusetts.

But he said for many years he'd been hearing people say, "How come you take your youth group and drive 15 hours?" he said.

So he thought he'd try to organize a trip to address local needs.

The initiative met as a committee of about 30 the first Thursday of every month for the last two years at Faith United Methodist Church, in Hellam Township.

Planning is a long process, which involves procuring a school to host participants during the weeklong camp and raising $19,000 to support up to 400 participants.

It's up to the committee to raise the money, with the help of sponsoring organizations, Nolt said. The youths do not participate in fundraising, but they make their own contributions with a $450 program fee.

By the end of the process, the initiative had three groups from Ohio, two from Pennsylvania and others from Wisconsin, Maine, Maryland and Virginia, all staying at Eastern York Middle School, in Lower Windsor Township.

Sharing stories: Having prior work experience is not required, but each person rates his or her skills from 1-5, and if they need guidance, site coaches are on hand to give direction and help them get started, Nolt said.

Angela Touchton, 16, of Wrightsville, returns a pry bar while  refurbishing a shed at a home in Windsor Township Tuesday, June 19, 2018. She is a member of a Group Mission Trip that was spending the week in York County working on various improvement projects. Bill Kalina photo

They bring many of their own tools and learn as they go.

But that's not all they get out of the trip.

Maddie Kuehne, 17, from Celina, Ohio, near the border of Indiana, is returning for her fourth Group Mission Trip.

She enjoys the daily devotions with crews and residents — Tuesday's theme of the day was forgiveness — and sharing stories.

"Bonding with the resident is something we really push to the kids," Nolt said.

Both Maddie and Graeme Stewart, 16, are part of a youth group at St. John Lutheran, which they call "the purple door church." 

Back for his third trip, Graeme also appreciates learning about others' lives through stories and time spent together, whether it's the residents or work crews.

"I think it makes me a more compassionate person," he said.

Having the group come by also reminded Flickinger what she loved about serving. She used to be a liturgist at her church but can't climb the steps to the altar anymore.

She says she supports the youth group at her church as much as she can — buying their sandwiches and candy they sell for fundraising — and now she volunteers by calling bingo.

Another aspect of the trip that the kids appreciate is the connection to faith.

"We all believe in God, and we want to help and serve him," Maddie said.

Joy Landolfi, 21, of Kennebunk, Maine, on her fifth trip, said she enjoys the religious focus because she doesn't have many friends her age at home who share those beliefs.

Connecting with others during the trip also helped her be more confident and put her trust in others and herself, she said.

Hailey Stephenson, 17, of Rockford, Oh., gathers items after working at a home in Windsor Township Tuesday, June 19, 2018. She is a member of a Group Mission Trip that was spending the week in York County working on various improvement projects. Bill Kalina photo

Looking ahead: Some projects go according to plan, while some have unexpected setbacks.

Nolt said one group accidentally spilled a half gallon of paint on the carpet at a work site, so they needed to have it replaced — but the resident had been meaning to replace it, so it was a happy accident.

The mission is to finish all 24 sites within the week, but if some tasks are not completed, the initiative has a general contractor, Abel Construction Co., that will finish the job.

The company has been working with the group throughout the process, helping choose sites and set up job descriptions.

The committee will regroup in July and decide on planning another trip.

More:York Rescue Mission unveils rebrand

They used half their budget and still have 70 applications for homes, so it would be easy to do it, Nolt said, but it would likely take at least two years to go through the planning process.

Still, it's something he's in favor of doing — and he's got the kids on his side.

Jacob Smith, 13, of Wrightsville, was volunteering for his first year and appreciated the sense of comfort from staying close to home.

"I loved it, and I'd definitely do it again, without a doubt," he said.