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Love at Work groups seek to prevent problems before they start

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By Angye Morrison

Helping someone in need can be as easy as slinging a hammer – just ask any of the youth from Thomas Memorial Baptist Church or First Presbyterian Church in Quincy.

The two youth groups, along with a group from First United Methodist Church in Niceville, worked last week on projects in Gretna and Havana. The groups, a total of about 70, all stayed together at Centenary Camp in Gadsden County, and were divided into work teams of about 10-12 students, plus some adults, each day.

The projects ranged from preventive work, such as the roof of a home in Havana that needed repairs to prevent further damage, to scraping off old paint, landscaping and painting bookshelves at Gretna Elementary School, to major work on one home that had extensive roof damage. The groups also built wheelchair ramps and repaired decks.

The work is coordinated through Love at Work, a ministry of Killearn United Methodist Church in Tallahassee. The organization, founded in 1993, originally began as a construction project to help residents of Gadsden County who live in substandard housing. But it has grown into a “multi-dimensional effort to help the residents of all areas of life, not just housing,” according to Love at Work’s Web site.

Although the groups are mostly youth from churches throughout the area, any civic, church, school or business organization can participate, according to Justin Barfield, Love at Work staff member.

“It’s about trying to meet basic needs: water, a roof over your head and being able to get in and out of your home,” he said. “It’s also prevention and keeping people out of the cycle of poverty or even preventing it. It’s basically doing what we should be doing anyway; helping each other. We are called into loving one another and helping our neighbors. That can’t be a bad thing.”

Barfield spent his time last week doing whatever needed to be done, including taking supplies to the various worksites. He said Love at Work’s ministry is important because something as simple as a leaky roof can impact an entire family.

“It starts with a little leak and they might not have the money to fix it then, so they put it off, and before you know it, they have a huge problem, and it’s much more than they can take care of. We’re trying to prevent that in addition to fixing the big stuff,” he added.

Westley Bruner, an adult volunteer with the Thomas Memorial group, said students pay a fee to come to camp, which covers their housing and food. The fees also help to provide supplies, which are also donated by Tallahassee contractors.

Last Thursday, he worked with a group of students at a home in Havana, and when the group wasn’t working on the roof, the students spent time with Jasmine, the homeowner’s daughter.

“They hung out with her and did chalk drawings,” he said, adding that when another group at a different worksite ran into work that was too technical for them, they spent time going from door to door in the neighborhood, rounding up kids to come to a makeshift Backyard Bible Club.

Bruner said his group has been coming to Love at Work camps for about 4 years, and it has impacted the group in a huge way.

“Knowing the kids can see, in one week, at completion of the project, the joy in the homeowner’s face,” he said. “They also learn that although we’re from different races or backgrounds, they see that people are people and we all have needs. They learn that something as simple as slinging a hammer can help these families.”

That attitude is carried home with them, Bruner said.

“At our church, we do other projects, mostly for the elderly in our church,” he said. “And this is a good way to get plugged in and give back to the community.”

Bruner said that during his experience last week, he saw a need for local contractors to donate their time and skills to the camps.

“I see a need for contractors to volunteer their time to help fill in with the technical stuff that has to be done,” he said. “You don’t always know what you’re getting into when you start and then you find that it’s more involved and you need a contractor to help. It would be good to have some men to fill in like that.”