By HEATHER TOMLINSON, CJ Staff Writer Commonwealth Journal
More than 200 youth volunteers yielded hammers and paintbrushes last week in carrying out much-needed repairs on homes of those in need as part of a mission project organized by local churches.
226 youth and an additional 100 adult supervisors worked in Pulaski County last week as part of the Kentucky Changers program, in which students and adults provide home maintenance and repair services at no charge to the needy throughout Kentucky.
“It’s a life-changing experience every time we come,” said youth volunteer Jenna Stallard, from Pound, Va. “It makes us feel good sharing God’s love and showing what we can do with the skills he’s given us.”
Those skills aren’t typical of your normal teenager. The youth are given a lesson in basic skills such as roofing, painting, and building decks when they first arrive. By the end of the week, they’ve become familiar with many of the skills required to carry out basic house repairs.
The Kentucky Changers program is modeled after the Southern Baptist youth mission program called World Changers. The Kentucky Changers program is coordinated by the Kentucky Baptist Convention on the state level, and it was organized on the local level by member churches of the Pulaski Baptist Association.
According to the Kentucky Changers website, Kentucky Changers coordinators work with local churches, governments and organizations to identify residents in need. Projects are planned months in advance and organized by an experienced construction supervisor so materials and equipment will be on site and ready when the Kentucky Changers teams arrive.
Those participating in the Southern Kentucky project, based in Somerset, arrived to Southwestern High School, the project’s home base, on Saturday, July 7.
“Southwestern High School has been invaded by all these kids,” said volunteer and Somerset City Councilor Tom Eastham, whose church was one of several that helped organize the project. “They’re here at 6 a.m. in the morning with tired smiles and they’re ready to do it again over and over and over ... it’s so powerful.”
The construction supervisors work with other adults to ensure the quality of the work and the safety of the volunteers. Each team has a crew chief, assistant crew chief and other adults to assist and supervise the work
Those adults, many of whom have assisted on the Kentucky Changers program before, seem to get just as much out of the experience as the youth they closely supervise.
“It’s almost like an addiction,” said Laura McCoy, an on-site supervisor from Pound, Va. “To just be doing and showing love and helping the community.”
On-site supervisor John Adams, of Somerset, said part of the project is teaching the youth how to carry out basic repairs so that they may be able to help a fellow human being at another point in their lives.
“It’s just working with the youth,” Adams said. “It’s a learning experience.”
And Adams said he knows the tasks required during the week are things many teenagers and kids would shy away from.
“That (repair work) is a hard thing to get young kids to do,” Adams said. “You’ve got to have youth like this ... (they’re) the next generation.”
Many of the students find through the week that they’ve developed strong friendships with their fellow volunteers, and the theme among those at several different work sites was that they won’t hesitate to volunteer again.
“I hadn’t had many opportunities to express my faith like this,” said first-time Kentucky Changers volunteer Kyle Warden, of Shepherdsville, Ky. “We put the good deeds we do ... not just in our light but in the Lord’s light.
“I’m definitely going to come back,” Warden added. “You meet awesome people.”
Eastham said many of the youth working in Somerset this year have done Kentucky Changers before.
“Most of these people have been doing this for several years,” Eastham said.
The youth work alongside one another throughout the week — and many said they were glad that temperatures had fallen to a bearable level — and then returned to Southwestern for nightly worship services and to rest.
“They (the youth) are hungry for it (the worship),” McCoy said.
Despite their long days and short nights, all seemed ready and excited to lend their skills to those in need.
“Sometimes they (the kids) keep us going,” McCoy said. “They’re so full of youth.”
And many strive to carry out mission work even while they work long hours in the summer heat. That is the most important part of a project that started in 1994 with only about 80 volunteers.
Last year, 1,150 students and adults representing 70 churches in five states served through Kentucky Changers, completing 82 projects in five communities, according to the project’s website.
In Pulaski County alone, volunteers last week carried out more than 30 repair jobs.
“We try to witness to the homeowners and to the neighbors,” said Stallard. “It’s really neat seeing these people grow because of us. We may not change a life on the day we’re here but at least we’re ...”
“At least we’re planting a seed,” finished fellow volunteer Joe Rider, from Walton, Ky.