A mother of 10 former foster children in Kittanning, Pennsylvania, will soon have a home tailored to her unique family, thanks in part to a group from Woods Memorial Presbyterian Church in Severna Park.
The WoodsWork mission trip has been a cornerstone of the Woods Church youth ministry for more than three decades. High school students and their adult chaperones – a combination of parents and devoted youth ministry volunteers – partner with Habitat for Humanity to spend a week onsite building a home.
At the end of June, 35 youth and 23 adults traveled to Kittanning to partner with Armstrong Habitat for Humanity. The home they helped construct was an expansive six-bedroom rancher.
“Normally, Habitat has maybe a team of five people who are working on a house for a whole year or two years,” said Elizabeth Cahoon, director of youth ministry at Woods Church.
“In one week, we have as many as 5,000 people hours,” said Vic Marone, adult chair of WoodsWork. “We frame a house from foundation up. We do all interior walls, exterior walls, the roof, and do windows and doors. So we can do that in five days, which is kind of impressive when you think about a bunch of youth that have no experience.”
Marone further explained that while first-time WoodsWork goers don’t have experience, those who return year after year bring their skills from previous missions with them.
One such student is Olivia Blake, a rising senior at Severna Park High School who completed her second WoodsWork mission this year and will serve as next year’s youth chair of WoodsWork.
“I love being involved and planning things and seeing a project come together, so when I signed up for WoodsWork the first year and it got canceled [due to COVID], I figured I might as well be able to plan the next year and be in on all the decisions,” Olivia said.
She’s also discovered an affinity for roofing.
“It surprised me how much I like every part of it,” Olivia said. “I had never lifted a hammer before I went last year, and I thought I was going to be terrified of the heights, but one of the advisers encouraged me to try and get up on the roof, and I just crave that feeling. I love being up on the roof. I look forward to it every time.”
She and the rest of the WoodsWork committee will get to work soon, as planning starts in September for next summer’s trip. A priority for next year is increasing the number of youth involved, and Olivia’s recruiting pitch goes deeper than building houses.
“You make some of your closest friends and such amazing connections with the youth and the adults in your community that the connections just last forever,” Olivia said. “It’s really good, especially for kids in Severna Park, to get out and see communities other than the one that we live in, and be able to help other people that might not be as fortunate.”
This sentiment of the mission being bigger than the house is shared by the adults who help guide the young volunteers.
“We try and do our best to not just come, build a house and leave but really build a connection with the people there,” said Cahoon, who had a chance this year to meet the home’s future owner, a woman she deemed “a true superhero.”
“We sometimes complain about our teenagers, but here is a group of teens that are working very hard, and they’re doing it because they want to do it. It’s very heartwarming to see that,” Marone said.
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