South Florida teens complete mission in area

Published 12:02 am Monday, March 27, 2006

By By Janet Little Cooper
Atmore appeared to be a Spring Break destination for a group of 31 teenagers who were spotted in various locations throughout town this week.
Instead of flip flops and beach towels, this group of teenagers from Boca Raton, Fla., wore work boots, gloves and tool belts. They were here with their school, Boca Raton Christian School on a mission trip.
The group of 31 high school sophomores and five chaperones were in town to help in the hurricane relief efforts that began some 16 months ago by the Escambia County Long Term Recovery Committee.
"When we started the school, we faced the question, 'How can we help our high school students," Bill Hood, Boca Christian director of development said. "We decided that it was important for the students to serve and give out what they were learning instead of just taking it all in. Our mission trips are an important component to our school."
The school has optional mission trips each year during a school week for the high school grade levels. The ninth grade class travels to a community in South Florida called Sanford, tenth grade travels out of state, the junior class spends the week in Arizona on an Indian Reservation and the senior class goes to Costa Rica each year.
"We book our trips through a company called Joshua Expeditions," Hood said. "They set up mission trips for schools, churches and youth groups. They made the connection for us with Atmore through the United Methodist Disaster Relief Office in Mobile. We had never heard of Atmore until then and actually had to look it up."
The mission trips are optional for the students, but according to Hood, 90 percent of the class always attends. Students are also responsible for their own expenses. The trip to Atmore cost each student around $350.
"It is definitely from the heart," Hood said. "I have heard no complaints from them. They understand that we were coming to do hurricane relief and are willing to do whatever was needed of us. We have really had a great time here."
The group was guest at the Methodist churches Wednesday night supper and was able to attend two church services. When the group isn't working, they spend time in group worship and blog their fellow schoolmates back in Boca via the Internet. They are sending pictures and messages about their experiences here in Atmore.
The students, who have been staying in The Vickery house and First United Methodists Youth House, have been working in three different locations around town doing a variety of projects, such as building decks, painting, yard clean up and installing vinyl siding to a home.
Mrs. Helen Devall, an elderly Atmore resident, has been living in a FEMA trailer for almost 18 months after her home was damaged by Hurricane Ivan. She was thrilled to see the group of teenagers scurrying in and around her home.
"It's just wonderful," Devall said. "It will be so good to go home. I just don't have any room in this travel trailer, but I thank God for sending it to me. I didn't have anywhere to go."
15-year-old Gabby Rosado from Boca spent hours with a rake in her hands as she made her way around Devall's entire yard raking piles of leaves and debris.
"I love it," Rosado said. "I like how our class are all working together. We each have a different job, but we are pulling together and connecting with each other more. I really like meeting the people we are helping and finding out their needs."
Rosado and friend, Meaghan Arnesano posted a message about Duvall on the mission trip blog of their schools website.
"We all worked very hard and again had so much fun." Rosado and Arnesano typed. "What made this day extra special though was that we finally found out that Helen, the woman whose house we worked on, is indeed a christian. She was overjoyed to know that we cared so much that we would see her in Heaven one day and raised her hands high in thanks. She was extremely grateful and we praise God for her salvation.
This was the first trip for this group directly related to hurricane relief and just like many of us, the students were amazed at the damage that remains.
"This area just seems to be overlooked here," Meaghan Arnesano said. "There are places with more damage than others and then there are some that just seem to be in between and possibly forgotten."
A history teacher with the group became a familiar face at the dump quickly earning the nickname 'Junkyard Dog" by the students. Cynthia Seely made six trips to the dump, in a pick-up truck donated to the long-term committee by Rusty Luttrell, in two days.
"I am just so excited to get our hands in it," Seely said. "We are so happy to be serving. Because of these mission trips, our students are graduating with a Christian world view where they know that they need to serve people and how."
The students, who converged on Atmore for a week, certainly know the concept of serving others.
One student, when asked how she liked the manual, sometimes-dirty labor gave a response that proved she is learning the value of serving others.
"I don't think it's that bad," Kaitlin Gilgenbach said. "It's actually kind of fun. You don't have to worry about looking good because it is about helping others."
Another student sent a message to his family and fellow school mates about his experience in Atmore as well.
"I have really enjoyed helping these people who need our help," sophomore Justin Ludlow typed on the school blog. "I am surprised that I haven't felt lazy and when we have nothing to do it bothers me a lot. Also I have really liked the 15 minutes of journaling, both morning and night. It gives you a great alone and quiet time to spend with God. It is really nice to take a quiet break in all this hecticness."
If you have a group that might be interested in assisting with the recovery efforts, contact Sarah Atkeison at 359-3944.

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