BY MARY WICOFF
DANVILLE — Nick dePlace is known for his steady demeanor, not prone to emotional highs and lows.
However, when he returned from a mission trip to Mount Vernon recently, he said, “It took me a day and a half to come off the high. It was really a delightful experience.”
Four adults and 10 youth with First Presbyterian Church spent a week in early July doing home repairs for the elderly, handicapped and low-income residents in Mount Vernon. The trip was arranged through Group Mission Trips, a non-profit Christian-based organization that sets up summer work camps across the country for teens to help those in need.
Others on the trip shared dePlace’s positive feelings about the experience.
“You get a feeling of helping,” Nancy Grimes said. “You’re fulfilling a mission — your mission is to help people.”
Melissa Whitehair, whose daughter Justine, 18, participated, said the young people got a lot out of the experience. “They learned different skills and communication and doing something good for somebody,” she said.
The Rev. Jimmy Hopper, pastor at First Presbyterian, also participated, making this his fifth summer trip in a row (twice to Mount Vernon). He’s also been to Red Lake, Minn., Lexington, N.C., and Tecumseh, Mich.
Besides those four adults, the youth participants were: Kayla Black, Amelia Ervin, Erin Ervin, Mary Hoss, Beau Kingore, Larken Parr, Tavion Thomas, Breanna Schultz, Caitlin Whitehair and Justine Whitehair. They ranged in age from 12 to 21. They did fundraisers and chipped in their own money to go.
The young people put in 5,750 work hours.
The group left July 7, and returned a week later. In Mount Vernon, they joined youth from seven or eight other states, Hopper said. There were about 200 adults, youths and Group Mission Trips staff who worked on 28 homes.
The teens were separated into 30 crews to repair the homes. Their duties included painting the interior and exteriors, repairing porches and rails, decks and wheel chair ramps — all at no cost to the residents.
The days started with worship service and ended with worship, as well as activities for the youth.
DePlace, 72, went on the trip as a volunteer with Group Mission Trips. As a work site coach, he checked on the crews and made sure everyone was working safely, and there were no problems.
Describing himself as “an advanced handyman,” dePlace volunteers with Faith in Action, and has had experience building ramps for the handicapped. He used to manage a data center, and is familiar with managing people.
DePlace was particularly impressed the young people, saying, “I never heard a smart remark. They were outstandingly delightful.”
The adults were assigned to groups of about five teens, all from different places. Grimes, for example, worked with five teens from Chicago, Tennessee and Georgia, ranging in age from 13 through 17.
“You bond with the kids as you’re painting and working together as a team,” she said.
Grimes was making her second trip; her daughter, Samantha, has gone three times. This year, however, she’s in boot camp with the Marines.
Grimes noted that the residents of the homes being repaired were appreciative and would provide water and refreshments. “It’s a win-win,” she said. “They’re taking care of us and we’re taking care of them.”
Also, passing motorists would honk and give a thumbs-up, she said.
Whitehair was making her first trip, but her daughter has been five times.
“I really think it’s an enriching experience,” she said. “You get close to the kids from different states, and they learn how to form bonds and build people skills.”
DePlace was making his first trip, too, and he recommended it to others, especially those who like youth. He said he would do it again.
Mark the date
Hopper is excited about next year, when Group Mission Trips comes to Danville.
“We hope the partnership will be as large as Mount Vernon’s,” he said. “It’s time for this to come to Danville.”
Danville High School will house the youth, including those from the Danville area. Local youth will need to pay the same fee as those from out of town. The youth will worship in the gym and eat in the cafeteria.
First Presbyterian will raise $19,000 to spend on work supplies. Local residents who need work on their homes will be able to apply for help later this year.
Hopper hopes at least 200 and as many as 400 young people and adults will converge on Danville to work on homes for the handicapped, elderly and low-income.
Planning for the work camps — which will be July 6-12, 2014 — will start in September.
For more information about the Group Mission Trips or to volunteer, go to www.groupmissiontrips.com