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‘Hearts for service’: Spring mission events help homeowners in need Joan G. LaBarr, Apr 12, 2011
GREAT DAYS OF SERVICE PHOTOS BY GRADY BEACHUM, PLYMOUTH PARK UMC
Plymouth Park UMC member Vernon Peddy, right, works with Edgar Seay, Jr., who volunteered for Great Days of Service after his father was helped last year.
By Joan G. LaBarr Special Contributor
DALLAS—Spring cleaning takes on a whole new meaning as work teams from local churches gear up to serve their communities. For more than a decade, United Methodist congregations in the North Texas area have banded together and with other denominations and community groups to repair homes in their communities.
Two of the longest-running efforts, Amigos Days—which matches suburban churches with inner-city congregations to repair homes in Dallas—and Great Days of Service in Irving, Texas, deployed more than 500 volunteers from 49 faith communities over weekends from March 18 to April 9.
Both of the groups work in cooperation with organizations that assist homeowners struggling with city code compliance issues.
Amigos Days describes itself as a “hands-on” ministry of the United Methodist Church and People Helping People, a City of Dallas housing revitalization program. The goal is to repair and restore homes and make a positive difference in neighborhoods. In 2011, 27 partner congregations worked together to repair and repaint 19 homes. This brings the Amigos Days total for its 14-year history to 352 homes repaired.
Ann Meyer, Amigos Days coordinator, began her service as a volunteer and assumed the lead role in 2009 when founder and former director, the Rev. Diane Presley, received a new appointment. Ms. Meyer is a direct descendant of Nancy Jane Cochran, one of North Texas’ hardy Methodist pioneers, a widow who donated land in 1856 for what is now Cochran Chapel UMC. This was the property for the first deeded church of any kind in Dallas County.
Like her great-great grandmother, Ms. Meyer is a force to be reckoned with. As she works tirelessly to recruit and train volunteers, she sees Amigos Days and similar programs facing one difficult obstacle.
“We have a generation of volunteers with hearts for service, but hands without skills,” Ms. Meyer said. “As fewer and fewer parents teach basic carpentry, repair and painting skills at home, we see younger men and women hesitant to join in Amigos Days work. They wrongly feel they can’t be of much help.
“So our challenge now is to communicate to them what a wonderful learning opportunity and preparation for a lifetime of service we can offer . . . all in an environment of friendly teaching from experienced volunteers. Whether at home or on a far-away building mission, these skills will be valuable assets for a lifetime of serving God’s people.”
Great Days of Service
The Irving Great Days of Service effort gave youth at the city’s Plymouth Park UMC exposure to these practical skills and a chance to serve their neighbors. Irving was one of the first communities to adopt the ecumenical Great Days model pioneered in 1995 by First United Methodist, Sherman, Texas, and its pastor, the Rev. Jim Pledger.
First UMC in Irving was host church for the ninth annual Great Days of Service. Churches rotate host responsibilities each year.
All five of Irving’s United Methodist churches were among the 22 congregations participating in 2011. Great Days brought volunteers from Baptist, Catholic, Church of Christ, Episcopal, Lutheran, Presbyterian, non-denominational and Bible churches, and the Islamic Center of Irving together for a common purpose.
Local businesses also supported the cause. Dozens of restaurants donated food, grocery stores donated water, and Home Depot provided discounted prices on supplies and assisted in setting up a purchase order system for site leaders who needed extra materials. “The Holy Spirit was all over the place, providing grace, abundance of food donations, money, materials, and even the most spectacular four days of March weather you could ever order up,” said Peter McNabb, lay leader at First UMC and site coordinator for Great Days of Service. “Homeowners and their families are very appreciative, as is the City of Irving, which issued a proclamation honoring the event and even participated with employees and at least one city council member.”
Andy Schellenberg, a member of the Plymouth Park church who has volunteered since 2002, also finds the spiritual dimension paramount.
“I think God has helped me to better understand people in need,” he said. “Also, how I and others can bring God’s love into their lives by caring and repairing their homes. As we have improved their property, we improved their lives with hope, love and the peace of Christ.”
Mr. Schellenberg noted that some homeowners have told him the work was a blessing from God, “and we were his angels,” bringing God back into their lives.
Both Great Days of Service and Amigos Days bring out hundreds of men, women and youth each year. Ms. Meyer says she is particularly glad to see the men participating. She shared a concern about the “feminization of the church,” discussed in several books and articles in recent years.
“Men certainly serve in many ways and love to do so, but too often the personal interaction outreach activities—Vacation Bible School, food brought to ill members, serving the needy, etc., which allow people to share God’s love, are accomplished mostly by women.
“Amigos Days turns that dynamic upside down and invites women to serve on typically male turf. I get such pleasure from seeing all the ‘boys with their toys’ pile out of cars and trucks to joyfully set up their work sites. Good-natured jokes and insults ring out over the sound of the power pools, and it seems that the dirtier we all get, the more fun the day becomes. Year after year, the same guys volunteer to serve as construction leaders and skilled carpenters, so we know something is going right.”