While most kids were starting off their summers by sleeping late, hanging by the pool, or going to the beach, a group of 32 high school students from were heading off to Wyoming, Michigan for the United Church Outreach Ministries mission trip.
TELOS is a church-based, service-oriented Christian youth group for high school students. The group meets, works, plans, prays and plays together for nine months in preparation for a week-long mission trip at the end of the school year. TELOSians have traveled all over the country, including Philadelphia, Kentucky, and Tennessee.
On Saturday, June 23, the kids and their adult advisors left the church to begin the trip. The first stop was in Pennsylvania where they stayed the night before hitting the road again and ending in Grand Rapids.
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Monday was the first work day. The foundation for food storage bay the group would be building had been poured the week before. Everyone couldn’t work on the construction site at once, so there was a list of other work that needed doing – re-stocking the food pantry shelves with the donations from a recent regional grocery store event, sorting hangers for the basement-level clothing bank, designing and building shelving to create accessible storage for diaper distribution, cleaning, weeding and shoveling wheelbarrows full of lava rocks to serve as ground cover in the street-side gardens that make UCOM’s facilities more attractive and inviting.
While staff and volunteers are there, UCOM is closed to clients on Mondays so that everything can be ready to serve them the rest of the week.
“One of the neat things about UCOM is that many of their volunteers also use their services, so some of the people we met on day two were the same people we had worked with the day before,” said Karen Bailey-Francois, a TELOS leader and the associate pastor of the church.
By 9 a.m. on Tuesday morning, tables of donations are set-up outside, the “full shopping model” pantry is full of shoppers – for food on the main floor and for clothing both out front and in the basement boutique, and appointments for various kinds of assistance had started flowing through the front office. Besides gearing up for the afternoon children’s program, staff people, interns and a couple board members met to plan and manage UCOM’s various forms of community outreach. With all that going on, TELOS leaders had asked for a list of projects so that we could better coordinate keeping everybody busy.
Besides the continuing work on building and raising the walls of the food storage bay, Tuesday’s list included patching the paint and installing the baseboard molding in the partially renovated main Conference room, sorting clothes in the basement clothing boutique, installing and repairing bulletin boards and signboards for the pantry clients and volunteers, starting the process of cleaning out a second basement in the UCOM building in preparation for a later expansion of the clothing bank, and taking a team to Roosevelt Park – a nearby neighborhood – to paint and repair the vandalism that is both demoralizing and expensive for the residents.
“Wyoming has an anti-blight law that fines residents for graffiti that isn’t removed within a week,” Bailey-Francois said.
Late in the day, the group learned that the newly erected walls would need to be ready for the roof joists to be raised first by 7 a.m. the next morning. Volunteers gave up the evening swim to go back to be sure that deadline could be met.
“Others, refreshed from swimming and some limping from playing basketball in flip-flops, joined the effort on our return,” Bailey-Francois said. “For those of us who actually slept, 5 a.m. came early. Kudos to all who made the commitment to start work while it was still dark so that the building would be ready for the roof joists when the crane arrived to lift them. The reward – we got to see them put in place! Others would get to position them and begin to build the roof.”
Rotating work groups became all the more important as the physical demands of the work, worker tiredness and temperatures all increased through this third work day. Another group went off to Roosevelt Park to help a neighbor in need. Others climbed back down into the second UCOM basement to finish what had been started the day before. Small groups worked on a variety of small tasks – scraping recently painted windows, updating signs and repairing a utility counter in the main kitchen.
“A special treat for about half the group was to help chaperone a trip to a local farm market for the children taking part in UCOM’s summer program,” Bailey-Francois said. “While they were gone, another group cleared, cleaned and painted another wall in the conference room where the children usually meet.”
Work through the morning on Thursday was increasingly focused on moving the construction project toward completion – insulation in, moisture seal on, roof in place and lots of detail work. After lunch, the group took a half-day to go to Lake Michigan and play. The group shopped, walked, ate dinner, and then headed to the lake shore for quiet walks, rowdy games and general relaxation on the beach. Then it was time for the traditional tribute to the seniors, this year, Travis Palmer-Lavoie, Amanda Bellezza and RJ Traynor.
Friday was deadline day and there was still a lot of work left. By the next day, the group needed to be packed up and ready to leave and, after a week of sharing a small space, everyone’s stuff was mixed up.
“The work got done,” Bailey-Francois said. “Tools got sorted, extra materials got stowed, we all were served a delicious and stylishly-delivered chicken dinner. And UCOM’s senior staff brought the TELOSians two amazingly Trés Leches cakes. Lots of work, and a well-deserved sense of accomplishment.”
Saturday was time to leave. The group cleaned, packed, reassembled the apartment it had emptied, and assembled the miscellaneous leftover food. After pictures in front of the newly constructed addition to the UCOM building, the group was back in the vans and on the road heading back toward Knox, PA, where they made the first stop of the trip.
On Sunday morning, the traditional TELOS hair dying rite was observed on Sunday morning, though for some involved it was just an extension of Saturday night. Before 11 a.m., the group was Ellington-bound and arrived back at the church at approximately 9:30 p.m.
The TELOSians at UCOM were Myra Anderson, Jonathan Bailey-Francois, Amanda Bellezza, Courtney Binkowski, Keely Bouchard, Chris Brawley, Leah Cawthorne, Shannon Cottle, Beth Crocker, Jesse Crocker, Alissa DelPiano, Alex Foxe, Alexis Gilliland, Jessica Mocadlo, Tyler Moriarty, Ben Nutt, Rachael Nutt, Jessica Palmer-Lavoie, Travis Palmer-Lavoie, Bethany Parisi, Spencer Plourde, Maggie Russell, Amanda Savino, Hannah Traynor, RJ Traynor, and Anthony Velazquez. Active TELOSians who were unable to attend the trip were Dominick Parisi and Erin Schirra. Leaders are Karen Bailey-Francois, Cathe Close, Alexis Leonard, Eric Romeo, Theresa Yeltema, and Ray Close (Construction Manager).
For more photos of the trip, or to learn more about TELOS, check out the group's Facebook page.