By Rachel Harris and Shaena Montanari
For the past eighteen years, The First Congregational Church of Ridgefield has been sending a group of volunteers to Orland, Maine on a week long service trip to the H.O.M.E. community. H.O.M.E. (Homeworkers Organized for More Employment) was organized in 1970 by local people looking for an opportunity to provide shelter and other necessities for low income residents. Over the past 35 years, the community has allowed its residents to get on their feet and purchase their own homes. The homes that H.O.M.E. provides are built by volunteers such as our own group. A trip that began with fifteen volunteers has evolved into a group of over 130 volunteers, nearly 90 high school students and 40 adult and college leaders.
This year, like every year, a wide variety of projects awaited our group. Projects ranged from renovations to new additions. Bathroom floors were torn up and replaced, and sheds were built. Also, porches were constructed, floors were tiled, and houses were framed. Each of these projects calls for a different set of skills, all of which are learned on the worksite. Although the labor is difficult, working toward a common goal with peers leads to a sense of satisfaction when the job is completed. The sense of accomplishment one can feel afteworking on someone's home is unlike anything felt back at home. Meeting the members of the community while working on their homes creates a more personal experience for every volunteer.
The H.O.M.E. trip is far from glamorous. We ride around in a fleet of mini-vans, take showers at a school, work all day long, then come back to attempt a restful night sleep in a tent. But these experiences are the ones that keep volunteers returning every year, with some of the college leaders having gone on the trip as campers themselves some years ago. Also, these aspects of the trip serve to further the message that we go there to "serve first those who suffer most", one of the community's mottos. By giving up a week of our lives to sleep in tents and work hard, we are providing others with the opportunity to live a more comfortable life.
Every night, the group would gather after dinner and listen to talks from The First Congregational Church's youth minister Andy Cox. During this time all of us were reminded of the example we were following on this trip, the example of Jesus Christ. We were inspired to serve through the ways of His teachings. Our theme, "Building on the Rock" is all about building emotionally and physically on a foundation of strong faith. When asked what the H.O.M.E. trip is all about, one high school student said, "It is about helping other people and in doing so, helping yourself." Another said "Having the opportunity to participate in such an enriching week while having so much fun." On the H.O.M.E. trip, we are a family that grows together through helping others. We return every year for the sole purpose of serving our neighbors, and the promise it will be the best week of the year.