By Thomas Fisher, Pat Sexton, and Conor Walsh
Every year a large group of high school students from Ridgefield along with a few from other schools, brought together through The First Congregational Church of Ridgefield, Connecticut spend the first week of their summer vacation in a very different way than many of their peers: serving those less fortunate, specifically building and improving upon homes in the H.O.M.E. community in Orland, Maine.
The H.O.M.E. (Homeworkers Organized for More Employment) community is an Emmaus community run by Sister Lucy Poulin and Sister Marie Ahern. It builds low cost housing and provides job opportunities by having a shingle mill, sawmill and auto body shop run and supported by members of the community. Sister Lucy and Sister Marie are true modern-day martyrs, living among the people, and for over 35 years, serving any and everyone who needs a second shot at life. They are supported by the many mission trips that travel up to Orland, including this one from Ridgefield. They also depend on grant money from the state of Maine and money raised through a variety of fundraising activities. The Ridgefield group is by far the largest, bringing roughly 96 high school youth and 42 adult & college leaders to lend a much-needed hand to the H.O.M.E. community.
The trip is led by Barb and Dan Reidy, who with a dedicated cast of talented leaders have organized this effort with planning that begins early in the year. This incredible team effort with leaders pooling their individual gifts, results in a spectacular and somewhat miraculous experience for both the adult and youth participants.
Jack Carpenter is another key figure in the H.O.M.E. trip, now a Maine local, but formerly from Fairfield County where he was instrumental in bringing Young Life to the area over 30 years ago. Jack joins our group in Orland every year to provide leadership and deep, inspirational talks each night that leave the volunteers with much to think about. And who can forget the famous rap that he delivers with gusto each year? This man is one in a million, and so are his talks, which revolve around each trip's theme.
The theme changes year to year, and is based around a passage in the Bible. The theme of H.O.M.E. 2007 was "Set Free to Serve", based on a Bible verse in the book of Galatians. This passage tells us how Jesus sets us free from our bonds in order to serve others, not ourselves. Surely we did our best to live up to this passage while in Maine for seven days. A miraculous change occurs among Ridgefield teenagers while in Orland, where work groups are chosen at random, and a group of people are brought together to accomplish challenging tasks without knowing or possibly ever having met one another before. On the H.O.M.E. trip, cliques and small circles of friends are dissolved, and a whole new world of acceptance is created. Old friendships are strengthened and new ones made in great numbers on the week-long experience. There is little difference found between the adults and the youth as we work alongside of one another, sharing tasks, standing shoulder to shoulder.
The week began with an eight hour van ride on Monday morning, and a very exhausted morning it was for the graduated seniors, who had gotten very little rest following their post-grad party the night before. When all of the vans had arrived on the H.O.M.E. campus and everyone had unpacked and settled into their tents, the H.O.M.E Orland Olympics began as an icebreaker of sorts that allowed everyone to meet new people and start to form friendships. The leaders got together and announced the 5 or 6 people thatwould be in their group working together for the next five days.
The next day the hard work began, as 16 work groups went out to the sites of the five different projects: building Sister Lucy's house, retiling the floor of the Co-op Food Market, building a wheelchair ramp and porch for an elderly resident of Orland, painting the Orland United Methodist Church, and building another house in the near-by town of Dedham. Each of these work projects felt so worthwhile and served to bring us together to create a team spirit Everyone on this trip, young and old alike had to quickly learn the basics of working with raw lumber, tape measures, skill saws, etc. in the first few hours on the job site, allowing for the maximum amount of work to be done. A couple of the work projects were thoroughly completed and that was very gratifying to see. The larger ones, like re-building the farmhouse/shelter finished way ahead of what had been projected. The group following ours would be able to continue the project as we left walls built and assembled, ready to be set into place. No one could believe the progress and before packing it in, we all looked around in astonishment at what had been done.
The effort put forth on this trip was centered mainly around Sister Lucy's farmhouse, a 10 bedroom house designed by the head work site leader Bill Verrill. This new structure will replace one of similar size that had provided shelter throughout the years for countless people down on their luck. Many kids and leaders put forth full days and tiresome hours in order complete as much as was done. This project had a very personal feel to it, as many of us have come to know Sister Lucy over the years and feel like she is more a member of our family. With over 70 hammers pounding away each day, she commented that she could almost put a melody to the sound we were making.
The H.O.M.E trip of 2007 was one that will always be remembered for the work completed, friendships made, exciting times, but most importantly those less fortunate, and the ways in which we hope their lives were touched. What was done in Orland, Maine in such a short period of time will be something to think back on for quite some time. We have been a part of this group for the last few years and are very proud of the work that was completed, especially this year. We are happy to say that this group of high school youth and leaders were really Set Free to Serve and made a positive impact on a society less fortunate and poverty stricken. We three seniors look forward to June of 2009 when we will return as leaders to continue our mission in Maine.