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Students help rehab Falls housing

More than 800 teenagers and chaperones worked diligently the last two weeks to put new roofs on houses, paint walls and repair porches and steps for people who couldn't afford to do the work themselves.

Youth groups from churches all over the United States were part of REACH Workcamps, a Christian-oriented, nonprofit program of REACH Ministries, based in Galeton, Colo.

A REACH Workcamp is a collaborative effort between local agencies and REACH Ministries to improve housing in neighborhoods where it's needed.

Some of the more than 400 students who showed up the third week in July said they were repeat campers and thoroughly enjoyed their stay here -- even though it cost $380 to work for free.

The $380 paid by all of the students, or their families, went toward purchasing materials such as lumber, nails, paint and roofing shingles.

Timothy Love, 17, of Royers Ford, Pa., said members of his church youth group talked him into coming to the Falls to help out the less fortunate.

"I was still kind of on the edge about it, and they kind of kicked me over the edge to come, and yes, it's been awesome ever since," Love said.

"It may not sound appealing to you, but it's a golden opportunity for me. . . . I just like helping people," he said. "Short of getting a paycheck, you're getting the respect of others, which I find more valuable."

Fifteen-year-old Meredith Bradfield, of Collegeville, Pa., said she came back to work a second year partly because of the friends she made last summer.

"It just meant the world to me to do it for them, even if I had to pay to get here," she said.

The students on a recent Thursday night participated in religious workshops after dinner in their temporary home in Niagara Middle School. The group was able to pay for two chefs to come in and cook for the group.

Aaron Hershberger, 17, of New Philadelphia, Ohio, said, "I came because I like the feeling of helping people, and I like making an impact on the world."

Hershberger's youth leader, G. Gregory Geib of New Philadelphia, said the program provides valuable lessons for the teen participants.

"I think it's fantastic," Geib said. "I think they get put in a lot of situations. It's a lot of bonds and a lot of new friends across the country, and they enjoy doing a lot of things for the neighbors that we're working on projects for."

Paul Richardson, of Greeley, Colo., leads the program. He said the groups worked on about 90 houses over the two weeks. He said 160 residents from Niagara Falls applied to have the group work on their homes, but his group had to turn down 70 applications because there weren't enough youths to participate.

Members of the city's Department of Community Development took the residents' applications on behalf of REACH, Richardson said.

It wasn't all work and no play, however. Richardson said the campers were able to see the cascades of Niagara Falls on a Wednesday after a half day of work.

Working in some troubled neighborhoods didn't worry the program volunteers, either.

"Even if it is a rough area," Richardson said, "people see that we're doing good things."

Margaret "Peggy" Windsor, an adult from Eaton, Colo., who accompanied her husband, Gerald, on the trip, said residents from one neighborhood bought goodies for their laborers.

"They trusted those kids so well they didn't even lock their houses," Peggy Windsor said. "That's just God watching over it and keeping them safe."

"We have to do a lot of trusting in the Lord," Peggy Windsor said. "It's dangerous, and we try to keep it safe for them, but they really want to get it done."

Richardson said local youth leaders who want to get involved in any REACH projects next year should call Trinity United Methodist Church on Grand Island, 773-3322, for more information.

Next year's camp will be held held from June 29 to July 5 in Lockport.


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