By RICK HAYES firstname.lastname@example.org
---- — MT. VERNON — Youth and adults from seven states are in Mt. Vernon this week rehabilitating nearly 30 homes as part of a mission of the Group Cares program.
First Presbyterian Church of Mt. Vernon is the co-sponsor of the weeklong project.
Group Cares was in Mt. Vernon in 2008 and 2010 and repaired homes in Centralia in 2012.
"Every year we put out a location guide, and once a co-sponsor agrees to be a host site, the arrangements are made to come to that city," explained Work Camp Director Kevra Finkelstein, who resides in Florida.
"First Presbyterian Church has really wanted to do this and they do a great job," Finkelstein said. "The co-sponsor treats us like we're on a cruise ship, providing snacks and giving the kids T-shirts. First Presbyterian does it right."
Participants pay their own registration fees and come from local churches across the country. They are then organized into several work groups, working with kids and adults who are not part of their "local" group, according to Finkelstein. Each work group has one adult for every five youth and each camp has four college students.
"It's good that the kids do not work with individuals from their own churches," one adult leader said. "I think it helps the kids grow spiritually." Campers have devotions daily and share what they have learned that day.
During the camp, every camper is assigned a folder in which fellow campers can write positive affirmations to each other, and parents can keep up with their campers through the organization's web site.
"It's really a great feeling to get to know all these new people and help the residents, giving back. It's a great experience," said camper Emily of northern Illinois, a senior in high school. "I get so much back at home. I'm so thankful for everything so it's a joy to give back to people."
Emily has never been to Southern Illinois, although she is participating in her sixth work camp.
"I actually really like it," she said of the Mt. Vernon area. "I'd like to live in the country when I get older."
A homeowner in the 1300 block of South 28th Street who is having a handicap-accessible ramp built at her home, said the campers have been a joy to be around.
"They're wonderful kids. When you meet kids like this you know there is a lot of hope for the future," said Kay Clary.
Repairs offered through the work camp include interior and exterior painting, weatherization, and porch, deck and wheelchair ramp construction.
The female campers — which number 106 — are staying in rooms at Andy Hall School; and the 77 boys are staying overnight at Casey Jr. High School.
The work camp will continue in Mt. Vernon through Saturday.