Valdosta Daily Times

Local News

July 11, 2014

Building hope: Volunteers repair Valdosta houses

VALDOSTA — While the city has hosted approximately 116 youths and adults this past week, these volunteers have left a lasting impression as they have repaired several houses.

These volunteers are part of the labor of love event known as the Southern Hospitality Workcamp. This is the city’s ninth consecutive year hosting workcamp volunteers.

“To date, the event is credited with repairing 282 local homes with deficiencies (inclusive of the 2014 sites) and yielding a nearly $2 million economic investment in our community through capital improvements to housing stock, the value of volunteer housing, their spending in our community and the value of their labor,” city officials state.

Group Mission Trips is a faith-based organization that sponsors work camps throughout the United States. By recruiting youth groups throughout the country, the organization leads them to week-long mission trips repairing homes for people in need. The volunteers can repair sagging porches, rebuild unsafe steps and wheelchair ramps, paint homes, redo siding, and repair shingles on roofs.

On its website, groupmissiontrips.com, the organization states, “You will not only bring repair to a house, you will also bring hope to a resident and their home … No special skills needed ... just a willing heart!”

The City of Valdosta has an aggressive goal to eliminate all substandard housing by the year 2020, and organizations like Group Mission Trips will help make this goal a reality.

Kevra Finkelstein, Group camp director, said, “This is the fourth one that I’ve participated in. What I love about Valdosta is that it is a complete citywide organization. Everybody in this city. Lowe’s provides a lot of the lumber, paint, and the materials that we need; the City of Valdosta, Richard (Joyner, rehab construction coordinator, Valdosta’s Neighborhood Development Division) interviews the home owners and gets the sites for us; Wild Adventures donates tickets to each camper, which is huge. On Wednesday, our campers only work half days, and they get free tickets to go to a big amusement park, youths and adults love that; the school board, we’re staying at Valdosta Middle School. We stay there every year that I’ve been here. It’s a beautiful school and facility.”

Finkelstein added, “The City of Valdosta is a really amazing community.”

Chris Lilly, a Lowe’s Home Improvement representative, said that Lowe’s helps because it is a part of the company’s mission and because it is the right thing to do.

“Lowe’s has national advertising campaigns and one of those says, ‘let’s build something together,’ and this is a great example of what that means,” said City Manager Larry Hanson.

Mayor John Gayle expressed his gratitude for Group’s hard work in Valdosta.

“These young people and adults come here and there’s no end to the value that they provide to the community,” Gayle said. “The benefit is the fact that we are working on our goal of doing away with dilapidated housing, and that’s the benefit.”

Sementha Mathews, Valdosta’s public information officer added, “Even at minimum wage, we’d be looking at $70,000 in one week of labor alone, not counting the improvements. We’re so thankful to have this organization here because it not only improves our community, it improves the quality of life for our citizens.”

Six of the 10 homes being improved are in Valdosta City Councilwoman Sandra Tooley’s District 2.

“I think that this is great. I think that with improvements like this, the homeowners will do better, too. It is also good because it shows that the city is doing their part,” Tooley said. “If people see improvement then they will want to make improvements as well. I mean, looking at this, I want to go home, and do some work on my house.”

Sybil Cummings’ Gordon Street home benefited from the Workcamp mission. She received a front porch, non-skid strips on a ramp that enters her home, and paint.

“It’s so wonderful,” Cummings said.

She hopes to get all of the workers’ names and addresses so she can stay in touch with them. She shared a prayer session with the volunteers in her living room.

“I was worried because the door made me and my guests have to step back to open the door, and it was unsafe. I was always worried that someone was going to fall and get hurt. This has made me so happy; it’s so much safer, now,” Cummings said.

Volunteers come from across the U.S., and they come for different reasons.

“I volunteered because I want to help out and I want to change lives,” said Garrett from Pennsylvania.

“I come to help people who need it, and to be with my friends,” said Andrew from Louisiana. His friend, William, from Louisiana said, “I like to help the needy and I wanted to get closer to God.”

Some of the local sponsors of the Southern Hospitality Workcamp are Lowe’s Distribution Center, the Valdosta City Schools System, Group Cares, Wild Adventures, Second Harvest of South Georgia and the Valdosta Lowe’s Retail Store. The local Habitat for Humanity and Lowe’s Distribution Center staff members serve as site coaches for the volunteers.

More information on the Southern Hospitality Workcamp, contact Public Information Officer Sementha Mathews, (229) 259-3548.

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