All across the United States, cadres of young people are looking to change the world for the better this summer by taking on the plight of substandard housing.
A group of such humanitarians have come to Macon County this week to improve the housing conditions for lower income individuals and families.
Known as World Changers, 180 students are in the Franklin area to improve approximately 20 homes. The students are taking on anything they can, from house painting to roofing and laying shingles to building access ramps and porches.
“Get ready for a great week,” said John Bailey, team leader for World Changers. “The students who participate in World Changers will see that they can make a difference. And the residents whose homes are worked on see that the young people truly care for and love them.”
Bailey’s words are not unfounded.
“They are a wonderful group,” said one elderly woman about the World Changers at her Holly Hills Vista home. “We sure do appreciate it. They are hard workers — that I can say for sure. They are redoing my roof and the siding,” she said of her 50-plus-year-old home. “It’s great.”
But the World Changers effort is no new concept.
This year marks the 21st anniversary for the youth mission, which was founded by the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. This summer, 95 World Changers projects are taking place in 87 cities and towns across the U.S. From Alaska to Puerto Rico, New York to Hawaii, and many places in between, including Canada for the first time this year, the World Changers have been working to help communities across North America to alleviate substandard housing.
“This is my first year doing this,” said Morganne Gillespie, 17, of Bryant, Ark. “It’s definitely fun. It shows me how many different people there are across the country that want to come and help others.” Gillespie remarked that she looks forward to participating in the effort next year and the new experiences she will face. “I am afraid of heights,” she said as she climbed the rungs of a 20-foot ladder to continue her roof-work. “It’s a cool experience.”
For one World Changers group leader, Danny Brown, of Aiken, S.C., the five years he has participated in the summer youth mission have been more than fulfilling.
“It seems a lot of people don’t know that World Changers is doing this for God and Jesus Christ,” said Brown, who recently retired. “It’s very nice… We want to show people that somebody loves them. One way we can do that is by re-roofing this house.”
On average, students pay $250 to take part in a World Changers project.
Following a six-session “how-to” workshop that participants complete prior to coming, students serving Franklin hit the ground running, and on Tuesday the major work began.
The students are all sleeping on the floors of Macon Middle School for the week. After waking up at 5:30 a.m., breakfast is served by Macon County Public Schools and lunches by the Macon Baptist Association. Other partners in the initiative include the Macon County Housing Agency and various local businesses. After an early breakfast, the group leaves for the work sites at 7 a.m. and comes back at around 4 p.m. when they have a little free time at the school before dinner.
For Preston Grissom, 18, of Chesapeake, Va., his second year as a World Changer has helped him become a “better person,” something he says he can keep with him throughout his life. “This shows me how different things are and people are. The mountains are awesome and the people are nice. Everything is spread out, which is something I am not used to where I am from.” Grissom said that he plans to go to college to study political science as he made his way back up the ladder. “If they let us come back, I would love to do this again,” he said.
According to Macon County commissioner Ronnie Beale, the students are a blessing to communities near and far. “The work that they do is important to the citizens,” he said. “They are a fine group of young people and they are making a difference.”
Since 1990, more than 280,000 World Changers students have renovated more than 20,000 homes in nearly 900 communities.
At the end of the day, much of the credit should also be given to the Macon County Housing Agency, Macon County Public Schools and the local churches who have all worked in collaboration to support the World Changers cause.
“Without their work we could not do this,” said organizer Nancy Breedlove. She encourages any youth interested in participating next year to apply online at www.world-changers.net.