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PMHS partnership with regional non-profit serves needy homeowners

orkcampNE marshals youth volunteers from across the region to fulfill a mission of service

by Mark Foynes
Contributing writer - The Baysider

ABOUT 200 volunteers from all six New England states and beyond used PMHS as their home base recently to advance workcampNE's mission to help needy and elderly citizens throughout the Northeast. The faith-based organization tackles home improvement projects including re-roofings, weatherizations and building wheelchair ramps. The volunteers worked in the greater Alton area and used the high school over the course of the week for lodging. Courtesy Photo. (click for larger version)
August 01, 2017
ALTON — A phalanx of more than 200 volunteers from all six New England states and beyond used Prospect Mountain High School as their home base recently to help needy families and the elderly with home improvement projects.

The volunteers were recruited by workcampNE, a youth-centered non-profit organization that recruits teen volunteers and adult mentors who effect community improvement projects, mostly in the Northeast. As a faith-based organization, the group's web site says it brings "students closer to Jesus [by] serving families through free home repairs."

The non-profit says the workcampNE experience offers a "time to serve those in need and show the love of Christ in a very tangible way; such as painting, re-roofing or building, providing valuable home maintenance for the residents that they cannot do themselves." The organization promises youth volunteers an "opportunity to deepen your faith by tying in the day's service with a meaningful time of worship."

In its efforts to link spiritual reflection with tangible actions, the organization says that it has mobilized some 4,300 volunteers who have assisted about 535 families through 134,000 hours of service. The estimated financial impact of these efforts has been nearly $2M, according to the web site. These figures don't account for workcampNE's recent foray to Alton and Barnstead.

Each student volunteer pays a tuition of $375 to participate. The admission fee offsets the cost of food and assists with the purchase of materials needed to complete pre-identified community projects. Material costs include lumber, roofing shingles, paint and the like.

This summer, workcampNE volunteers also executed projects in Manchester, Laconia, Johnson, Vt., and Beardstown, Ill.

PMHS superintendent Robert Cullison recalled that workcampNE officials contacted him perhaps a couple years ago, seeking information about the school's willingness to serve as a home base for projects in the community.

"It was an intriguing notion," Cullison recalled. "It seemed like a unique way we could use the facility to give back to the community," he added.

The superintendent felt that partnering with workcampNE would be a potential "win-win" that could ameliorate community needs and also advance the organization's mission to help those who could benefit from their services.

Cullison said there were virtually no hard costs to PMHS associated with the partnership, but noted that some effort was required on the school's part to coordinate the custodial staff's summer work plan.

"For the benefit to the community, it seemed like a very easy thing to do to make a few adjustments so they could stay here while they helped our neighbors in need," Cullison recalled. Since student volunteers' tuition into the program, there was little, if any, financial obligation for PMHS.

Cullison continued, "The custodial staff were very accommodating, and the workcamp volunteers were very, very respectful guests; they did a great job of cleaning up after themselves to have a minimal impact." He added, "They brought in all their own food and even their own cookware; they did such a good job cleaning up after themselves you'd hardly even know they were here," he said.

The student volunteers lodged on the second floor of the PHMS facility for a week in mid-July, with girls and boys separated and assigned to discrete areas. Cullison noted that adult volunteers slept in an area between the two student sleeping areas.

Cullison gives a tremendous amount of credit to Marcia Therrien, a member of workcampNE's volunteer leadership, who spearheaded the group's foray into Alton and Barnstead.

A resident of the greater Manchester area, Therrien expressed gratitude toward PMHS for their recent hospitality.

"They were remarkably good to us," she recalled of the school staff.

The 202 workcampNE volunteers, consisting mostly of teenagers, were divvied into 28 crews who made improvements to 26 homes in Alton and Barnstead. Among the group was a number of adult supervisors - also volunteers - consisting mostly of retired tradesmen.

"We're based in New England, but we draw volunteers from all over," Therrien said, adding that the group has a strong Midwest connection through relationships in Illinois. She also said that some of the volunteers for this stint were exchange students from Spain.

"The enthusiasm of the kids and the expertise of the adult volunteers who contribute their time makes for really good chemistry," Therrien added. "It's cross-generational, but they derive energy from each other," she continued.

Therrien said she became aware of the opportunity to volunteer in the area through conversations she'd had with one-time school board member Genevieve Michaud, who put Therrien in touch with Cullison.

"We had a great experience up there, so we are so grateful for [Michaud's] putting us in touch to get things rolling," she said.

"It's a beautiful community, but there was also clearly some need, and we were so happy to be invited to make a difference," Therrien said.

She added that the group does not do projects at rental units. "That's the responsibility of the landlord."

Rather, Therrien said workcampNE strives to "allow those in need to remain in their own homes, which we strive to make warmer, safer, and drier" through repair and rebuild projects. To this end, she said the organization focuses more on a dwelling's structural matters, and not so much on landscaping projects.

"Those kinds of projects tend to be less critical and have less of a long term impact," she added.

She also said volunteers and their adult mentors take a thorough approach to any job they undertake.

"So when we re-do a roof, we don't just shingle over what's there - we remove the old and scrape down, and even replace any boards that need replacing before putting on a new roof," Therrien said.

She added that her organization selects its clients through referrals from local non-profit and public agencies such as Community Action and the Department of Elderly Services.

"We partner with the local organizations who already know where the need is through their own good works," Therrien said. Having preselected beneficiaries some six months in advance, she added, "That allows us to plan ahead, glove up, and get right to work when we arrive."

She added, "When they get there, the kids want to swing hammers right away," noting that prior planning is key to allowing the organization to mobilize volunteers and materials to work sites.

Even though workcampNE is a faith-based organization, Therrien stressed that the organization doesn't discriminate based on a client's' beliefs.

"Financial need is the only driver," she stressed, noting that the group doesn't even make inquiries regarding religious affiliation when selecting potential beneficiaries.

In addition to its contribution of volunteer labor, workcampNE also donates all needed materials. Since 2003, the group says it has contributed nearly $400,00 in lumber, shingles and the like.

Therrien also praised the local Rotary, which marshaled volunteers to help unload truckloads of building materials that were shipped to the school.

"There was a lot of materials that needed to be offloaded, so having the Rotary there, including the club's president, was a real big help," Therrien said.

To learn more about workcampNE, visit www.workcampne.com or like their page on Facebook, which features several photos of students volunteering in the Alton area.

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