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Youth assist residents through Florida program

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Burt Hodges

Love At Work volunteers take a break from repair work.
July 12, 2006

By Nancy E. Johnson*

On the rooftop of a small frame house in Gretna, Fla., the sound of hammering nails and ripping tar paper pierces the morning air. The teens step gingerly as they make repairs.

“There are holes everywhere, leaking into the house,” explains 15-year-old Addison Blackwell. “The drywall inside was broken, so water was going inside everywhere.”

The middle and high school students are part of “Love At Work,” a summer mission program sponsored by Killearn United Methodist Church in Tallahassee, Fla. The goal is to encourage spiritual growth in youth through service to others.

“They’ll see they’re really blessed. They’ll see how some of these people are living and be like wow, it’s amazing I have so much… and they’ll be so thankful,” says Amy Hodge, the program’s social work coordinator.

Founded in 1993, Love At Work is designed to help residents in Gadsden County who live in substandard housing. The mission group serves people in the small city of Gretna where more than one quarter of the residents earn less than $15,000 a year. The unemployment rate is high and almost half of the children live below the poverty line.

“I take advantage of all the things I have at my house when I come here and realize the living conditions of all the people here,” says Billy Humphreys, 18.

The youth spend weeks replacing roofs, building porches, painting houses and making other home repairs.

Fourteen-year-old Hannah Eacker is experiencing her first summer with Love At Work. “At first, I was nervous and thought we were just going to be picking up around houses,” she says. “I didn’t think we’d be doing real construction. But after I got out of the initial fear, it’s been fun and I’ve had a good time.”

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Burt Hodges

Youth volunteers make repairs to a home in Gretna, Fla.

The families they serve are grateful for the help. Cheryle Rahman lives in the neighboring town of Quincy. Her husband was in hospice; her mother is 93 years old and in poor health.

She needed help with home repairs. The students replaced the siding on her house and painted it vintage green. “I just thank God for the work of their hands,” she says.

The scope of Love At Work is expanding beyond housing. When Hodge gets calls and referrals for people needing home repairs, she asks if they also need clothing and food and then refers them to the appropriate agencies.

Blackwell has gone to the camp for five years but what he sees every summer still surprises him. “Just how people can live in a house without electricity, filled with water… It’s a mess,” he says.

Eacker had a similar reaction when she saw the poor living conditions in Gadsden County. “I was very surprised because I’ve always lived in a community that was very sheltered,” she recalls. “I never thought about how close poverty can really be.”

Hodge points out that “even just a little bit of paint can make such a difference to these people. We’re doing something for them, but they’re really ministering to us as well.”

*Johnson is a Florida-based, freelance television and print journalist.

News media contact: Fran Coode Walsh, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5458 or

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Florida Annual Conference
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Love At Work