By LINDA M. LINONIS
Volunteers often talk about feeling they get more than they give when in service to others.
Such is the case with the 24-member mission team from Westminster Presbyterian Church who went to Endicott, N.Y., from June 17-23.
That area in upstate New York, explained Jamie DiSibio, Westminster director of youth ministry, had been devasted by flooding in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee in August of 2011.
“We learned about the need there through Presbyterian Disaster Assistance,” DiSibio said.
The aid is coordinated worldwide and regionally.
The Westminster team of 24 included six adult chaperones; the youths were from 14 to 18 years old.
Not all members were from Westminster, and they were from different denominations.
“Homes were ruined and bridges washed out,” DiSibio said of the havoc that the weather caused.
“The power of water was devastating even though they had levis and flood walls.”
He noted the recovery would be a five-year project.
The mission team was divided into three groups — two worked on cleaning up debris, tiling, drywalling and framing while the other helped rebuild handicap ramps that had been damaged and painted.
“We learned the skills on site,” DiSibio said.
This mission differed from the team’s last one about two years ago.
The mission team went to South Dakota, where they presented a vacation Bible school for Native Americans.
That project was fun and creative and volunteers came away with a feeling of accomplishment.
The mission to New York had a more serious tone and required hard work.
“Helping people is what our faith calls us to do,” DiSibio said.
“It’s about emulating our Savior ... not just words, but in actions.”
DiSibio said this mission trip prompted participants to take an “inner look” at themselves.
They learned about humility, he said.
“I think they came away with a newfound appreciation for what they have and their environments,” DiSibio said.
He added the youth had “never seen devastation like that” and it was a sobering experience.
“I saw personal growth,” DiSibio said of the team members. “They matured.”
DiSibio said team members “lifted each other up” as they struggled with seeing the devastation and hardship it brought on those they came to help.
He said many team members come from affluent families and what they saw made them appreciate their circumstances.
Team members were housed by the First Presbyterian Church in Endicott, which has a house on its property for such purposes.
“It was militarylike, bunk beds and no air conditioning,” DiSibio said, adding the week was “really hot.”
Team members knew that many residents were living in FEMA trailers as their homes were repaired.
At one woman’s home, DiSibio said, team members put up sheet rock.
He said she told them “just to have walls up gives me hope.”
DiSibio said there were plenty of tears.
In another instance, a resident showed them how high the water rose in her house.
“It was up to my shoulders, and I’m 6’3,” DiSibio said.
“She made us authentic food,” he said.
James Hamilton, 18, a Westminster member, was on this mission and had been to South Dakota.
The son of Keith and Elaine Hamilton of Boardman said both experiences were positive.
“They were totally different,” James said.
“I think we were humbled by the experience. I realized how blessed I am ... with the family and things I have,” he said.
James said he was amazed at how happy people were at the smallest tasks the team accomplished.
“It was an uplifting experience,” he said. “We were following Jesus’ example of helping people.”
And by doing so, he said, it was also a chance “to spread the love of Jesus.”
James also mentioned Olga, an Indian woman, who was “so happy” at what the team did for her.
A Boardman High School graduate, James starts at Youngstown State University this fall and will major in music education.
Loryn Holokai, 18, also participated in the two mission trips.
“I think the trips brought me closer to God,” she said.
Loryn said the trip “reaffirmed God is there and helping people through you.”
She said the peoples’ response to their work was rewarding.
Loryn said she learned a host of practical skills such as spackling, painting, drywalling and sanding.
“And I helped to demo a bathroom,” she said.
She is the daughter of Debi and Walter Holokai of Boardman. Loryn, a Boardman graduate, will attend Denison University and major in biochemistry.