By LINDA M. LINONIS
The Deacons of Tomorrow youth group at Westminster Presbyterian Church were “excited to labor” on a Sandy Relief mission trip.
The 14 young people and four adult leaders from the church spent June 21-28 in Elizabeth, N.J., on projects arranged through Presbyterian Disaster Assistance.
It’s not the first mission trip for the youth group.
Four years ago, they presented a vacation Bible school for Native American children in South Dakota and two years ago worked in Endicott and Binghamton, N.Y., which had been devastated by flooding in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee in August of 2011.
The youth group has about 20 members ranging in age from 14 to 19 years old.
Hurricane Sandy pummeled New Jersey and its shoreline in the fall of 2012. In the United States, it caused $62 billion in damage and took 125 lives. It’s been replaced in the news by the current storm, Hurricane Bertha, and other natural disasters such as flooding, wildfires and earthquakes.
But for the people whose lives were disrupted and homes damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Sandy, the healing process and rebuilding continues.
The Westminister youth group came to help, just like many other church and community groups who have come to work.
Other adults serving as leaders were Susan Stratton, Rodney McEwan and Laurie McEwan. Youth group members participating were Matt Baker, Anna Baker, Ethan Baker, Damon Brickley, Alan Burns, Antonio Chito, Alexa Demetrios, Katherine Flynn, Emma Hamilton, Alyssa LaRocca, Beau Oliver, Cassidy Oyler, Nadya Stratton and Jack Swavel.
Jamie DiSibio, director of youth ministry, served as team captain. He said a “room redo” at Westminster Presbyterian set the stage for the mission trip.
Youth group members, he said, redid the flooring and painted the walls.
A church member, who wanted to remain anonymous, bought the new furniture, rugs and lamps.
DiSibio said the room project put youth members into the rebuilding frame of mind.
DiSibio said Elizabeth, located seven miles from New York City, was heavily damaged by Hurricane Sandy and sustained wind and storm surge damage.
“It’s a densely populated area,” he said. “People lived without electricity for two weeks.”
He said PDA and its A Future of Hope project listed 500 homes that need repairs with 165 homes done so far.
“We worked at two houses,” he said.
Many of the recipients of assistance are single mothers and low-income families.
At the home of the single mother of four children with special needs, the group sanded, spackled, drywalled and painted.
“Though it was hard for her to work, she was,” DiSibio said.
At the residence of a married couple, the team worked in the basement to seal the floors and walls. In the living areas, they “did a lot of finishing work,” DiSibio said. Team members did mudding, a process to make the drywall smooth.
“The kids took a lot of pride in what they did,” DiSibio said. “The projects generate a lot of energy and exuberance.”
Nadya Stratton was among youth group members; she was on the mission trip to New York.
“I had an idea from the last trip what we would do,” she said. “Once you get going, you get the hang of it.”
She added, “The younger kids learn from the older ones.”
In the fall, the 19-year-old is headed to Mount Union College to study marketing and minor in music.
“Even if you’re washing windows, there’s a sense of pride in what you’re doing,” she said.
Stratton described the youth group as “close.”
“We want a chance to grow closer to God and help people,” she said. “I think doing this helps teach lessons.”
“People see Jesus through our actions,” DiSibio said. “It’s something we talk about often ... following Jesus’ example.”
Stratton added, “I’m motivated by helping to restore other people’s faith and hope.”
The two noted that Elizabeth residents want “a sense of normalcy” that Hurricane Sandy took away.
“We want to help build them back up by sharing Jesus’ love.”
Team members started the day at 6 a.m. in the 350-year-old First Presbyterian Church in Elizabeth, where they stayed. The workday was from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Sheila Robinson, a church member, prepared their meals.
“She was a wonderful cook, and we showed our appreciation,” DiSibio said.
The group had a devotional time for Scripture and a reflection period in which everyone shared. “We were silly at times and had a wonderful time,” DiSibio said.
DiSibio noted youth group members not only devoted a week of their summer vacation to the project but also relinquished their cellphones. They had the phones for an hour a day to call home.
Stratton said the youth group “was too busy” to miss their phones and were occupied with talking to residents and one another.