SAN JOSE, Ill. -- While many teens lazily revel in the warmth of a new summer, students from around the Midwest have been working long days repairing houses for needy families in San Jose as part of a local church's Community Builders Servant event.
St. Luke Lutheran Church of San Jose, led by the Rev. Derek Riddle, organized the effort -- made up of about 35 students from around Illinois, Missouri and Iowa as well as a handful of adult volunteers -- to complete work projects around town during the course of several days.
Riddle said his congregation typically sends youth members to other areas for similar projects, but decided the church could host its own event this year. He utilized the help of church members to find San Jose residents in need of assistance.
"We take our youth to events every year, but it's a big undertaking for a small congregation," Riddle said. "The youth are learning the importance of serving as Christians and a lot of them are doing stuff they've probably never done before. This is a great way for our congregation to have a presence in the community and to serve our community."
The "servants" had three major projects to work on at three homes -- while also taking on smaller tasks like power washing and painting a woman's garage, as well as re-mulching the park playground and painting the picnic tables.
The group was split into three and members were worked hard under an increasingly hot sun at the three major project sites. At one house a group was replacing an unsafe porch floor, installing a railing and replacing a porch swing for a widow.
On Vine Street, a wheelchair ramp had already been installed leading to the front porch while a group of teens labored to erect a wooden fence in the backyard and install a ramp leading to the house's back door.
The house belongs to 22-year-old Josh McKinley, who has to use a motorized wheelchair, he said, since he rolled his vehicle while driving drunk in August 2009. Before the church group showed up McKinley only had one winding, steep ramp leading to the front door, and it tore up his wheels. He even tipped backward on it once, he said.
McKinley remembers coming to after the car crash and struggling with the nurses to unhook all the medical equipment surrounding him. He passed out again and when he awoke, his girlfriend told him she was pregnant. McKinley said he thought of that every day, and it drove him away from self-pity and prompted him to keep fighting.
"It was rough, but it got better," McKinley said.
And with two dogs and a growing, 14-month-old son, McKinley noted, "We've been needing a fence for a while." He added he has never been able to use his back door since he moved into the house about six months ago.
Thanks to the efforts of Riddle and his church, McKinley will get two sturdy ramps and a fence for the easy effort of signing a couple building permits. He said he is excited about the added level of freedom the ramps will provide.
"Now I can carry my son up and down on my own -- that's the main thing," McKinley said.
On Race Street, a group of workers was helping a family recover from a mold problem in their home.
Jamie and Ricky Thomas have two biological children, two adopted children who were foster children, and they still care for foster children when needed. To make space for their wards, the family converted the garage into a living room, but having just carpet on the concrete floor led to a mold problem that spread to their finished basement, where there were three bedrooms.
The "servants" were raising the living room floor and drywalling the living room and basement -- a small army coordinating to finish within the week what the Thomases had been working at piecemeal for months, as their budget would allow.
"It's been a slow process," Jamie Thomas said. "It would have taken us another four or five months, but they got it done in three days. They have been amazing. They've just worked so hard."
"It's very gratifying for the youth to do something these people would never have been able to do themselves, or it would've been a long time before they could," Riddle said.