News from the Tennessee Valley Religion

Nearly 300 volunteers to clean, build ramps, help homeowners

By Melanie B. Smith 340-2468

How do you change the world?

Several Decatur officials and youth workers decided that a wise way would be to start at home.

Their efforts will result in Metamorphosis, a Decatur version of volunteer ministry. Almost 300 youth and adult volunteers will spend Monday through Friday sawing, hammering, cleaning, planting and serving local homeowners in need.

"The response has been gratifying and truly overwhelming," said City Councilman Gary Hammon.

He said the plan brings together city employees, elected officials and churches.

Hammon said Allen Stover, grant administrator for Decatur's Community Development Department, arranged for up to $100,000 in government grant money. Stover got in touch with Fred Bueto, student minister at Decatur First Baptist Church, who contacted World Changers, a program run by Southern Baptists that puts thousands of youth volunteers to work each summer from Alaska to Florida. World Changers accepted Decatur as one of its sites.

Bueto said he recruited Hammon, a First Baptist member with years of construction experience, to serve as construction coordinator.

The three attended training sessions in February, learning that World Changers' volunteers pay $280 and sleep on floors. Then, the volunteers scheduled for Decatur canceled, and World Changers dropped Decatur from its list, Hammon said.

The three met to decide what to do, he said. Their idea was to create something in the same vein but with local control and local volunteers.

18 houses, 227 youths

The result has amazed planners and kept them busy making sure there's enough to do, they said. About 227 youths and 65 adults have signed up. Among the adults is a young professionals group taking vacation time to help supervise, Bueto said.

The volunteers will work on 18 or 19 homes in Vine Street and Memorial Drive Northwest neighborhoods. They will build wheelchair ramps, do cleanup and landscaping, paint and lead children's activities in tents set up in yards, organizers said.

Eva Sterrs Boys and Girls Club's directors also gave permission for work at the facility to help it reopen, Hammon said.

The expense for the volunteers will be minimal, $15 which covers a T-shirt, insurance and a Wednesday night supper and concert at Point Mallard. The city is giving volunteers passes for an afternoon at the Aquatic Center.

The youths will make a difference in their hometown — plus they get to sleep in their own beds at night, planners said.

Adults will serve as crew chiefs, first aid providers, "encouragers" and supervisors. A kickoff rally will be Sunday at First Baptist at 3 p.m. Central Baptist will be the host for a Friday night wrap-up that will feature a video of the work.

One of the teen workers, Zach Anderson of Trinity, said it's important to do mission work at home. The 17-year-old liked the idea of Christians showing care in Decatur, not somewhere they don't live.

"I've been wanting to do something like this for a long time," he said.

Zach said he and his brother, Craig, and David Hennigan will work on the video crew.

Gave up Florida

Some youth groups had been seeking local projects and quickly signed on, Bueto said. Epic Church's group of 10 voted to drop a trip to Florida so they could help, he said.

The joy of a program like this, Bueto said, is meeting physical needs and interacting with people in the community. He said they will "love on" the homeowners, whoever they are.

"We're striving for an 'Oh, wow!' effect in the before and after pictures of the entire neighborhood, which will permeate the block and around the corner eventually," Hammon said.

The idea is to show the love of Jesus and hope it passes on, he said.

It may be easier to do mission projects away than at home, Bueto said.

Getting a group away usually means fewer distractions, plus it's always appealing to travel somewhere.

But Bueto said he learned from the city about legitimate needs at home.

Organizers are working hard to make the experience as special and as exciting as an out-of-town mission trip, he said.

Involve more churches

Hammon and Bueto dream of Metamorphosis continuing and expanding to involve every church in Decatur that wants to participate. Planners have coordinated closely with city departments. The Planning Department identified areas for work. Linda Eubanks, coordinator of the department of landscape and beautification, is working on landscaping efforts. Jeff Dunlap, parks and recreation director, is allowing use of some of the department's equipment and arranging for the Point Mallard break Wednesday afternoon, Hammon said.

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