Youth group comes together as one on mission trip by M. Jill Karolevitz An experience with Habitat for Humanity has given several Vermillion youth a chance to help with constructing a home, while building a better relationship with their fellow man.
Eleven members of the United Church of Christ-
Congregational confirmation class, plus two high school church members, traveled to Manhattan, KS, June 22-26 to participate in a Habitat for Humanity project, along with other activities. They were accompanied by Pastor Steve Miller, Doug and Sara Peterson and their two children, Gray and Maggie.
"We've been working with this confirmation class all year," Doug Peterson said. "They just finished eighth grade and in the summer they have a choice to go on a mission trip."
The Habitat for Humanity experience emerged from the Petersons' own dealings with the organization before they moved from Manhattan, KS, to Vermillion in 1997.
"Three or four years prior to moving here, we worked with the Manhattan Habitat chapter," Peterson said. "We got in on the ground floor of its organization. My wife edited the newsletter and I served on the board of directors. We also worked with site selection and construction."
When talk of a summer project for the UCC-C youth began earlier this year, Habitat for Humanity seemed to be a logical choice.
"It's always been a goal of my wife and I to get youth involved in something like Habitat," Peterson said. "We still had contacts in Manhattan, so we made a few calls and the trip was organized."
The group stayed at the home of Steve Dritz and Stephanie Thomas, who were out of town at the time.
"That helped keep our expenses down," Peterson said. "They were very generous to offer us a place to stay."
To travel to Kansas, vehicles were donated by Jacque Dunn, Mark Mollet and Miller.
But Manhattan wasn't their only stop.
"On the first night of our trip we attended a Jewish temple in Lincoln, NE," Peterson said. "It was interesting because half of the service was in Hebrew. Afterwards, we talked with some of the members and the rabbi, who is a friend of Steve's. The experience set the tone for the trip because the kids learned that we are more than just a group of people from Vermillion � we are part of a bigger community."
Following an overnight stay in Beatrice, NE, the travelers arrived in Manhattan June 23 just in time to put in a few hours of work at the Habitat construction site.
"The house was near completion, but there was still plenty of work to do," Peterson said. "The kids helped stain woodwork, put up trim in the bathroom, prepared the yard for sidewalks, touched up paint and helped prepare floors for carpeting."
The Vermillion group worked for two days on the four-bedroom house and even met the owner, a single mother of four kids, who has since moved into her new home.
"Every evening we had reflection time," Peterson said. "They talked about the labor they did and the fun they had, along with what they learned from it. All the kids commented that they had a good sense of accomplishment. They all felt like they had made a difference � like a community helping an individual."
In addition to their Habitat for Humanity experience, the UCC-C youth group attended Manhattan Christ Fellowship Church on Sunday.
"It's a predominantly African-American gospel church," Peterson said. "We knew a member when we lived in Manhattan and they worship and sing from 11 a.m. until whenever. 'As long as the spirit moves us,' they told us. It was an energetic service that lasted more than two hours. It was a great experience. The kids are now talking about donating to the church as they build a new one, and possibly inviting some of their youth up here as an exchange."
Vermillion High School graduate Ben Leber, who attends Kansas State University and is a linebacker on the Wildcats football team, also gave the group a tour of K-State's athletic complex.
"He did a nice job," Peterson said. "He showed us the academic facilities for the athletes, locker rooms, took us down to the football field and into the weight room where he even helped some of the kids on the machines. Some stayed for awhile to watch a summer informal practice in which Leber was involved. He then came back up to visit with the kids before they left."
Back home, Peterson has had time to reflect on the trip and its outcome.
"The kids really came together as a group," he said. "I'm proud of them for what they learned and how they behaved. Many of their parents say their kids are still talking about the experience."
The Petersons also gained from the trip.
"It gave us a chance to reconnect with Habitat," Peterson said. "And we really got to know the kids better as individuals � something that isn't easy as youth group advisors when you're only with them for one hour a week."