Homeowners know the frustration and costs associated with maintaining a house and its drips and drafts and clogged gutters and wood rot. Sometimes it’s difficult to manage a fresh coat of paint with everything else needing attention. What if that homeowner is a senior citizen with physical limitations, limited funds, and no one to help?
For many local residents, the Apex Outreach Service Project (AOSP) is the answer.
Organized every summer by the Apex United Methodist Church (AUMC) Family of Faith, AOSP is a week-long effort to do home repairs for seniors who lack the resources to do them on their own. Often, Wake County-sponsored programs can help, but reductions in funding and manpower leave some families out in the cold, sometimes literally. When the AUMC Family of Faith steps in, it’s an unforgettable week of service and fellowship for everyone involved.
That’s because the work is done by high school students in teams of eight to ten teens led by two or three adults. Last summer, nearly 175 volunteers made up 16 teams working on 18 different project sites within a 30-minute drive of Apex. With the folks who supported the teams behind the scenes, the total was closer to 400 participating in one week’s worth of service.
Considering the number of people involved, the week unfolds like a well-tuned orchestra under the leadership of Mandy Wilkins who has led the effort for the last five years. “My mantra has always been that I’m never going to turn away anybody who wants to do service, even if they ask me the day before the project starts. Somehow we make it work.” And the AUMC Family of Faith has been making it work for 18 years!
How do they do it? First, project supervisors visit area homes that are identified by Wake County resources and they assess the work to be done. Wilkins says, “We don’t turn away many [projects] unless there’s a safety issue like condemnation, mold, or holes in the roof.” The teens build wheelchair ramps, reconstruct decks, paint, replace floors and sheetrock, repair plumbing, caulk seams and fix damage from leaks, and do yard work. As Wilkins points out, “You don’t have to have any special skills. Anybody can be led to do this. Some people do have special skills and we’re grateful they’re around as resources.”
It’s a week of hard work, but expectations are made clear. Adult leaders receive child protection training and transportation instructions, and they learn the details of each project from the supervisors. The students know what a typical day will look like, what they might be required to do at a work site, and their leaders talk to them about safety, stewardship, and being sensitive to the families they will be serving. The students in particular are expected to take off from their jobs, sports practices, and social obligations and be fully present for the week.
The teens don’t seem to mind, though. The week kicks off when they “check in” at the church on Sunday night. Volunteers prepare meals for them each day and provide sandwiches and other lunch items for the students to pack for themselves and to share with the homeowners at their work sites. Teams work from 8:30am until mid-day, when they stop to eat and relax with a devotion. At 4:00pm, the groups return to the church where, after quick trips home to clean up, they have a full evening of dinner, games, music, speakers, and free time. The week ends with a celebration on Friday night for the work teams and their families, and often the homeowners they served.
For the senior citizens, the week is about more than home repairs.
Wilkins says. “It’s about the relationships. Some families we’ve gone back to help every summer. Every year, families tell us they cannot believe that high schools kids give up a week of their summer to sweat and get dirty at their house. To pull out a toilet and do things people don’t really want to do, for somebody they don’t know. They’re all shocked and so very grateful.”
Dana Hall, AUMC’s Associate Director of Youth Ministry, recalls last summer when the teens worked at the home of a woman who had lost her husband. “The things the kids did at the house were incredible, and needed, but more than that they were company for her. She had felt so lonely, and for them to be there in the house talking to her was amazing. Many [seniors we work for] are dealing with the loss of a spouse and [the kids] bring them back out, help them move past the grief and realize that there’s still a reason to keep going.”
AUMC Director of Missional Discipleship Becki Leeland sees the tendency for churches to focus their care on the people within their own walls. “[Through AOSP], we’re teaching youth to care for their community. We forget that there are needs right next door. We want kids to pass [a home] on their way to school or soccer practice or dance and say, ‘I know the person that lives there. I helped build that wheelchair ramp so no one has to lift him and carry him into his house anymore.’”
This year, the AUMC Family of Faith teams will start their service week on July 16 and finish on July 22. To get involved, you can identify a family that needs assistance or donate grocery store gift cards for the families being served. Snacks and meals are welcome throughout the week, and notes or small items of encouragement make wonderful surprises for the teens. And teams can always use donated tools in good condition.
“People often paint high school students with one brush and [assume] that they only think about themselves,” Wilkins says. “But they’re giving up a week of their summer and it’s setting the stage for them to care and have empathy for people for the rest of their lives. [AOSP] is about creating in kids a heart for serving other people.”
For more information about the Apex Outreach Service Project, visit apexumcfamily.org/aosp or email Dana Hall at email@example.com. You can also check out Apex UMC Family Youth on Facebook.