published Friday, July 22nd, 2011

Changing the world: Teens repairing East Ridge homes

by Andrew Pantazi
World Changers teens Elliot Wehner, Jennifer Barton and Erin Wise, from left, work to build a wheelchair ramp at a home in East Ridge on Thursday.
World Changers teens Elliot Wehner, Jennifer Barton and Erin Wise, from left, work to build a wheelchair ramp at a home in East Ridge on Thursday.
Photo by Tim Barber.
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By lunch Thursday, about 30 teens and young adults had laid tarpaper and shingles on a roof, partially built a wheelchair ramp and filled in cracks in the stucco walls of a dilapidated 65-year-old house.

“Thank Jesus for clouds,” said Kimberly Barrett, an 18-year-old from Mississippi who hoped the cloud cover would protect her and her fellow workers from spending more time in the heat they’d been working in since 7:15 a.m.

Barrett is one of the youths who came to East Ridge this week to fix houses as part of the Baptist mission called World Changers.

The mission takes Baptist students to different cities around the country to spend a week fixing houses. In all, 324 people from 13 states arrived in East Ridge on Monday to labor together.

East Ridge Revitalization, a group aimed at improving the city’s look and image, paid for the youths’ supplies and chose the 12 houses they’d work on, but the teens and young adults paid anywhere from $100 to $400 for the mission trip, depending on how much money their churches kicked in.

Bill Blanchard, a 21-year-old from Elon, N.C., stood by the edge of the home’s roof, watching two young men nail shingles.

“Grab that shingle there,” he tells one. “Watch where you’re walking,” he tells another. “Stay on the tarpaper.”

Blanchard has worked with World Changers 10 times before, and the East Ridge group is his third team of 10 junior high, high school and college youths to lead.

Beneath Blanchard, two more crews, with members from states such as Alabama, Texas and Arkansas, were hard at work. One crew continued filling in the cracks on the stucco walls, while another went to work on the wheelchair ramp.

Of the 12 houses worked on this week, some needed lawn work, four needed wheelchair ramps, and one had walls covered with poison ivy.

“If this is the hardest you can work according to your design, then that’s fine,” 28-year-old Lindsay Williamson told her crew Wednesday. “But if you think you can work harder for your Lord, then pray and serve.”

Williamson’s crew finished work on their home by Wednesday, and by Thursday they were assigned to a new house, painting the walls beneath Blanchard, who was on the roof.

Williamson carries a rail spike in her pocket she found earlier in the week at a different house; it reminds her and her crew members of the nails that pierced Jesus. Normally, she’s a catastrophe insurance adjuster and works on her farm in Jasper, Texas.

“It’s hard to be out here roofing houses, and we can have selfish thoughts,” she said, looking at the rail spike. “Then we look at this, and we see what he went through.”

After lunch, workers returned to their jobs on the house, although the heat still was climbing.

But about 3 p.m., Barrett’s wish was answered as the clouds came, bringing a breeze and a sprinkle.

“It’s so nice,” she sighed.

about Andrew Pantazi...

Andrew Pantazi is an intern at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who says that when he was 7 he knew what he wanted to do for the rest of his life: play hockey for the Colorado Avalanche. Unfortunately, he says he wasn't any good at hockey, so he became a journalist instead. He writes about the lives we hide, like the man who suffered a stroke but smiled, or the football walk-on who endured 5 ...

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