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Students from across U.S. repair Kanawha homes

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Michaela Banks revved up her power drill as Kayla Mills surveyed the puckered metal skirting on the side of a trailer home.

"It's sticking out," said 18-year old Mills, from Holly, Mich.

"And we don't want that," 15-year-old Banks, from Suffolk, Va., added.

Mills and Banks -- who were helping repair a trailer in Chelyan -- were two of about 360 students participating in a volunteer work camp that ran July 22 to 28 in Kanawha County. The Christian missions camp, operated through the Colorado-based nonprofit Group Cares, sent high school students from across the country to 52 sites in Kanawha County during the week, director Dale Roberts said.

"There's a lot of need here," said Roberts, who is from Lodi, Ohio.

Students paid to attend the camp, which was locally sponsored by the South Appalachian Labor School. Nationally, there were 56 camps running during the summer, starting the second week in June and ending the first week in August, Roberts said. Two other camps had already come to Clendenin and Oak Hill.

The camp that was held in Kanawha County during the last week of July was based at Riverside High School in Belle. Students used the gym's showers and slept on air mattresses in the facility. Every morning and every evening, the volunteers attended a program in the school's gym with a skit and music from a praise team.

In the afternoons, students split into teams to conduct light construction work and painting throughout the county.

On July 26, Mills walked to the far end of the trailer she and three other students were mending and kicked a section of unfinished skirting. It caved in.

To fix it, the students had to remove the skirting, build a frame of 2x4s and then overlap the skirting and make sure it was straight before drilling it back in, Banks explained.

Rain slowed down their progress earlier in the week, but the students had already built a new set of stairs for the front of the trailer.

"We were so proud of our stairs," Banks said as she looked at the group and started to laugh. "Grade-A stairs."

The students didn't know each other at the beginning of the week, but Banks said they'd come out of their shells, as she smiled pointedly at Mills.

"I feel like we got pretty lucky with this crew," said Phil Devine, 18, from Sterling, Va.

Devine decided to do the work camp in Kanawha County this year because he went on a missions trip to North Carolina last year, and the experience deepened his relationship with God.

One of his favorite parts of the work was seeing the expression on the residents' faces after the job was completed, he said.

The trailer Devine and the others were refurbishing July 26 belonged to Violet Toppings. She said she'd had a little bit of trouble getting in and out of her home, and her daughter told her about signing up to have students come help.

"It's really been a blessing to me," Toppings said, tearing up. "They've just been wonderful."

Toppings invited the workers into her air-conditioned home for lunch each day, and they always prayed together and completed a devotional inside. She didn't mind having extra people around.

"I don't get much company," Toppings said.

As they worked outside, several of the students talked about why they loved fixing up a home for other people.

"It's the joy that you get doing it," Mills said.

Reach Alison Matas at alison.matas@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5100.


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