Youths spruce up city homes

ROCHESTER — Martina Martínez said that she is grateful for the work that a group of youths from around the country did to rebuild her front porch and paint her kitchen in early July.

"I think it’s great," said Martinez, a Gurabo, Puerto Rico, native who rents her home on St. Jacob Street. "It’s a big help."

Landlord Luterio Méndez said that he also appreciated the assistance.

"The porch is in bad shape," he said.

Steve Eldred, a master carpenter from Lake Placid, supervised the group of teenagers from Pennsylvania, Iowa, Minnesota and New York as they set up on the postage stamp of a lawn with power tools, saw horses, and hammer and nails needed for the porch renovation.

Their work was one of 30 projects going on around the city July 1-5, including three other houses on St. Jacob Street.

This was Eldred’s first time as part of Action for a Better Community’s Group Work Camp in collaboration with Group Cares, a nonprofit, interdenominational Christian volunteer home-repair organization based in Loveland, Colo.

"We’re here to help," Eldred said. "We do anything — mow lawns, plant flowers, whatever is needed."

This is the Group Work Camp’s eighth year, said Steve Turner, who heads up ABC’s lead resource program, as he stopped to visit Eldred’s group on July 2.

They weren’t the only workers coming through Rochester. More than 100 youths took part in the SHINE Catholic Work Camp July 8-13 and provided maintenance or construction help at homes and nonprofit organizations.

The Group Cares’ 253 teenagers camped out at the School of the Arts during their week in Rochester. Turner said that the district provides a different school to serve as home base for the participants every year.

"We identify target areas in the city to keep crews (working) fairly close together," he said. "And it creates a greater impact."

That impact helps recruit other residents to get work done next year, Turner noted.

"There is nothing like seeing a neighbor get work done for free," he said with a smile. "This (program) gets better every year."

The work also makes the participating youths better people, said Desiree Underwood from Moravia, Iowa.

"I used to be a pretty selfish person," explained the 15-year-old first-time camper. "I felt God called me."

"I feel I’m doing God’s work," concurred Nick Zamora from Cottage Grove, Minn. The 17-year-old high school-senior is on his third summer work camp experience.

"The best part is all the distractions are gone," he added before heading underneath the porch floor to hold wood slats in place for Eldred. "The technology … takes away from my own enrichment, who I want to be as a person. It’s a whole week with your thoughts."

Down the street, a larger crew of youths set up to paint the exterior of a house from blue to yellow, which turned out to be a bigger project than expected, said 16-year-old Andy Larson from Rochester Hills, Mich.

"There is a lot of surface area to paint," said Andy, with paint hose in hand.

But Travis Morris, 17, was unfazed during his third time out traveling with Group Cares.

"I love the experience," the Odington, Md., native said. "It’s a great thing to be able to come out and help."

Coming into the inner city of Rochester is an eye-opening experience for many of the kids who come from Midwestern areas of the country like Iowa, said Nick Vandam, who is a church youth leader from Des Moines and oversaw the two crews required for the exterior painting.

"It gets them out of their comfort zone," he said. "And they learn to (go back) and help in their own communities."

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