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A couple of men pull carpets down the stairs of a church.A couple of men pull carpets down the stairs of a church.

After a Homes of Hope facility in Ephrata, Penn., was all but destroyed by a large fire two years ago, leaders from the homeless transformational ministry knew they couldn’t rebuild without help.

“We were challenged by the cost of the restoration of the house, which was beyond what was feasible for us, and for the church that owns the property,” said Barry Kreider, who chairs the executive committee for Homes of Hope Ephrata.

The project is a cooperative effort between Homes of Hope Ephrata, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church and Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS), with the churches that support Homes of Hope providing both volunteers and funds to help the MDS Lancaster Unit perform the work. The MDS Lancaster Unit is overseeing the work.

“These volunteers from MDS are making the impossible possible for us and we are deeply grateful!” said Kreider, who shared his sense of excitement as the work transitioned from demolition and cleanup into construction. “We have seen over 350 hours of volunteer labor so far.”

Several churches of the Akron-Ephrata Ministerium formed Homes of Hope in 2003 to provide emergency housing for families with children in the community. Homes of Hope then became anchored within the organization Love, INC.

The Homes of Hope ministry helps families with children who are experiencing homelessness by bringing them into a home setting for a four to six-month period for nurture, coaching, and intentional training support.

Local MDS volunteers began their work in August when they demolished the unsalvageable parts of the building. By December, they were rebuilding the structure and, in the meantime, learning more about the ministry they are helping.

“Many of the MDS volunteers are not familiar with Homes of Hope, so we are also happy to share our story with them and let them know they are now part of offering this support to our community,” said Kreider.

One of those volunteers is Saralyn Jantzi, who serves as the MDS Congregational Contact Person for Akron Mennonite Church.

“My first introduction to MDS was through my grandparents,” said Jantzi. “They volunteered on a lot of job sites and often traveled with their RV.”

Jantzi loved hearing their stories, so she decided to create some of her own. While a student at Hesston College, she volunteered in Minot, N.D., helping flood survivors get back home, then served as a volunteer at the MDS offices in Lititz, Penn., learning about the administrative side of MDS.

Thanks to the volunteers, even more families will be able to lead lives with dignity, said Phyllis Peters, a mentor and budget coach coordinator for Homes of Hope.

“We want to make sure they can be successful and self-supporting once they go into their own apartment,” she said, watching the construction continue around her. “It’s happening and we’re excited!”

As he works alongside volunteers, not just from MDS but from many churches in the area, Kreider also sees how focusing beyond oneself is a good way to keep a healthy perspective, even in the midst of challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Many of the volunteers have been itching to get their hands dirty again!” he said. “That tells me that this kind of service is life-giving to them— getting the work done and working together with those you may not cross paths with in your normal schedule.”

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