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A group of youth stand in front of a van.A group of youth stand in front of a van.

MDS Summer Youth program volunteers, Morgan Bitikofer, Kadenn Martin, Lindsey Horst, Angela Eshleman & youth leader Mitch Horst from Mercersburg Mennonite Church

Youth from Mercersburg Mennonite Church in Pennsylvania will head to Jennings, Louisiana, where they’ll be working on homes damaged by Hurricane Laura, which struck in August 2020, and Hurricane Delta, which hit the same area two months later.

The group last served with a Summer Youth Program in 2019, when they traveled to Conway, South Carolina to repair flood-damaged homes.

Lindsey Horst, 18, said she most looks forward to “seeing people’s faces…even though the things seem little to us, they’re meaningful to them.”

Brock Martin, 17, looks forward to “getting closer with the youth group while serving…also seeing the homeowners’ faces.”

There’s a hands-on spiritual aspect, too, reflected 18-year-old Maggie Possinger about her previous experience with MDS.

“Studying the Bible beside my friends is much different than serving beside my friends. Having the opportunity to volunteer at MDS changed our lives,” she said.

Wade Horst, 17, will enjoy “trying new stuff and learning how to do it better.”

Fresh eyes—and a fresh coat of paint

The youth group from Heritage Mennonite Church in Denver, Pennsylvania, is ready to travel to Bennettsville, South Carolina, where they will be repairing homes damaged by Hurricane Florence in 2018.

Sixteen-year-old Kayla Landis draws a deep meaning from helping others. “I love to work and help people out in this way while showing them the love of God,” she said.

“Studying the Bible beside my friends is much different than serving beside my friends. Having the opportunity to volunteer at MDS changed our lives."

— Maggie Possinger, 18 year old SYP volunteer

Jerlyn Horst, 18, already knows that Bennettsville is a place with work that needs to be done. “It will be a great way to travel and help someone at the same time,” said Horst.

Fifteen-year-old Jerell Horst chimed in: “I want to help others.”

Miranda Wenger, 20, expects to see houses that need damaged debris carried out and new drywall put in.

“I also expect that there will be painting that needs to be done,” she said. “What inspired me to go on this trip is the opportunity to do what I can to help those in need, to get to know my church members better, and to experience new things.”

Before leaving for their Summer Youth Program in Paradise, California, where they’ll rebuild homes for wildfire survivors, young people from Trinity Mennonite Church in Phoenix, Arizona, gathered to talk about their trip (in between dips in the pool).

“What I’m most excited about is not only strengthening relationships I already have but also creating new ones with other people,” said Nathan Shenk, 15. “The people helping out are able to create a community.”

Luke Harshman, 15, knows firsthand how wildfires can traumatize people. “Considering that we’re going to an area badly affected by wildfires, I have a lot of family up here affected, so I’m glad to be able to help.”

The best aspect about going, added 16-year-old Brooke Snyder, “is that we will have a lasting impact on people’s lives.”

For youth leaders, accompanying young people on a Summer Youth Program brings deep rewards. Nick Buckwalter, youth leader at Akron Mennonite Church in Pennsylvania, said his group of four wanted to do an MDS project last year, but it was canceled due to COVID-19.

“We were most drawn to Bennettsville because it was in a location reachable by van,” he said, adding that “youth wanted a hands-on learning experience to give back in a meaningful way, and to grow together as a group.”

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